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Opinion: How to dress for Prom (Girls)

Here is Kate Marinkovich holding two very different dresses. Can you guess which one is not appropriate for Prom? Photos by Spencer Carlson.
Here is Kate Marinkovich holding two very different dresses. Can you guess which one is not appropriate for Prom? Photos by Spencer Carlson.

Prom season is upon us, which means that we are nearing the date when many students will commit some of the most severe fashion crimes of the year. In this article, we attempt to convince at least a few of those wayward students to correct themselves and dress for Prom like they ought to: with poise.


Girls, cover up. That is perhaps the most pressing thing we have to say to you. Prom is not the time to be exposing your chests and midriffs. It’s great if you are proud of your body, but maybe don’t reveal too much this evening? We’re not telling you to look straight out of a nunnery, but be classy and pick wisely what skin you’d like to show.

The Dress

If you’re wearing a dress that covers you, you’ve already won half the battle. But please, don’t stop there — 50% is an F. Indeed, although every year many Prom-going women cover themselves sufficiently, a number of them still manage to select a dress that has nothing to do with Prom. Please allow us to distinguish for you between the kinds of dresses that are appropriate for the occasion, and those that are not.

It’s like this: there are many different kinds of dresses. There are dresses for parties, there are dresses for church, there are dresses for school, there are dresses for formal events and there are many other kinds of dresses. Sometimes, a dress can be appropriate for multiple kinds of occasions. But make no mistake, there are far more dresses out there that are completely wrong for Prom than there are that are right.

Here are some clues you are probably shopping in the wrong place for a Prom dress:

  • You are in a bridal store
  • You are at Target (or really any other department store that sells groceries at some of its locations)

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on your Prom dress — you can even rent one. But it is very important that, however much money you choose to spend, you spend it well. For less expensive dresses Modcloth is a fantastic option; most dresses range under $100, and there is a large variety of styles, lengths and colors to choose from. Most girls find their Prom dresses at department stores, such as Nordstrom or Bloomingdales. At stores such as these, the price range is vast; dresses can be anywhere from $50 t0 $1,000. Now a lot of us can’t spend $1,000 on a dress, but as mentioned earlier there is an alternate option: renting. Rent the Runway is a website that allows you to rent designer dresses for a small fraction of their actual cost. Setting up an account is easy (all you need is your name and email) and the selection is fabulous.

On top of stores such as these there are multiple websites dedicated to Prom dresses, as well as your local boutiques or smaller stores (J. Crew is a perfect example, if you can afford it).

Once you’re looking in the right place, you will want to know what to avoid. Here are just a few things to be wary of:

  • Sparkly chunks of plastic/glitter/anything that might just make you look a little too much like a Disney Princess
  • Dresses with massive poof — it usually looks far sillier than you realize
  • Very complex dresses — not an altogether horrible idea, but be sure that it is still elegant
  • Very simple dresses — meaning no structure at all. Unless you have an absolutely killer body, you want to find something that does a little more for your figure
  • Anything too flowy — you aren’t getting a dress to wear while frolicking in the meadow
  • Very thin straps on a dress that could be strapless. They will make your shoulders look fat, and they always look like they are about to rip.
  • Strapless dresses — not because of fashion, strapless dresses totally work for Prom, but because you will be dancing in this and you don’t want to spend the entire evening pulling your dress up. Make sure it fits snugly around your chest.
  • And we’ll say it again, anything that is too revealing

To most of those rules, there are exceptions. Sparkles can look amazing. Complex dresses can work. Thin straps can look gorgeous on the right person. The one rule to never break, though, is the last one. Seriously, don’t dress for sexy. Dress for beautiful.

Now here’s is the million dollar question: short or long? Our answer is either, however for each option be mindful of the following rules.

Short Dresses: Here we go again with the “cover up” advice: Remember the fingertip rule? This rule applies to your Prom dress, and maybe a little more. Your dress has to hit at least mid-thigh, any shorter is totally inappropriate. This is a formal event, not a middle school dance. Please, ladies, keep it classy; we know you are.

Long Dresses: Make sure it is properly hemmed. Not too short, not too long. Figure out which shoes you are wearing early and wear them when the tailor is pinning your dress, this way the length will turn out perfect.

Essentially, when looking for a Prom dress, the rules are less about what to do and more about what not to do. Most importantly, you need to feel like a princess. So please, Prom-going women, pick carefully and embrace the inner classy lady that we know you all can be.


After you’ve found the perfect dress, you have to find the perfect shoes. For girls with short dresses, shoes are more important, as they will actually be seen, but either way they are a component of your outfit that, like your dress, needs to be perfect.

We don’t have much to say other than this: you will be dancing all night in these shoes. Please take that into consideration. Some girls take their shoes off and leave them under their table, but that is gross and if possible should be avoided.

If you have a long dress, have a short dress and just don’t care, or have a short date you have the option to wear flats. To all of you: you are the smartest girls at this fiesta. Everyone else will look over in jealousy as you are dancing the night away and they are stuck with blisters on their feet. But it is understandable if you do not want to sacrifice your comfort for style.

Other than that, you’re on your own. Pick a pair you love; Prom is an excuse to buy a great pair of new shoes.


For this you are mostly on your own. Remember that you will need to carry some essentials (phone, money, makeup) so you may need a clutch of sorts, but if worst comes to worst just put it in your date’s pocket. Jackets are unnecessary, as you will be inside (or on a heated balcony) and it will be warm. Jewelry is a personal choice, just don’t go overboard.

The Prom Dress Facebook Group

As Prom approaches many Paly girls are added to what will become her only worry until April 27th: the Prom dress Facebook group. Girls frantically post their dresses, afraid that someone else will wear the exact same one and let us tell you: it does not matter. Already on the page there are numerous dresses that look very similar, if not identical, and we promise you that when Prom does arrive, no one will actually notice. There is a dress out there for every single one of you, and whether it us similar to someone else’s or completely unique, you will look beautiful.

Well, there you have it. Follow our guidelines, and you should look altogether marvelous at this year’s Prom. You may not be the talk of the school, but there is such a thing as bad publicity. So let Prom be an occasion to leave the limits of fashion alone and do something for tradition’s sake.

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About the Contributors
Spencer Carlson, Author

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  • F

    Fashion StoryAug 11, 2021 at 8:59 pm

    Great article to read, all the tips are great….

  • Y

    YusraApr 13, 2019 at 3:35 pm

    I bought a black prom dress. Is it okay to wear that? And its like those disney princess type so is it okay to wear that?