Picking the Perfect Prom Dress: Five Basic Lessons with Pro Tips


In high school, almost nothing seems as important for girls as picking the perfect prom dress. Believe me, as a mom of three daughters, the perfect prom dress was a must, at least for their first prom.

Prom season became my nemesis as I hate to shop, cannot sew, and raised three beautiful girls who are as good at procrastination as I am. Add in that one daughter wanted the perfect prom dress but is so tight with money that she squeaks, and you can see my headache. So, after 8 proms, let me share with you 5 basic lessons.

First: know your budget for the perfect prom dress and how far out of your budget you can go and still afford groceries for the next week.

The first prom appears to be the most important, and so the importance of the perfect prom dress is magnified…as is the price. I was shocked at the price of prom dresses, not to mention all of the accoutrements to prom. And, as with everything else in a school, the range of what people will pay for prom starts at a couple hundred dollars and ends at the price of a small cabin on a lake. No lie, you will see tiaras and wands and stretch humvee limos and party busses. Be honest with your kid about what you can afford and why. Know the important pieces of getting ready for prom so you can include them in your budget. Let me break down the basics:

  • Prom Dress ($150 to $800)
  • Shoes ($25-$200)
  • Appropriate Undergarments (varies by where you shop)
  • Up-Do ($65-$250 with a practice appointment)
  • Makeup (free to $80)
  • Flowers (nosegay, boutonniere, or corsage $15-$100)
  • Tickets ($20-$350 depending upon venue)

Second lesson: beware of online prom dress vendors. Always look up reviews for the site. If you order online, pick a place that has a brick-and-mortar component in the US.

There are several things to research when ordering online. Reviews can help you narrow down reputable sites with reasonable delivery times. Prom dress fails are all over social media, but trust me, they are only funny for someone else’s kid. Reputable online boutiques will have dress registries as well so that your prom goer can make sure she doesn’t have the same (gasp) dress as another girl at her prom. While my first reaction was, “so what?” Apparently, there are girls who like to play the “who wore it best” game and deliberately buy the same dress. Pro tip: always know the return policy of online boutiques and if there is a restock cost.

Lesson #3: do NOT reveal your daughter’s perfect prom dress on social media or to anyone else without her permission.

Look, that dress is probably the most important piece of clothing (and expensive) she has owned until now. Don’t ruin her big reveal or open her up to second-guessing by her friends and frenemies on how the dress looks. Pro tip: take the pictures you want to share on social media but save them for a photo array the morning after prom.

Lesson #4: remember to make your alteration, hair, and makeup appointments well before the prom date. 

Salon and seamstress appointments for mani/pedis, updos, makeup, etc., fill fast for weekends. Add in the fact that your daughter’s prom may fall on a weekend that includes other proms, and getting an appointment can be difficult. Better to make one and cancel with appropriate notice than to miss getting one completely. Pro tip: don’t ever take a hot bath after having your straight hair curled. And don’t say anything that will make your edgy prom goer cry after makeup is finished. Just let it go.

And, lastly, #5: prom pictures aren’t what they used to be.

Photos caught me by surprise the first prom and forced me to try to move said salon appointments. The trend for all three of my daughters with prom was to meet early to mid-afternoon at a friend’s house (usually on a lake) or a park or country club for pictures before the grand march. Schedule appointments early enough to accommodate this. Pro tip: ask in advance if parents are expected to attend and take pictures or if there is a cost involved. Bonus Pro Tip: Know the condition of the lakeside dock before the group steps on it.

Rest easy, though. Only the first prom seems to carry this importance. As my girls moved through successive proms, they recognized the wisdom of borrowing a prom dress or purchasing at a place like Savvy Seconds where they could sell it back afterward.

Hair and makeup were more casual as they realized it would wilt or run when dancing, so they did it themselves with friends. And for our very last prom, my youngest decided an elegant pantsuit that she could wear again was the way to go.

The best part of every prom…fellow moms usually provided wine.

Last Pro Tip: Don’t forget to include yourself in at least one prom picture


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