Top tips for prom dress shopping


Katya Avila

It’s that time of the year again where juniors and seniors are starting to scramble from store to store looking for shoes, accessories, hair stylists and makeup artists and, of course, for those who are wearing one, trying to find the perfect dress. It’s prom season!
As someone who has worked as a consultant in a shop selling prom dresses since sophomore year, there are many tips and tricks that I have picked up, that are extremely helpful during the fun and occasionally stressful time of prom dress shopping.
Tip #1: Shopping Options
When shopping for formal wear, such as prom dresses, there are three main options to buy from. The ready-to-wear type stores, the “couture” type stores and online shopping. The ready-to-wear stores are the most familiar, because it’s the type of store where most everyday-clothes are bought. You come into the store, shop and find the dress, than pay and take it home immediately. An example of these for prom shopping include Lord and Taylor, Nordstrom, Macy’s, etc.
This greatly differs from “couture” type stores. In these type of stores, generally an appointment is required, and there is a consultant present to aid in the decision making and fitting. After finding the dress in these type of stores, the consultant will measure you to find a dress in the size that matches your exact measurements, for a more perfect fit. Do keep in mind that in these type of stores, since it’s manufactured “fresh for you”, it takes generally 3-5 months to arrive, plus a possible extra month for personal alterations.
The last main option is online. Be careful when doing this, because there are many websites that use the retailer’s pictures, but are complete knock offs, such as “Aliexpress”. Using either a specific designer or retailers official website is the safest way to go. This could be  a hit or miss, because sometimes the dress looks completely different in real life or on you, than it does in the pictures on the computer screen.
Mini-tip: Prom Dresses can be really complicated to put on! If the store doesn’t provide a consultant, be sure to take someone along that can aid in zipping and clipping.
Tip #2: Online shopping
Continuing off of the previous tip, other than being careful of scam websites, it is important to know that the dresses online look very different in real life and on different body types. It’s common for girls to fall in love with a dress online, but become disappointed when it doesn’t meet the expectations in real life.
A good tip for online shopping is when you find one you love online, go to a store to try on ether that same dress or a similar one. That way you will know whether or not that color or style looks good on you. This can be done easily by calling up stores and asking if they carry the dress, than going in to try it on. After determining whether or not it’s “the one” in store, the process of purchasing it online will be a lot less worrisome.
Mini-Tip: Prom dresses (and other formal wear) generally run small. That means if you are normally a 4 you could be a 6 or even an 8 depending on the designer. Trying on dresses in a store from the same designer to determine your size is extremely beneficial when purchasing.
Tip #3: Have some ideas in mind before shopping in store.
One of the most common phrases I hear are “there’s so many, I don’t even know where to start”. Simple pre-planning such as scrolling and screenshotting through designers instagram or going through the retailers website before shopping in store will greatly eliminate this stress, since you will already have a starting point.
It is also important to note, however, that there is a big chance that your opinion may change. So pre-planning will make the process a lot less overwhelming, but know to keep an open mind and don’t feel discouraged if the one you thought would be “perfect” isn’t really as amazing in real life.
Mini-tip: Pinterest is the perfect platform for this! Just search “prom dresses” and pin whatever dresses or dress ideas that appeal to you, all inside a “board” (folder), that’ll keep it all organized and in one place rather than all over your camera roll.
Tip #4: Know the fabrics
Some of the most popular fabrics that modern prom dresses are made with these days are jersey knit, chiffon, and satin. All of these dresses make gorgeous dresses, but “react” a bit differently. Jersey knit, a comfortable stretchy fabric, is what I find to be the most purchased, because of its form fitting nature. Do keep in mind, however, that it clings to the body very well, meaning that it’ll show off every curve.
On the contrary, there is satin. With prom dresses this fabric is generally heavy and shiny. Because of that, it is great to make more “ball gown” type dresses, where the skirt puffs out a little, which is a gorgeous look. But, because satin is heavy and tends to trap heat, if dancing all night is your plan a much lighter fabric would be more suitable.
Then there is chiffon. Chiffon is light, airy and makes gorgeous a-line dresses that drape very naturally and flowy on the body. Chiffon is great for dancing and still being comfortable. However, because it just drapes straight down, it doesn’t show any curves or hug the body, which a knit fabric like jersey will do a lot better.
Tip #5: Have shoes ASAP!
Whether your dress if from Macys or David’s Bridal, there’s a good chance that any long gown will need to be hemmed to your height. The standard dress length is fit for girls 5’8-6’1 depending on the designer, meaning the majority of girls will need to get the dress “cut to size”. However, before going to the tailor to get it hemmed, be sure to have your shoes/ heels!
This is imperative because if you get the dressed hemmed to your height, and than the heels are three inches, there will be a lot of shoe peeking out. While some people may like this, most prefer for the dress to comfortably touch the floor, covering their shoes. Also do keep in mind that the alterations take time, so they’re not usually something to be done last minute.
That being said, getting the shoes ASAP after the dress is extremely important, so you can start the alteration process.
Mini-tip: If you’re getting your dress from a couture-type store have your shoes before the first fitting, or at least know the heel height, to lower the chance of having to come back for a second fitting.
Lastly, while the whole season of prom may seems crazy and overwhelming, it’s important to not let everything gets jumbled together into a mess, and take everything one step at a time. Even just making a quick to-do list on your phone could be extremely helpful and take some weight off your shoulders.
Overall, just keep these tips in the back of your mind, stay organized, and take a breath! High School prom only happens twice in a person’s lifetime, so make the most of the whole experience.