Prom-dress trends veer toward sexy, shorter, glizty
Electric rainbows of color greet customers who walk through M2's doors. Glittery beads sparkle from every direction. Layers of tulle cluster against each other in bids for attention.
As an employee of M2 in Urbana, Tiffany Newberry inspected all these colorful gowns in preparation for her senior year prom, and snapped hers up in January.
A midyear graduate of Unity High School in Tolono, Newberry attends Parkland College this semester.
"When I graduated early, they gave me the choice whether I wanted to go to the prom, and I totally wanted to go," she said. "All of us are going off to college, so it was kind of my last chance to see everyone."
This will be Newberry's third prom, and at each one, she's sported some of the latest trends in prom dresses.
"When I first went to prom, I bought a short dress, and I was the first one and the only one in my school to do so," she said.
While most girls still go for long dresses, said M2 co-manager Jeannie Stierwalt, short, often baby-doll, gowns have become much more popular in the last year or two.
"They'll want the kind of fairy-tale dress, only in short versions," she said.
The next year, Newberry "wore a ball gown, so I wanted to go straight this year," she said. "It was the only one I hadn't done yet."
She'll be wearing a blue dress with a strappy back and a train she'll pick up when she dances.
"It has a really deep V, and that also was based on what I (hadn't) worn before," she said. "Last year I went to the princess (look), so this year I pulled out the diva."
Stierwalt and M2 co-manager Debby Reynolds say girls often opt for a poufy, Cinderella-esque ball gown for at least one prom.
"Ball gowns come in all shapes and sides," Stierwalt said. Some come in delicate pastels, others in dramatic blacks and reds, edgier, with sexy backs or sides – "a ball gown with an attitude," Reynolds called it. The colors also keep getting brighter, she said, pointing to the hyper oranges, yellows and pinks around the store, some mixing two colors, like teal and brown.
Bismarck-Henning High School senior Britany Clapp has gone to prom three times before, and has gotten her fill of wearing poufy princess dresses. For this year's prom, her last before heading to the University of Illinois, she'll be wearing a sleek royal blue gown with beading and sequins on the straps and cutouts in the back.
"I wanted something different," Clapp said. "I think it'll fit in, but I don't think anyone else will have it."
As one of M2's store ambassadors – a teen who talks to other teens about the M2 lines – Clapp's seen her fair share of dresses. She said she's seen more girls wearing animal prints over the last few years, though she's not following that trend.
Another M2 ambassador, Champaign Centennial High School senior Gabrielle Borries looked through magazines, then spent about three hours trying on about 15 dresses for her prom. The Parkland and UI-bound student eventually chose a dress that would meet her style requirements for both the prom and the Champaign County Fair pageant.
The royal blue gown Borries bought is "kind of Grecian-looking," she said. "There's a slit down the center – it's kind of risque." The dress also doesn't make her look younger, as her poufy second-choice dress did, she said.
Stierwalt and Reynolds say that, over the years, more girls are opting for beads, sequins and other types of light-catchers.
"It's definitely not the bow on the bum that we used to have," Reynolds said. She recommends girls put on sparkly jewelry if they're wearing a sparkly dress, though.
"If you don't put a lot of sparkle on, once you have a dress with so much beading, sometimes the girl gets lost."
At Karen's Kloset in Champaign, a consignment shop, several beaded ball gowns adorn the racks.
"Most of the dresses that have sold here are the poufy ones," said store manager Elaine Remole. And forget sleeves: "They're all either strapless or halter or spaghetti straps."
While Reynolds and Stierwalt are seeing more patterns, don't look for florals – or sleeves. Instead, animal prints and watercolor-like washes of color dominate, Stierwalt said, as do low-cut backs and mermaid silhouettes that show off rear ends.
"Thanks to Beyonce, behinds are big," she said.
But no matter which trend girls are following or ignoring, the M2 managers say the gown has to show off the girl – not make her disappear inside a dress.
"We basically ask them, 'What makes you feel like a million bucks?'" Stierwalt said.
Newberry agreed that the occasion called for something special.
"Every girl in high school wants to feel like the princess – the princess or a red carpet star," she said. "They know it's an event that they're not going to have another chance to do. They like to go big or go home."
Costs vary for 'one last memory'
A lot of hard work has gone into the moment when Gabrielle Borries can slip on her prom dress.
The designer dress cost more than $500, said the Champaign Centennial High School senior.
"I was very worried about it," she said.
So she also spent months working to save money for her portion, feeling the occasion justified the extra work and expense. Her parents also helped cover the cost.
"It's my senior year, " Borries said. "We just wanted this one last memory. It would be special."
M2 co-managers Jeannie Stierwalt and Debby Reynolds say prom dress prices at the store – located at 2210 North Willow Road, U – can range from about $100 for a sale or simpler dress to upward of $600. Intricate beading and lots of fabric can add money to a dress's cost, they said.
In the current economy, they're getting lots of customers buying dresses on layaway and paying over time.
Tiffany Newberry's dress from M2 cost $358, about average for a prom dress, she said. Though the Parkland College student worried about the expense – "I'm trying to save up for college," she said – her parents paid for half and she also used her discount from working at M2 to help pay for it.
At Karen's Kloset, a consignment shop at 231 S. Mattis Ave., C, girls have fewer options but can find some of the same trends, with billowy, sparkly gowns in sizes from 0-20 and some sleek, silky gowns, including a low-backed canary yellow dress that matches what Kate Hudson wore in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" for $154.
Because prom is often a one-time occasion, most of the shop's dresses have been worn only once, said store manager Elaine Remole.
"We've got some designer dresses that range from $50 retail ... to $600 retail," she said. "We usually price things about a third of what they go for retail."
At Transitions, a resale store in Urbana's Lincoln Square Village where profits go to the Center for Women in Transition, all the prom and bridal dresses cost $25, including many gowns from makers like Alfred Angelo and Bill Levkoff that could pass for prom dresses.
"A lot of them were donated a while ago from a bridal shop," said store manager Tiffany Wang. "There's short, there's long, there's poufy and there's non-poufy.
"In the last month, we've sold five at least."
Stierwalt and Reynolds say better prices can sometimes be found on the Internet, but "what they have to think about is fit," Stierwalt said. "They can get it cheaper, but they have to be very careful."
Bismarck-Henning High School senior Britany Clapp said that though the dresses can be expensive, the memories are worth the cost.
"You only get to buy a few in your lifetime," she said.
What about the boys?
When it comes to prom, boys are "coming into their own, nowadays," said Jeannie Stierwalt, co-manager of M2 in Urbana. "You can do top hats, you can do canes."
She also sees more men getting bright vests and ties to match the amped-up colors their dates often wear.
And while the suits are often basic black or gray, some boys have opted for a James Bond-type white dinner jacket, a zoot suit or tails. "Now when they're doing it, they're making a statement," said M2 co-manager Debby Reynolds.
"Guys have gotten more interested," she said. "All the guys just look great in a tux, and they know it – and that makes it fun."