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In Defense of Bad Prom Dresses | Manolo for the Big Girl

In Defense of Bad Prom Dresses

I’m really a big softie when it comes to prom and prom dresses. Really any sort of formal event when you’re a kid.  See the thing is, for a lot of these girls –you know, perfectly normal sweet girls– senior prom is in all likelihood one of only two times they’ll really get to wear a ballgown, the other time being their wedding.

Give the kids a break.

As far as I’m concerned, prom is a time for complete sartorial excess. Make a mistake, look silly, wear cheap satin. You’re young, why not?

I vaguely regret my senior prom gown. It was a perfectly timeless red satin number with a boned basque bodice and box pleated ballgown skirt.

Always the pragmatist, I went classic knowing I’d probably have to wear it for recitals in college, which I did. After my move to Texas I altered it to cocktail length, removed the straps and a few of the pleats and got another couple uses out of it.  Now it lives somewhere in my grandparents’ closet. I haven’t had the heart to get rid of it.

ZZZZZZZZ…

I didn’t know as a 17 year-old kid in Virginia that my life would turn out to have a relatively high ballgown requirement. I figured it might, but I also figured I’d join the cast of Riverdance before moving to New Zealand, marrying Mark Cawardine and becoming a field ornithologist.

All of this is to say,  I firmly believe in the right for a girl to wear a lstupid prom dress.

The trend these days seems to be for hyper-ruched dresses with bubble hems or those horrible pick-ups:

pickups

or the same bodice ruching with a mermaid skirt, and Lord knows they’d probably want to wear it with  shiny spandex opera length gloves that flatter precisely no one in the universe.

And you know, fine. I don’t care. Would I wear it? No, but I’m not a 17 year-old girl whose entire world is about to change in a few weeks.

If I had to do it all over again –and thank God I don’t– knowing what I know now about how my life has turned out, I’d actually go for a big goofy dress on purpose.  Probably something like this blue one:

mypromdress

which clearly takes its inspiration from the Dolce and Gabbana shows from 2008.

dolcefall 2008

Why? Because it’s a sweet, fun dress to be worn by a (probably) sweet, fun girl for a (hopefully) sweet, fun event that pretty much marks the end of being a kid. Celebrating being young, gorgeous and carefree is what Prom is all about, Charlie Brown.

But seriously, don’t wear the spandex gloves.

21 Responses to “In Defense of Bad Prom Dresses”

  1. The Rotund March 29, 2010 at 11:16 am #

    I am such a fan of sartorial excess – and of creating occasions that call for it. I went through a phase where a good Saturday afternoon consisted of just trying on formal wear for the fun of it.

    This is, of course, a potentially painful exercise beyond a certain size range and I am, sadly, beyond it. But goddamn. There was just something self-indulgent and rewarding about trying on a tight red velvet number with a plunging neckline and bell sleeves at Saks Fifth Avenue just because it was a gorgeous evening gown and I FELT LIKE IT.

  2. Thea March 29, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    The thing that makes me sad is not the exuberant excess dresses, but the number of ‘prom dresses’ that would be fine for a 40-year-old at a fundraiser – I know the kids wanna look sophisticated, but you can only get away with florals and tulle for so long – you should revel in it

  3. sunny March 29, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    Hi I am trying to send you an email-your site is so funny-but my computer won’t let me send it from your site or access your email or anything. It’s totally my computer, horrible thing.
    I am a clothing designer for plus sized girls and I wanted to talk to you-would you email me? Sorry for the weird comment-It’s the only way i can figure out how to contact you.
    Thanks Sunny Haralson

  4. La Petite Acadienne March 29, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    Sadly, I went to the prom in the height of the minimalist craze of the 1990’s. So my dress was a slim red strapless sheath with a slit up one leg. Sure, it looked elegant and classic. Sure, it’s something I could wear today and not be embarrassed.

    But, I look at the fluffy, pretty, lacy, pastel-y dresses that are out now, and I really do wish that I’d taken the opportunity to wear something completely impractical for once.

  5. Siege March 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    This always reminds me of my prom shopping experience. I actually wanted desperately to wear one of those big princess gowns, not realizing that I tend to look like an unhappy cupcake in pink glitter tulle. My mother (who already knew how this would turn out after dressing a similar body shape for decades) let me try on every single one of those poofy monsters until I was in tears with frustration because I felt awful in every one. Then she handed me the sleek black number I eventually ended up falling head-over-heels for. I look back on my prom pictures and am glad I didn’t get a ball gown–they’re great for some people but not for me–because I look like a stone fox in those pictures in that black dress!

  6. jen209 March 29, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    Thank you thank you thank you Plumcake! I needed to illustrate to one of my coworkers the difference between ruffles, pleats, and ruching – and this post was a perfect illustration!

  7. Tatulah March 29, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    I did a classic a-line but I should have rocked a pufy mo’fo dress. I could handled it. It would have been great at the after-party – all that tulle and fluff. SIGH.

  8. Jeni March 29, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    My dress was black with a white band across the top. At the seam between the white and black fabric was a line of little rhinestones. It was classy, flattering and made me feel beautiful.

    That being said it was my second choice. My first choice was more of a ball gown and had layers of flimsy sheer fabric in a pretty blue/gray color. On top of that there was a scattering of rhinestones all over it. It looked like stars in the night sky (which I believe was the point). It was FANTASTIC! I wanted that dress so bad I could taste it. Unfortunately it was also about $400 which is kind of a lot for a dress when your 17….

  9. Bree March 29, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    I had my prom dress made because back in 1993, I knew it would be impossible to find a big-girl gown that was flattering. I also didn’t want a huge ruffly gown. So I headed to JoAnn Fabrics and picked out my own fabric. Since I’m simple, I chose black velour for the top, paired with a dusty-rose satin for the skirt and black polka-dot lace overlay for the skirt. The dress was tea-length and did flare out a little and it was a basic boatneck with 3/4 sleeves and a bit of pouf at the shoulders.

    It wasn’t a headturner, but it was comfortable and I thought it looked pretty to wear for four hours. I ended up selling it that summer at a yard sale to a lovely plus-size teen looking for a fancy dress, so I’m glad it went to good use (hopefully)!

  10. Evie March 29, 2010 at 11:08 pm #

    I wore a mildly cupcake-y blue dress when I went to the prom rather last minute as a sophomore (one of my senior friends needed a date to round out the group). I felt it wasn’t ridiculous enough, so I added a tiara. High recommended.

    As a senior, I made my own dress and went for broke. It had a halter neck, low front, and low back, and was made up in a slinky, sparkly emerald green fabric. I wore it with ginormous rhinestone costume jewelry. Unsurprisingly, mine was the least restrained ensemble at the entire prom, and I don’t regret it one bit.

  11. TropicalChrome March 30, 2010 at 12:46 am #

    I’m a bit older than the average commenter here, and Prom Style when I went to my senior prom the style could be summarized in two words: Gunne Sax. Go look it up, and when you’re done laughing, come back and read some more.

    Unfortunately, the commercial Gunne Sax dresses did not come in my size (I was a big girl even then). Fortunately, they did have patterns, and my mother was quite good at sewing, so she made me a Gunne Sax dress for my prom, including all the ribbons and lace.

    I felt so beautiful in that dress. I looked exactly how I wanted to look. I have no regrets at all. And that’s what a prom dress should do for every girl.

    (And I still have my prom dress, it’s one of two items in my closet that I will never wear and never get rid of. )

  12. Plumcake March 30, 2010 at 1:22 am #

    Oh Chrome, don’t think I have to look up Gunne Sax, it was before my time but three out of four of my formal gowns in high school were Gunne Sax 2.0, a.k.a. Jessica McClintock.

  13. Cassie March 30, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    When I had my prom (and I can’t believe I didn’t remember this sooner), I wore a dress my mother made for me – it was lovely. Square neckline, full skirt, pale blue . . . awesome.

    On the pale blue-but-not-done-well, a girl in my grade wore the same color. In a ruffly, hoop-skirted, southern belle concoction. She even had her french manicure done in the same color to match. It was, as I said then, some dress.

    She didn’t cause as much of a splash as the guy in the purple sequined Napoleon outfit, but he’s another story all together.

  14. Violet March 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    I had ruching and pickups on my wedding dress in 2005 and I’ll have you know it looked fabulous, because it was done right. (Pronovias.) Those elements in their Platonic forms are perfectly fine. My dress had a better shape altogether with a smoother more A-line silhouette and a butt-hiding but not too over the top bustle effect. The dress you showcased is just bad — the ruching is pulled too tight and it extends too far down so as to delineate the hip in a potentially unflattering mermaidy way, the pickups are crumpled-looking and too horizontally organized and tier-y and they start so low in back that the dress droops grimly over the butt, the crinoline is the wrong shape, there’s that unnecessary barwench corset back, it’s just an all-round crappy design.

    But I’m sure some girl is enjoying the hell out of it anyway which is as it should be.

  15. Astra March 30, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

    I was very lucky: my mother made my prom dresses (and my wedding dress too). The one for my junior year was so beautiful. The senior year one was as well but strapless was annoying–lots of hitching up during the night.

  16. Andrea March 30, 2010 at 7:44 pm #

    Oh! Did we wear the same prom dress? I thought it was beautiful and classic then, but I do regret not wearing an outfit that I would later regret. I mean, I laugh at a lot of my other high school outfits!

    Not seen in that photo, but yes. I did wear white opera gloves.

  17. ChristianeF March 30, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    I loooooooved my prom dress.

    In high school, I wanted to be Elizabeth Bennet when I grew up so I paid my best friend’s mom to make me a Regency style dress. Empire waist, cap sleeves, square neckline showing just enough cleavage. The best best best part was picking out the fabric while skipping school with my best friend. I found the most gorgeous silk in the upholstery section. Light gold with threads of pink and sage so it changed color when it moved and embroidered with golden flowers. That was the top. (I wanted it for the whole thing, but it was $75 a yard!) The bottom was sage green.

    I felt gorgeous in a dress for probably the first time ever.

  18. Mac April 6, 2010 at 2:03 am #

    Thank you for this. When I was 17, all my girlfriends and I wore slinky black dresses but my mother shook her head and said, “You can wear those dresses when you’re 30. Why didn’t you wear something fun and frothy, that only a pretty teen can get away with?” Of course, I rolled my eyes and scoffed at her stupidity – we did actually look great – but now, at 40 years old, I wish so much I’d looked a bit less sophisticated and a bit more… like the rosy-cheeked 17 year-old never-been-kissed that I was.

  19. Gaston Pilar August 9, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    Doyle Bollis

  20. Shannon October 9, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

    Heyy…

    Was just wondering if you know of a dress site where i could find either that orange and green dress or the blue equivalent… my formal is in march next year and i have fallen in love with that dress :) thanks heaps