At dress shops across Los Angeles, mother-and-daughter pairs dressed in jeans and high school sweat shirts that read "Seniors 2012" are on a mission. It's officially springtime, and for many a young woman in high school, that can mean only one thing: prom season has arrived.
The hunt for just the right dress can be a challenge. The little black dress may be the suitable go-to for almost every other occasion, but for prom, a simple black dress won't do. The perfect prom dress has to dazzle in pictures, make the wearer feel like a princess and hold up to a full night on the dance floor.
Whether you're looking for something fun and flirty or classic and conservative, this year's hottest trends have something for everyone. We talked to a few Los Angeles retailers to find out which dresses are sure to make a smashing entrance this prom season.
The high-low hemline emerged a clear favorite this season at David's Bridal dress shops across the state, as well as at the Windsor at the Glendale Galleria and Unique Vintage, a small boutique located in Burbank — Windsor's buyer Blanca Farber called it the biggest prom trend in California. The new silhouette gives the benefits of both a mini-dress and a gown, with a skirt that is short in the front and longer in the back. The skirts range in length from a longer train that trails behind to a shorter style that just grazes the floor.
"A lot of people are wanting to come in and try that on," said Kelly Edwards, manager at Unique Vintage, holding up an example of the style. "With the high-low dress we are seeing ruffles with them, so it's like a fun little cha-cha."
The most whimsical styles have prints lining the inside of the skirt — leopard, for instance. Others are lined with multiple layers of colored tulle.
Neon brights vs. soft hues
Many dresses this season induce optimism with their neon orange, lemon yellow and rich turquoise. At David's Bridal, dresses in neon orange sold out in about three weeks, while it's hard to find a little black dress even if you want one among the rainbow of colors at Windsor and Unique Vintage.
Cosmetic tones are popular too. The palette is pale, with nudes and blush pinks similar to the hues that dominated the red carpet at this year's Screen Actors Guild Awards.
"Every style we have put in blush pink this season has been tremendous for us, whether it's a soft chiffon style or princess ball gown. Any silhouette works in blush pink because it really looks soft and pretty and complements different skin tones," said Marissa Rubinetti, prom buyer for David's Bridal.
Longer hemlines may be dominating this prom season, but for the girls who want a shorter cut, it's all about the feathers.
"We are seeing a lot of feathers on the shorter dresses, like feathered skirts that are really fun," Edwards said.
Tufts of feathers in all colors and lengths grace the hemlines of shorter, drop-waist dresses for a 1920s flapper feel. For a dramatic look, some gowns feature a full skirt of feathers or a feathered bust. If you want just a touch of fringe, there are long and short gowns with feather pins on one shoulder.
Lavish embellishments: the peacock and the mirror
The bigger and more lavish the embellishment on the dress this year, the better — regardless of the cost. Think peacock prints, mirror jewels and sequins.
At Windsor, one of the bestselling dresses is a peacock ball gown priced at $210. At Unique Vintage, the most popular peacock gown sells for $278 and features elaborate beading and embroidery. The peacock gowns also come in mini, one-shoulder floor-length and ball-gown styles.
In addition to the peacock, Unique Vintage carries dresses with mirror embellishments in the form of diamond-shaped reflective gems for the higher-end dresses priced at $998 and silver fabric cutouts in the same style for a budget-friendly version priced at $132.
Mini-dresses and body-conscious styles might cut it for a night out, but girls who want to put a ladylike spin on prom are going straight for the classic ball gowns.
"For the last few years everything has been really sexy, but now we're seeing designs back in the ball-gown area with really unique treatments like differing layers of tulle and appliques," Farber said.
Instead of the classic look of multiple overlapping layers of cinched satin, reminiscent of the Disney princess gown, the ball gowns this season feature an embellished neckline or bust with beading, and the colors veer into the bold and bright for a neon princess look.
The modern prom queen shines in a gold, black, silver or rainbow glitter heel. A shimmery shoe can elevate any prom look to pretty and polished and give you some extra sparkle on the dance floor.
"We used to do a lot of rhinestone shoes, but this year we had customers telling us that we should have a glitter shoe," Farber said. "It might be because they see celebrities wear a glitter shoe, or it's a shoe you can wear later at another time."
The royal wedding frenzy has carried into the world of prom accessories. "The royal wedding has really inspired us to make fascinators so important because people saw such great headpieces last April," said Rubinetti, who noted that jeweled headbands and flowers are selling well for David's Bridal.
The headbands may be plain satin or glitter or lavish head pieces with feathers, rhinestones or tulle.
Linear drop/shoulder duster earrings
This year's jewel accessories are big, bold statement pieces — the most popular a long, luxe earring that grazes the shoulder. The "shoulder duster" or linear drop earring adds a touch of extravagance without going overboard. The earring goes well with sleeveless dresses, framing the face in rhinestones, feathers and pearls.