Soon to attend her junior prom at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, Md., Lindy Wittenberg has decided to make a statement with her outfit. “I want to punch prom in the face by wearing pants,” she said.
Lindy, 17, calls her style “rebellious but tasteful,” and counts Valentino, Dior, Alexander McQueen and Proenza Schouler as her favorite designers. She found a vintage black halter top with embroidered details online for $70 and plans to wear it with black cigarette pants and pumps.
While there are thousands of teenage girls shopping for traditional long, princess-inspired gowns for proms this season, there also is a visible faction proudly showing up to spring formals wearing suits, separates, tuxedos, jumpsuits and vintage outfits, or those they have made themselves.
Prom trends often take cues from the red carpet. At the Golden Globe awards in January, actress Emma Watson wore a red Dior couture dress with slim pants. Versions of Yves Saint Laurent’s classic Le Smoking pantsuit also have been popular this year, with Angelina Jolie wearing one to the BAFTA awards, Ellen Page to Vanity Fair’s Oscars party, and Kourtney Kardashian to Elton John’s.
Traditional prom designers and retailers have observed a growing market for unconventional looks. “There is a trend for more sophisticated looks for prom: less junior, less princess,” said Marissa Rubinetti, the senior buyer of special occasion dresses for David’s Bridal. “I visited a few key vendors, and all of the sudden there were jumpsuits.”
Michael La Femme, the owner of the prom wear company La Femme, decided last year to have his design team try out rompers and jumpsuits. “We were uneasy and didn’t know if it would work for prom,” he said. “We had people in our office betting against it. But they’re selling really well and have exceeded our expectations.”
Jovani’s design director, Julie Durocher, channeled her fondness for jumpsuits in their 1980s heyday when designing them for her line. “Not everyone wants the traditional dress,” she said. “The jumpsuit is just fun. You could wear it again, out to a club or a party.” She designed two last year, and they did so well that this year the company is offering 20 jumpsuits or rompers that cost $500 to $800.
Alexandra Gault, 17, is a devotee of vintage clothes and often dresses in head-to-toe period looks. For prom last year, Alexandra, who lives in Hemet, Calif., wore a tea-length lace wedding dress from the 1950s, which she found on Etsy, with a red fascinator and red pumps (see photo on the cover).
Her budget was $100, but her decision to wear a secondhand dress was less about economy than personal preference. “I dress vintage every day and I didn’t want to compromise that and wanted to keep it in the tone of my normal style,” Alexandra said. “It’s about self-expression.”
Modcloth, the retro-oriented San Francisco-based company, is planning on showing vintage gowns for prom with Keds or black platform boots, said Alyssa Catalano, the vintage buyer and head of styling.
And Nasty Gal, a Los Angeles-based clothing company, in March introduced Anti Prom, a line with bustiers, crop tops, leather motorcycle jackets, jumpsuits and combat boots. Sheree Waterson, the company’s president and chief merchandising officer, said: “More and more young women are tired of being dictated to and want something that feels uniquely them. It’s a way of embracing yourself.”
Daniel Friedman, who owns Bindle & Keep, a custom suit company in New York City, said he has seen a huge increase in inquiries regarding prom suits for girls, which he attributed partly to an increased openness about same-sex and transgender relationships. “We’re getting a lot of calls, about one a day from a parent,” he said. “Parents are much more open to embracing their teenagers’ identities and very interested in showing their children that they are proud of them.” With a starting price of $695 for one of his handmade suits, this form of pride can be expensive.
Indeed, Jen Ongley’s mother balked about the cost when her daughter wanted to rent a tuxedo for her junior prom last year in Madison, Conn. “My mom was president of the glee club when she was at Yale,” said Jen, 17, “so we ended up borrowing a tux from the Yale glee club ... My parents thought I looked classy.”
Jen, who describes herself as “the school lesbian” and regularly wears pajama pants to class, said none of her peers were shocked by her prom look. She attended a second prom last year with her ex, A.J., who prefers the classification of genderqueer. “I wanted to look pretty and fit the part,” said Jen, who wore a vintage black lace dress ($30) that she loved so much, she’s considering wearing it to her senior prom.
But Lindy is done with simply looking pretty. “Undoubtedly I will be the only one wearing pants,” she said. “But I don’t care what anyone thinks, and I want to create a spectacle.”