Ball gown blues
Shopping for a fashionable ball gown can be difficult as an adult during prom season, but we've got some tips for buying age-appropriate formalwear this spring.
Snow is finally melting. Birds are coming back to warn us of impending spring, and it stays light out for an extra hour. High school juniors and seniors are gearing up for what they’re going to wear to prom, while bridesmaids, brides, and their mothers are feverishly scouring specialty dress shops for summer weddings. I, however, am 31 years old and in need of a ball gown for something completely unrelated to any of the aforementioned things.
This could quite possibly be the worst time of year to be looking for an evening dress in the city—nearly as difficult as shopping early for a princess or fairy costume for Halloween. Department stores’ formal sections are chock-full of short, strapless prom dresses for 16-year-olds right now, and not much else.
I’ve learned a few things along the way that might make it a bit easier for ladies who are in a similar predicament. I’ve compiled a list of questions to ask yourself before purchasing a formal dress:
2. Is it age-appropriate? I’m sure prom night was so magical however many years ago, you want to relive it all over again, right? Or not… Skip all the drama and keep it simple without looking like you’re going clubbing or giving your daughter away. Skirting should fall at or below the knee. Showing some skin can be sultry, but make sure you’re not revealing too much on top.
3. What material is it made of? High-end garments tend to use nicer fabric and are constructed better, but there are always exceptions. Try it on. If you find yourself getting hot right away, don’t buy it. If possible, stick to natural fibers like silk or cotton blends or fabric that stretches or is sheer as opposed to a stiff, heavily tailored garment. If you’re wearing something low cut that’s too tight on top, it could make you look heavier, and result in a surprise broken seam. Worse, you could accidentally pull a Janet Jackson halftime show. Also, try to steer clear of thick synthetic taffeta; it was great in the 1950s, but just kind of looks 1980s-cheap today.
4. Does it have a million little intricate pieces? More embellishment just means there’s more that could go wrong. Sequins or beads can fall off, and the settings and edges on rhinestones or jewels could scratch you or someone else, or get snagged on hair and clothing. They also add weight to a garment that could either be form-fitting and flattering or stretch the fabric down just a bit further than you’d like. Keep it simple.
5. Have you thought about accessories? In lieu of sticking things to the dress, add jewelry. It looks infinitely classier and is safer for everyone. A colorful rhinestone bib necklace paired with a streamline, low-cut gown looks much more refined than flimsy dress straps caked with sequins or fake plastic stones. You could also go the opposite way and tame a bright-colored gown with really small, monotone jewelry. Balance is a fine art, which is why celebrities look so good: they hire people to dress them.
6. What color do you want to wear? Pick a few options and stick with them on your search for the right garment. Consider how your skin tone looks with it, as well as what the color conveys—i.e. bright red and pale pink send very different messages. Keep in mind that you should probably stick to either a very light or very dark color if you plan on dancing a lot or are prone to perspiration; sweat isn’t as prevalent on a white or black garment as it is on neutral tones or bold colors.
If you’re on a budget like me and/or don’t want to spend a fortune on something you’ll likely only wear once, there are a few places in town you could try first before breaking the bank. For used designer gowns and/or accessories, try sifting through some resale or consignment stores such as Retique, East Town Women’s Shop, Lela in the Third Ward, or Swanky Seconds in Shorewood (I know there are a ton of others, so feel free to list them in the comments). Happy hunting!