Prom Dress Trends

By Sharon Naylor

April 7, 2014 5 min read

Inspired by celebrities' looks on the red carpet, a top look for prom gowns is old Hollywood glamour. Evoking Hollywood starlets of the 1930s through the '50s, gowns are long and "column-style, in soft, shiny silks with glam details like beading at the shoulder or waist, draping down the back," says celebrity stylist Keylee Sanders. "They're well-cut dresses that highlight your shape without showing lots of skin."

"Nude, silver and Champagne tones are all very old Hollywood, and red can also be stunning!" Sanders notes. Old Hollywood-style dresses are generally all one color, which makes the wearer look taller and have an appearance of elegance and grace. While white can certainly be worn, many teens prefer the warmer shades of tan and champagne for a richer look that complements their skin tone and doesn't look costume-y or like a wedding dress.

But nevertheless, the biggest names in wedding dress fashion greatly inspire teen prom trends. Vera Wang, for example, is showing a lot of pink in her spring and summer gown collections this year. And soft pinks are ideal for the old Hollywood look. "I looked not just at prom gowns, but also at wedding dresses online to get ideas for my prom dress," says high-school senior Jenn Kitchett. "Since I was after sophistication, I found that the wedding dresses had a more grown-up, glamorous feel than what I was seeing in prom dresses, even those marked as old Hollywood looks. The wedding dresses were where the silky, flowing dresses were."

Silky is key to old Hollywood dresses, says Sanders, since the soft fabric falls romantically and offers shine. Fabrics can also be shimmery or covered with sequins to add extra opulence to an already-dazzling gown.

"Halters reflect the era," Sanders says. "Although strapless with a sweetheart neckline is the most common style." Showing off shoulders is a signature look in old Hollywood glam, and that's a parent-approved way for teens to show a little bit of skin in a style that's classy and elegant. And an extra plus for shoulder-baring dresses, like old Hollywood-inspired styles, is that teens who may be a bit insecure about their body shape or size often aren't so worried about their shoulders as they might be about their stomach or hips. It's a body part they often feel better about showing off and bringing attention to, Sanders notes.

While column dresses are a popular old Hollywood style, Sanders says that mermaid hemlines with a flare at the bottom of the dress and "a slightly nipped-in waist" also add to the look of classic bombshell starlets. Think of Marilyn Monroe for inspiration. Teens may prefer her curve-hugging look to a long, straight dress that just skims their shape.

When a gown has movement, such as a small train at the back or this season's glam feather accents at the hem (a boudoir look made suitable for a formal occasion), it adds to the femininity, grace and class of a dress. Tight, constricting gowns in bell shapes hide teens' dance moves under skirts.

And no old Hollywood dress is complete without fabulous accessories. "Put a little sparkle in your hair with a headband or broach secured with bobby pins," Sanders suggests.

Old Hollywood starlets loved their diamonds and accessories, especially the sparkling earrings and hair clips they wore to bring attention to their faces. And "a long necklace worn backwards if the dress is open-back adds a glamorous look to a column dress," Sanders adds, mentioning "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence's backward-worn necklace with her red gown at the Oscars this year as a look teens can emulate. And a diamond-esque bangle worn on the wrist is so very old Hollywood, too.

Prom shoes in old Hollywood style are most often sparkly, in shimmering shades matching the dress. This is one look that calls for shoes to match the dress, not contrast it, to keep that long, lean, elegant look from top to bottom. Rhinestones or crystal sparkles definitely have a place in shoe accents, with the color of stones chosen to match the jewelry.

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