Friday, August 23, 2019
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One mother's prom dress diary
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My daughter Mary, 15, is going to her first prom. Our search for the right dress was an interesting one. (Photo courtesy of Melanie Sommer)

Bloomington, Minn. — I haven't shopped for a prom dress since my own high school days. Let's just say that was a long time ago, and leave it at that. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I made plans to take my 15-year-old daughter, Mary, dress shopping for her very first prom. So I did a little homework beforehand, and visited several prom dress Web sites to check out the current styles.

I was amazed and appalled at many of the dresses I saw online. They fell into a couple of different categories: Princess-style dresses with very full skirts, fluffed out with layers and layers of tulle; '70s-style dresses with halter tops and bright neon colors; movie star-style dresses with no straps and very low backs, lots of beadwork, and a lot of skin showing.

Mary and I looked a some of them together, and she picked out a few of the more reasonable styles. Thankfully, she and I had fairly similar ideas.

With those ideas in mind, we headed to the Mall of America last Saturday. One of Mary's best friends, Sarah, came along as her fashion consultant. Sarah had bought her dress a week earlier, so she had already checked out the prom dress selections and helped us decide where to look.

My rules (and my husband's) were simple: No strapless dresses, no plunging necklines, no low backs. Sarah's rules were more well thought-out: Avoid white, because white should be reserved for wedding dresses. Avoid sparkly fabrics, because you'll shed glitter all over the place. And avoid Glitz, because the dresses there were outlandish.

Off we went in search of Mary's perfect prom dress.

First stop: Deb's, a store that caters to teenage girls. It had racks and racks full of prom dresses, and it was very busy. We hardly knew where to start. We skipped over the princess gown with horizontal rainbow stripes, and found half a dozen dresses worth trying on -- most of them costing in the $100-$130 range.

Mary's top choice was a black dress with spaghetti straps, lavender embroidery and a lavender insert in the skirt. It looked very nice on her. Hooray, I thought -- one stop and we found the perfect dress! But Mary wasn't ready to buy just yet.

Second stop: Nordstrom's. Their selection was quite disappointing -- there wasn't much to choose from in terms of styles or sizes. It looked picked over. And of course, the prices were a great deal higher -- most were $200-$300 or more. Mary did find a couple of white dresses to try on, despite Sarah's objections. The one she liked best was -- strapless.

Next stop: Macy's. That's where Sarah had found her dress. Macy's had quite a good variety of styles and colors, and a lot of gowns with elaborate -- and heavy -- beadwork.

Mary tried on four or five dresses, including the same style as Sarah's. She also tried on a dress made of glittery turquoise fabric, again overriding Sarah's objections. We rejected it, though. Sarah was right about the glitter.

Our next stop: Bloomingdale's. Walking into the prom dress display took my breath away. There were hundreds and hundreds of prom dresses, and they were displayed by color. There was a red section, blue section, green, yellow, orange, pink, etc.

It was fabulous to look at, and we did a lot of browsing. But so many of the styles broke our rules! And so many of them would break the bank, as well. Mary tried on several dresses -- some really glittery ones just for fun, and a couple of black dresses that she liked.

I saw Mary in one particular black dress, and it took my breath away again. The dress was a one-shoulder style, slightly gathered across the waist, with a row of black beads down one side. My daughter looked gorgeous!

She said, "I think this is the one!" Then she thought about whether she really wanted another black dress -- she already has one at home. Then we looked at the pricetag: $270.

So we decided to make one more stop -- Glitz, despite Sarah's advice. Just to see what they had.

What they had were a lot of bright colors, a lot of beads and sequins, a lot of fluffy tulle skirts, and a lot of strapless dresses. They also had very few dresses in Mary's size 2.

We eventually found a couple for her to try on. And wouldn't you know, one of them fit perfectly and looked very nice on her. It was red, with white embroidered flowers. It had a train -- and it was strapless.

It was decision time. We sat on a bench outside Glitz, and debated between the black goddess dress and the red strapless.

The black was more expensive, but more likely to be worn again (that's mom talking). The red was less expensive (more reasonable at $210, although I must say I've never spent that much on a dress for myself), but less likely to be worn again.

The black was very sophisticated, the red more fun. But the red also broke the rules!

In the end, we finally heeded Sarah's advice. She said the red dress would stand out and be much more memorable at prom, while the black would sort of "blend in." Ultimately, isn't that what you want -- to be noticed at prom?

So, Mary chose the red. It's a lovely dress and she looks lovely in it. I approve. And best of all, her dad approves too.

We still have a week to go before Mary's prom on April 30. So I have time for another shopping trip -- to the fabric store, to find some material to make straps for her dress!