With the arrival of spring comes the high school rite of passage known as prom. And while the angst about finding a date and the questions about prom-night curfew never change, the one thing that does is the fashions.
This year’s prom season in Maine, which kicked off last weekend, brings out the glitter and the glamour, with sophisticated formal wear for both guys and gals. The hottest gown trends hitting the dance floor this year include floor-length hemlines, jewel-tone colors and lots of embellishments. For guys, it’s all about the classic tux, which most – but not all – select in black.
“It’s a lot of long dresses,” said Julia Irace, who owns Andrea’s Bridal in Portland. “Girls are loving things that are form-fitting. They do not want something that’s plain. They want something with bling. Blues and greens are big this year.”
Two things that are not big this year are short skirts and black dresses, which contrasts with proms of years past.
“When I went to prom in 1999, it was all about the little black dress,” Irace recalled.
COLOR ME BLUE
Cathy Mullen Pearl, who owns the Spoil Me boutique in Falmouth, sold a number of blue gowns this season in hues that included aqua, teal, periwinkle and royal.
“Blues are always one of the best colors,” Pearl said.
Liza DeCesare, a senior at South Portland High, is one of the girls who opted for a blue dress for the school’s prom last Saturday.
“It took me forever to find,” DeCesare said. “I went to a couple stores in the Old Port. Then I tried David’s Bridal. Then I went to Simply You Too in Saco.”
That’s where she found her full-length, strapless aqua dress with a sprinkling of rhinestones and a mermaid-style skirt.
Such elegant dresses are the rule this year, with glamour trumping sassy skirts and layers of tulle.
“Originally, I’d found a princess-type gown,” said Kate Murray, a fellow senior at South Portland High. The dress featured pink and purple tones and loads of tulle, but she ended up buying a much simpler strapless stain gown in a deep eggplant hue that lacked ruffles or embellishments.
“I liked how elegant it looked,” Murray said. “Kind of old Hollywood.”
INSPIRED BY THE RED CARPET
Not only do many of this year’s gowns come with a nostalgic sense of glamour, they are directly inspired by the haute couture looks favored by celebrities.
“The fashions prom girls see all trickle down from the red carpet,” Irace said.
Taylor Sikes, a sophomore at Sanford High and a model, has seen this connection firsthand. She often heads to New York for Fashion Week to work the runways. Last year, she modeled the looks gracing local proms this year.
“The gowns I wore last year in New York had lots of gems and beading,” Sikes said.
The dress she wore to Saturday night’s prom at Sanford High features lots of beading around the bust and the scoop back. It’s light-blue with a halter top and a floor-length hem.
While shopping for her gown in Massachusetts, Elizabeth Hardy “saw a lot of sequins and embellishments all over the dresses.”
The South Portland senior tried on 20 dresses before she found one that popped with a bright-yellow color and an elegant cut reminiscent of the 1930s. It features a halter top and a floor-length skirt covered in beading that would be right at home at an awards show.
“What I see is geographic trends,” said Pearl of the Spoil Me shop. “Certain schools will do short and more bling, and other schools will do less bling.”
Not wanting to stir up any rivalries, Pearl declined to reveal which schools tend to go classic, preppy or sexy.
However, what is clear is that not only does each school have its own signature prom style, regions of the country differ in what prom fashions they favor.
“Generally speaking, northern New England is more conservative in fashion (than the rest of the country),” Pearl said.
This is what South Portland senior Esther Palmieri noticed while shopping in the Sunshine State.
“In Florida, the dresses were more poofy and had more accessories,” Palmieri said. “And the ones here were straight and more simple.”
After trying on a few dresses in Florida, Palmieri returned home to purchase a dress that had originally caught her eye at Andrea’s Bridal. The white, floor-length gown features two bands of rhinestones and a touch of ruching on the bodice. Black may be out this year, but white is definitely in.
“A lot of my friends are doing simple, straight gowns,” Palmieri said.
Another trend that continues this year is gowns featuring flowers or bold, abstract prints.
“We’ve had good luck with the printed fabric,” said Irace, who pointed out the printed Bari Jay Shimmer dress she stocked this year. “I ordered five of them, and they all went out the door quickly.”
Sophia Nappi never thought she’d choose a printed gown, but a New York City shopping trip convinced her otherwise.
“I tried it on as a joke, and it turned out to be my favorite,” said Nappi, a senior at Portland High.
The floor-length gown features a zebra print and a number of other colors. “I like the colors and it fit really well,” she said.
Christi O’Halloran, a junior at Scarborough High, also opted for a printed style. She selected a BCGC dress with pink and blue flowers on a teal background. The chiffon dress is strapless and floor-length.
“I think it’s more unique than a one-color dress,” O’Halloran said. “So you don’t have the same color dress as someone else.”
Every girl wants to be the only one wearing a particular gown to her school’s prom. To that end, many girls travel out of state to buy their prom dresses.
However, the ones who shop at locally-owned boutiques, such as Andrea’s Bridal and Spoil Me, need not worry about having a twin, because these shops keep registries of which dresses are headed to which proms.
“You go to so many dances through your high school career,” said DeCesare of South Portland. “But prom is the one your kids and grandkids will ask about. It’s the dance that everyone remembers.”
Which means the best dresses and tuxes are the ones that make the wearers feel fabulous, because that will make the memories all the sweeter.
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: