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The Insiders Guide To Prom Dresses

Last updated on : February 21 2019

Best Friends Forever at Prom Night

Prom Night

High school yearbooks first documented prom night around the 1930s, however, it is believed that the event dates back to the late 1800s. 

In the 21st century, proms are a glamorous, all-night affair complete with an array of post-prom parties and events laced with extravagances - plus a growing trend in sexy dresses.  

It is one of the most quintessential high school experiences creating memories that last a lifetime.

Choosing A Prom Dress

Prom offers young women a chance to be a princess for one night. A chance to shine, be the “belle of the ball,” and welcome womanhood without batting an eye. 

However, the most significant part of being a princess in your own right is choosing the perfect dress.

Choose your ideal prom dress, and everything else falls into place. It is a challenge, headache, and a memorable time to argue with Mom. 

Here’s what you need to know about the types of prom dresses, silhouettes, accessories, and more to make your prom the best night you have all year.

Vintage Prom Dresses

vintage lace prom dress with long sleeves

Old-fashioned styled vintage prom dresses naturally bear the look of a different era. 

Depending on the decade of your choosing, a vintage prom dress is a show-stopper, especially if you carry the look with confidence and class. 

1940

Prom dresses from the 1940s have a modest style and bear the undertones of war sentiment, often straightforward in their look and elegant. They are typically formfitting with short sleeves or no sleeves at all. 

Swing dresses (see image above) are typical from this era with fuller skirts made for the "swing" form of dancing. Embellishments for these dresses include beads, lace, and scalloped edges.

1950

In the 1950s we saw classic lines, huge tulle skirts, and tightly cinched bodices that defined the waistline. Think Audrey Hepburn for this era that produced a dress that wrapped your torso in one of the most flattering ways of all time.

1950s vintage dresses never go out of style. Trust me.

1950 prom dress in blue

1960

Most eras boasted particular styles of dresses, but the 1960s did a constant shuffle of dresses that covered all the basics - similar to what we started to see in early 2000s. 

From sleek body tracing lines to A-line floor-length gowns that feature bold prints, floral patterns, bright colors, and an army of sequins, these prom styles offer something tasteful and fancy. 

Choose this style if you prefer a combination style that is chic, girly girl, and reminiscent of hippies.

1970

Disco profoundly influenced 1970 prom dress styles. The look is also a lot more sensual than those previously. 1970 introduced more skin and feminine fabrics like velvet and lace - and tons of sequins and wild prints during this era along with tons of legs.

We also saw a handful of body-hugging patterns featuring pastels and softer color palettes during the 1970s.

1980

Dresses from the 1980s amped it up with big on-stage appearance. With plenty of ruffles, neon colors, big bows, and sequins. The 1980s is the style of dress if you want to leave a lasting, funky impression.

Victorian Prom Dresses

modern victorian prom dress

 

Characterized by corset bodices that define the waist and Cinderella-style full skirts, Victorian prom dresses are glamorous, alluring, and incredibly feminine (we've pictured a modern version above).

One of the favorite elements in late 1800s Victorian dresses is the petticoat or secondary skirt that is layered atop or below the dress to create an illusion of volume. 

Traditional Victorian dresses often feature high necklines so opt for a high neckline crafted with tulle or lace inserts to create a look that is elegant and slightly contemporary.

An iconic element of Victorian-style dresses is the ruched bustle or gathered back. Many contemporary Victorian-inspired prom dresses today have designs that feature this same ruched back often cascading into a mini-train. 

The cuts of the dresses range from A-line to empire waisted. Most common fabrics are chiffon, organza, and satin. 

Pair a Victorian-inspired prom dress with natural smokey eye makeup, limited jewelry, and up-do hairstyles.

Gothic Prom Dresses

gothic prom dress - black

In the early 1900s, Theda Bara and Bettie Page introduced and refined Gothic style. 

Gothic prom dresses feature rich dark colors and fabrics with exotic and mysterious additions such as metal buttons or metallic lining.

Fashionable Gothic prom dresses include deep tones of blue, green, violet, silver, and of course, scarlet and black. Primarily available in fabrics featuring taffeta, organza, and chiffon, Gothic dresses are often crafted from stretch satin, a reliable and edgier option. 

Pair your dress with dark eyeliner, nail polish, and outlandish jewelry to complete the look without compromising elegance.

Eclectic and Modern Prom Dresses

modern eclectic prom dress with sequins

Inspired by Nature motifs, eclectic prom dresses display prints, sequins, contrasting colors, and fabrics and prints that work surprisingly well together such as silk and satin or polka dots and plaid. 

Often an eclectic dress features modern embellishments that showcase the best of contemporary style by giving traditional prom dresses a modern twist. 

Modern and eclectic prom dresses are a tad offbeat and focus on comfortable yet sensual lines, shorter hemlines, and form-fitting silhouettes.

Unique and Ethnic Prom Dresses

ethnic prom dress patterned and sequined

If you want to set the tone for many proms to come, consider a unique or ethnic prom dress. 

Take inspiration from your family history, favorite celebrities, or your unique designs. Reflecting your attitude and style is always a sure way to turn heads and leave everyone wanting more. But it is also difficult and challenging in a pinch.  

If you want a unique prom dress that is different from the rest, consider designing one from scratch or reinventing a style you find attractive. Improve your dress by adding embellishments or refine it by adding a petticoat.

If your efforts are in the right place and your dress truly reflects your personality, you may get lucking, and a celebrity asks you to make one just like it.

Don’t believe me? - A bullied teenage girl designed a stunning prom dress, won prom queen and was later asked by Naturi Naughton to create her red carpet dress

green ombre unique prom dress

An ethnic or unique prom dress is sure to turn heads. From the traditional Indian sari and lehenga to full-skirted dresses with ethnic prints, these dresses allow you to embrace your individuality and showcase the beauty of ethnic designs.

Prom Dresses by Silhouette

Play with hemlines, necklines, styles, and fabrics to get the perfect dress that communicates your confidence and unique style. 

From two-piece styles that feature a bodice and separate skirt (designed to show midriff) to trending styles on celebrities everywhere, finding the perfect silhouette is one of the key starting points when looking for your dress. 

Here is a high-level look at the types of dress silhouettes and cuts to consider.

Empire Waist

Features a high waistline that hits just below your breast. The empire waist dress is ideal if you need to appear taller. It is long and often floor length. The skirt falls straight and is rarely form fitting.

A-line

Flattering to most body types. A-line prom dresses feature a form-fitting bodice and a full skirt that flares out from natural waist level. This cut has a slimming effect and provides a feminine shape that conceals a smaller bust line or fuller hips.  

Sheath, Bandage, and Mermaid

A sheath or bandage dress hugs your curves from head to toe (depending on the cut) while mermaid styles flare near your knees or just above.

These designs offer you a variety of necklines that range from v-neck to halter to strapless. Many of the mermaid style prom dresses feature ruched fabrics with underskirts of tulle and overlays of organza.

The sheath and bandage styles are both form-fitting with one main difference. A sheath style will trace your curves similar to a bodycon dress while a bandage dress style will hug your curves so tightly that it almost feels like a second skin.

sheath style bandage dress with flare

Wear these styles when looking to display your feminine attributes tastefully and graciously. They also make perfect party dresses.  

High-Low

An asymmetrical or high-low hemline is a trendy way to revamp the traditional prom dress. It is designed to show off an hour-glass figure and endless legs. The hem is higher in the front to just above the knees and low at the back tracing your midcalf or ankles. 

Tea-Length

Designed to show off legs a tea-length dress features a hemline that lands at your shins. As compared to full-length gowns a tea-length prom dress creates an informal and relaxed look.

Bouffant Gown

Think Cinderella with this cut. Characterized by a full tulle skirt that is puffed-out in ballerina-style, the bouffant gown is one of the more traditional prom dress options.

Ball Gown

Features a full skirt that starts at the natural waist and extends all the way to the floor. Gowns work well for girls who are taller or average height as it visually lengthens the body. 

Must-Have Accessories for Prom Dresses

Once you have your prom dress chosen, the next step is to select the right accessories to go with it. For a night as important as prom, accessories can make or break your dress. 

Here is an overview of the essential pieces for your prom dress - clutches, jewelry, and corsages.

Clutch

Choose a clutch, not a purse. A purse is too big and will be cumbersome to carry through the night. Prom clutches serve a dual purpose: holding essentials such as cell phone, lip gloss, extra cash, tickets, breath mints, etc. and polish your look.

Generally, clutches are trendy, adorable, and designed to be worn to more formal affairs so finding one depends on your taste and your dress. 

Clutches come in snaps designs, zippers, and flap openings. Keep in mind that they are small in size and can feature a short handle or thin strap. Consider one with a thin shoulder strap or wrist strap to keep your hands free.

Corsage

A corsage is a small bouquet that is traditionally worn around your wrist or pinned to the dress for occasions like prom. 

Choose a stylish corsage to wear on your wrist instead of the dress just for simplicity sake. You may also consider wearing it in your hair or attach it to your clutch for a whimsical and unique flare.

Jewelry

You jewelry depends entirely on your sense of personal style and the dress you have chosen but  here are a few tips to keep in mind while accessorizing:

  • Deep necklines are best accessorized with long necklaces while high necklines work better with chokers or other shorter necklaces. If you choose to switch it up, do so boldly and without flinching because we see variations more and more.
  • Dangly or chandelier earrings are ideal if you intend to wear your hair up while studs and hoops are more complimentary for free-flowing hairstyles.
  • Consider wearing a tiara - just because you can.
  • Bracelets are a matter of personal preference. Choose an elegant and straightforward style if your dress features tons of prints or various fabrics and more bold options for solid dresses with minimal lines. 

Summary

With enough time and forethought choosing the right prom dress need not be the worry you think it is. Use our guides below to fine tune your choice. 

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Sasithon Bella is the kewl in The Kewl Shop. Co-founder, chief buyer, bandage dress guru and a lot more. If you like what you see at The Kewl Shop it is because of Sasithon Bella. You might know her better as Sasi.

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