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Prom Dress Shopping: 5 Tips to Help You Find the Perfect Dress

Updated on March 19, 2018
Karen Hellier profile image

Karen Hellier is a freelance writer and eBay entrepreneur. She lives happily in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and her dog.

My daughter and I in her prom dress
My daughter and I in her prom dress

Tips For Moms and Daughters on Prom Dress Shopping


Prom dress shopping is an experience I don't wish on any mother of a teenage girl. I recently went prom dress shopping with my seventeen-year-old daughter, and it was much more complicated than I had ever imagined. I don't remember ever having so much trouble finding a prom dress, but then again, times have changed and so have the costs.

Here are five tips to help you help your teen find the perfect prom dress without losing your mind!

1) Start Shopping Early

We started shopping in early May for a dress for senior prom on June 8th. This was actually too late. Many stores that sell prom dresses now keep track of which school their customers attend, and won't sell more than one of the same dress to a student from the same school. The object is to make sure the same dress doesn't show up on more than one prom attendee. Boy times definitely have changed. They never did that thirty years ago. If more than one person showed up in the same dress, it was just an "oops" moment, and there was nothing we could do about it. This is an actual rule at some stores, so the earlier you go, the better chance your daughter has of purchasing her favorite dress that no one else from her school that shops at that store will be able to buy.

My daughter fell in love with a green print strapless dress on our first day of shopping. But because someone else from her school had bought the same dress in another print, and two more girls had bought the same dress in solid colors, they thought there would be too many of that dress at the prom and refused to sell it to her.

2) Set a budget

Prom dresses are now selling for anywhere between $160 to $400. It seemed insane to me that teenage girls, or their parents, are expected to pay this much for a prom dress for one night. A teenager would dare not be caught in the same dress two years in a row at the junior and senior proms, so essentially unless they sell the dress afterward, the money will be spent on a formal evening gown for one night.

And then of course unless there is already a pair of shoes in their closet that will go with the dress, which in most cases is doubtful, the cost of new shoes and new undergarments to enhance the dress must be included. This is especially true if they dress needs a strapless bra. If she already has a strapless bra, and shoes she plans on wearing, that saves a lot of hassle and money. Make sure to bring them along when shopping for the dress so you can make sure they work with the dress she plans on buying.

Discuss the price of the dress early with your daughter. If you only have a certain amount in your budget that you can put toward a prom dress, tell her that, and that she will have to chip in the rest, and buy the accessories as well. Or, if your daughter is working, she may have to buy the dress herself.

3) Be Open to Looking in Unusual Places

While there are specific stores that just carry formal dresses, be open to other opportunities for prom dresses. David's Bridal stores have a markdown rack with bridesmaid's dresses on them for a song. Also, many consignment shops are carrying formal wear now and can be bought for a fraction of the price. If your daughter doesn't want to shop at the local mall, go an hour outside your area to find a mall that has stores outside of your local area where other girls might not have been as adventurous to explore.

And there is also the option of renting gowns now. Look on the internet for stores near you that rent formal evening wear, or online for rental dresses that can be mailed to you, and returned the same way. They often cost a fraction of the original, sometimes designer costs, and since they will only wear it one night anyway, they won't need to keep it hanging in their closet for eternity!

4) Look For Sales and Coupons

Watch for sales and markdowns. Stores like Macy's have coupons in the newspaper periodically. David's Bridal online often has casual white dresses that are billed as wedding gowns but are actually fine for formal wear, and are often on sale at an internet only price. They also have bridesmaids gown and formal wear on sale during internet sales and in the outlet.These gowns can usually be returned if your daughter doesn't like them.

I bought my wedding gown this way, at a time I noticed they even had a $10 off coupon for anything over $100. I got it at a great sale price, with a coupon and loved it! Dillard's Department Store has a great selection online at a better price than many formal wear stores. I bought a formal gown for a cruise at Dillard's in the past for $99 and when it came in it was a perfect fit, and I love it.

5) Bring a camera phone or her friend

If possible, bring a friend of hers along. Although you can voice your opinion, you are Mom, and from a different generation. Most teenagers still want the approval of their peers so having a friend along can make her feel more comfortable with a fit and style of a gown. Camera phones are helpful as well, especially if a friend couldn't come, so she can take a picture and send it to a friend for a peer's opinion. It will go a long way in her comfort level of spending a lot of money on a gown she's not sure of, and will also save the head ache of having to return to the store if she decides a few days later that she should have bought it.

All in all, prom dress shopping can be a wonderful, or stressful experience, or a little of both. Being prepared ahead of time helps make the experience go much more smoothly, and can reap positive memories between a mother and daughter for years to come.

The perfect prom dress for this teen!
The perfect prom dress for this teen! | Source

Need more tips on prom dress shopping? Here's a video with more tips for you:

© 2012 Karen Hellier

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    • Karen Hellier profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Hellier 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Angel98625,

      Thanks for reading and the comment. Yes, we ended up loving the dress too. It was much better than anything else she tried on, and not the average prom dress that most girls had.

    • Angel198625 profile image

      Amber Lynn 

      6 years ago

      I also really liked your daughters prom dress, it's gorgeous! I also enjoyed these tips, my daughter is far away from prom, but these tips can be useful when shopping for any dress, such as a planning a wedding, etc. Great ideas

    • Karen Hellier profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Hellier 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      teaches12345,

      Thanks so much. I am proud to say that stunning girl is my daughter!

    • Karen Hellier profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Hellier 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks on the comment Crystal Tatum. I guess I should have mentioned we got it at Lord and Taylor, 1 hour and 10 minutes away from home. And no one else had one anything like it!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Oh my, the girl in the photo in the black dress is stunning! Lovely. Some of my students mentioned they found dresses online, as you suggested. The prices were quite reasonable too.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Good tips here. I really like your daughter's choice - often prom dresses are a bit loud and cheesy. This is elegant and classic. Voted up.

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