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Home Hunting for the perfect, non-sexy prom dress

Posted Jun 12 2012 6:13am

Shopping for prom gowns is one of the most fun things in a teen girl's life. Her parents' happiest times? Well, not always.

Finding the perfect gown — from design to cost — can be difficult. The problem? Dresses today are a bit risque, with skin-baring styles dominating prom wear.

My daughter, Abby, went to the the high school junior prom with her boyfriend, Peter, this month. At first, my thought was, "This will be fun shopping for a frilly gown. We can hunt down the perfect shoes and get a deal on some terrific accessories. It will be great."

Yeah, right. Turns out many prom gown styles are better suited for women in their 20s. The styles of the dresses at many shops were, I thought, too sexy for a teen girl. I want my daughter to look and feel beautiful, but still look her age, or close to it.

Our search for the right dress began at the end of March. I made some phone calls to department stores and shops and even looked at websites. Before we left the house to actually try some on, we set up ground rules. "Mom, I don't want to dress like an old lady," she said. "I don't want something you would wear." Correct me if I am wrong, but did she just call me old?

Abby said I had to be "fair" and not rule out dresses on the hanger. I agreed she would need to do the same. I also let her know that I would not shell out money for dresses I deemed inappropriate. The dress had to have complete bodices with no cutouts in the back or front; it had to have a sleeve or strap of some sort; it had to be of reasonable length if she chose a shorter style, and that means no more than 3 inches above the knee -- and don't make me bring a tape measure. Oh, one more thing: I am paying, so I have final say. That's fair from a mom's perspective, right?

Luckily for us both, Abby didn't want one of the more provocative dresses. She wanted simple, but pretty and stylish. I just kept saying to myself, "not something you would wear, Mom."

At the first store, we had a little luck, except the dress she liked was the wrong size and would need to be ordered. It was also $376, excluding shoes, jewelry and alterations. The salesgirl, Taylor, was nice enough to save the information for us in case we decided to come back and order. If we ordered that day, she would have given us a discount, but I wasn't ready to buy a dress on the first trip out.

We spent the next week looking online. We looked at department stores like Macy's and even J.C. Penney. There really was nothing there we could agree on. If I saw one I liked, she would say, "Mom, be serious."

We went to the mall and checked out a store there. The dresses were too much in the way of glitter for Abby. Some dresses had so many sequins that they actually looked like they were electric. We left without trying anything on.

Everywhere we looked, the trend was the same: Many dresses were short at the bottom and skimpy at the top. Some online sites were peddling dresses that had strings to connect a bralike top with the rest of the dress. Some gowns, well, the entire back was missing all the way to the very lowest part of the back. I actually saw one dress on a popular website that had such a low V-cut in the front that it showed the girl's belly button. It would have been perfect for the celebrities on "Dancing With the Stars," but a teenager's prom? Not so much.

It also seemed that the less material that came with the dress, the pricier it was to purchase. Some of the dresses were even listed as back-ordered. I was stunned! People were actually buying these?

I recently read that the prom business is a $2.75 billion market when you add up all the must-haves for the Cinderella night. Hair, shoes, manicure, pedicure, flowers and so on.

Our final stop was at a local speciality store. There were many dresses that fit both Abby's definition of stylish and mine for both coverage and price. We were lucky to happen upon a woman, Ana, who worked there. She had to be the most helpful person in the store. She was honest when Abby tried on dresses as to what she thought looked better. She actually seemed to care about how the girls' dresses fit. And she didn't mind just walking over to a random customer and offering up her expert advice.

We finally settled on a salmon-colored gown with beadwork outlining the top. It was fitted, but not tight. It had spaghetti straps and was floor-length. Everything that should be covered was covered. It really was perfect.

And, for the record,it was the dress I picked out.

So now I'm a prom-dress-shopping veteran. I will use this knowledge over the next two years for Abby's own junior and senior proms.

Then it will be my son Kyle's turn. Thankfully, tuxedos are easy.

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