April 05, 2018

Prom night has been fetishized in movies, on television, in books, and in catalogs: the limousine, the friends, the laughter, the tuxedoes, the booze stolen from your parent’s liquor cabinet.  But when the word prom is uttered there is one thing that jumps to mind before anything else: the perfect prom dress.

Whether a girl is the captain of the cheerleading squad, the bookish valedictorian, or the close-mouthed tomboy, prom is the one night of the year that everyone strives to look their absolute best.  But picking the perfect prom dress is not an easy task.  A young woman can’t simply ask her mother what to wear.  What was elegant during her mother’s time would make her a laughing stock now.  Girls can watch hours of television, flip through dozens of magazines, browse hundreds of female centric websites, and never find an easy answer.  The reason for this is that prom dresses have changed drastically over the last century, because of the women who wear them.

As explained by Garis (2014) the 1930s and 1940s were the era of long gowns with puffy sleeves.  This was followed by the full skirt style of the 1950s, which gave way to the empire waists of the 1960s.  As women have changed, both individually and societally, so have their dresses.  While a girl in 2018 would never wear her mother’s semi-punk-rock dress from the 80s, there is one fact that has remained true across all the years: the best prom dress is one that best defines the woman wearing it.

For today’s young women looking pretty is no longer enough.  Instead, showing off who they are as an individual has become a style of its own.  According to Holmes (2015) this uniqueness has become so important that dress shops keep dress registries, which ensure teenagers that other classmates won’t be wearing the same dress as them on the biggest night of the year.

Over the past century, prom dresses evolved in line with the prevailing trends and new expectations. Although proms were occasions to party and celebrate, guests endeavored to look their best ad take photos for memories. People’s expectations and fashion trends keep changing, just as prom dresses. Prom dresses in their colors, lengths, trimmings, shapes, and sparkles reveal the wearers’ uniqueness and group diversity (Garis, 2017). Students often look forward to proms. Putting on the perfect prom dress makes it memorable for the wearer’s life. The dress played a crucial role in making a girl look important and exciting. The study discusses the history and evolution of the prom dress designs with a focus on the transformation experience in decades from the 1940s to the 2010s.

            Prom started in the late 19th century, as college students celebrated their graduation. Following the economic boom of the 20th century, prom evolved with the events being more elaborate and taking place in fancy venues. Prom dresses also evolved as expectations and trends changed. According to Anderson (2012), the transformation of prom made the event more memorable. Families spent more at an average of between $1000 and $ 2000. The dress takes a huge portion of the overall cost.

From the long gowns of the 1940s to today’s colorful and detailed dresses. The evolution of prom dresses is guided by the economy, teenagers’ preferences, and fashion trends (Anderson, 2012). Today’s dresses are markedly different from those of the 1940s. Designers used silk to make prom dresses in the 1940s with floral patterns. In the 50s and 60s, girls embraced full-skirted dresses with mid-calf lengths and neat frills. Women showed off their bodies, as tight bodice became trendy. Shawls we used instill modesty in the dressing. The disco era of 1970s saw a shift to synthetic prom dresses. The 80s saw a move to strappy, simpler, and silk gowns. The prevailing trend in the 1990s saw a shift to off-the-shoulder and strapless dresses. High neckline dresses grew in popularity in the 2000s (Garis, 2017).


Garis, Mary Grace. (2014, June 8). Prom Dresses Through the Years: An Evolution.  Elle.

Retrieved from https://www.elle.com/fashion/g26089/evolution-of-prom-dresses/?slide=8

Holmes, Elizabeth. (2015, April 1).  Promoting One-of-a-Kind Looks, Shops Keep Prom Dress

Registries. The Wall Street Journal.  Retrieved from