The hunt began in January.

Despite snow on the ground and temperatures dipping south of freezing, high school girls were already trying on dresses both short and long, strapless or maybe one-shoulder, with sweetheart necklines or slits to mid-thigh. And yes, they had several months to spare before prom season arrived, but the early the better is the best motto when you’re looking for the perfect dress to wear on the most perfect of high school nights.

“The seniors know they’re going so they come in early because they want the best fit,” said Litty Parker, manager of Tavecchia on Exchange Street in Portland. “They come in and kind of scout it out and they try some on. They used to bring their parents in but now they can take pictures and send them to their parents’ phones.”

When this year’s prom attendees did make the big decision and make a purchase it often trended to the more traditional.

“Simple, traditional but elegant,” said Lori Irving, owner of Simply You Boutique in Saco. “There are not as many pouffy gowns this year. The majority (of girls) have gone long. In years past it’s been a little of both.”

Irving’s shop saw plenty of whites, solid colors and soft pastels of light blues, pinks and yellows selected. Parker also found white and ivory to be popular 2012 colors.

Most dress shops, including Tevecchia, keep records of dresses sold so two of the same don’t appear at the same school’s prom. According to Parker, many students are taking matters into their own hands by posting their dress selections to social networking sites as a heads up to their classmates.

While long dresses seem to be in, Ana Paprocki of Spoil Me in Falmouth said girls still like “a lot of bling and sparkle.” Still there are those who want to stand out with a more classic dress. “There were a few girls from Falmouth and Cheverus that wanted that simple look – no beading,” Paprocki said.

Those that have chosen beaded dresses with jewels around the neckline are foregoing necklaces this year. But big, hoop earrings, in either colors or metals, are definitely in.

And when it comes to shoes, the majority of girls have opted for the highesst heels they can manage to enhance the length of their dresses – with a few exceptions. “The shoes are all pretty high,” Irving said, “unless they have a boyfriend that’s shorter than them.”

Online editor Karen Beaudoin can be contacted at 791-6296