Sunday, April 20, 2014
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In search of the perfect prom dress
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Carli Cooper, 17, tries on a dress at Glitz with the help of her mother, Carol McDaniel, and her sister, Nicole McDaniel. The three drove from Granite Falls, Minnesota, to find a prom dress for Carli. (MPR Photo/Bianca Vazquez Toness )
It's springtime, which means it's time for prom. While the days can be beautiful, women and their daughters have been shopping. And it's not just any shopping trip. There's a deadline, and high expectations. Carli Cooper and her mother, Carol McDaniel, recently made the three-hour trip from Granite Falls to find the perfect dress at the Mall of America.

Bloomington, Minn. — Glitz seems like the perfect place to start. It's a store at the Mall of America devoted entirely to prom.

The lights are low and the music here thumps. Some of the dresses are big and Cinderella-esque, others look like something from a beauty pageant.

All of them sparkle.

Carli Cooper is wearing a black Minnesota Twins baseball cap and jeans. This is her first prom, but she's not new to taffeta and sequins. Her perfect dress this year will be yellow.

"I like trying on the dresses," Cooper says. "Me and my friends, we'd pretend like we were going to prom and go to stores and try on dresses."

Glitz plays on that fantasy of trying on.

Once you swim through the thick sea of dresses you arrive at a communal dressing room, where the lights are bright and everything is white.

Moms and friends sit on benches as their daughters model gowns on a platform before a three-way mirror. There are no dads here, and only an occasional young boyfriend.

The feel of the place is all girl. Women and their daughters giggle loudly or coo over the perfect sequined purse.

A young woman wearing a strapless black gown cheers when she decides it's the dress she wants to buy. "Prom is about the date," she says. "But for me, it's a lot about the dress."

This is only the second prom season for Glitz. The niche store has found a good market.

Americans will spend $4 billion on prom this year. Stores will sell four times as many prom dresses as they do bridal gowns. With so much hype around prom, it's hard not to get carried away. It's clear girls have.

Girls will spend an average of $800 this year getting ready for prom. That's twice what they spent a few years ago.

"It's a young girl's first major purchase, apparel-wise," says Sue Mills, general manager at Glitz. She compares prom to the Oscars or a woman's wedding.

From what Cooper and her entourage say, prom is huge deal in their hometown of Granite Falls.

Couples arrive at school in a motorcade and walk in together, Oscar-style. Townspeople gather to watch them and take photos.

Last year the school secretary started something new. She's got a book at her desk. Cooper says each girl is supposed to describe her dress, where she bought it and even provide a picture.

"It's kind of a good idea," Cooper says. "But I think it's a little too much. If people get the same dresses some girls get really mad about it. So they made it up last year. That's why we have it."

Cooper doesn't seem too worried about someone else showing up in her dress. She has other pressures.

"Her dad gave her instructions," Cooper's mother, Carol McDaniel, says. "Nothing too revealing. Something with a lot of buttons. We're going to ignore them."

McDaniel laughs.

"This is her day, and she should pick out what she wants to wear," she says. "This is an important time for her. I know I'll cry when I see her in the right one. It's emotional. I never went to the prom in school. We couldn't afford it. This is a big time for her."

Cooper finds a yellow chiffon dress with crisscross straps in the back. Her friend loves it.

McDaniel thinks it's ridiculous for girls to spend as much as they do on prom, but she still encourages Cooper to get the works. That includes tanning sessions, hair, makeover and a manicure.

The yellow-chiffon Carli has her heart set on is $280. Carol says the price makes her eyes cross. They agree to put the dress on hold, and come back if they can't find anything Carli likes that's cheaper.

It's disappointing, but there are still more stores, and many more dresses.

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