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Sexy Prom Dresses: Parents Weigh In

My daughters are in their 30s, so I haven’t been prom dress shopping in ages. But from what I see in stores and on my social feeds is this: The sexy dress is in for prom.

Beautiful or sexy

To be clear, I’m not Facebook friends with teenage girls. I am, however, friends with parents. And some of those parents post pics of their girls wearing prom dresses that are, well, racy. Commonly, these are short and tight bandage dresses. And the accompanying captions, written by moms or dads, often include some reference to how beautiful or grown-up their daughters look.

Girl with heavy makeup and formal dress.
Source: Canva.

So, the lines are blurred from beautiful to grown-up to sexy. Or possibly I’m a stuffy old lady who’s behind the times. Either way, I wanted to learn more.

Calling all parents

Since my world is a small sample size, I reached out to a broader group of parents. Specifically, I put out requests on services for journalists like HARO, Qwoted, and HARO’s new version Connectively. Those requests usually generate a ton of feedback.

Not this time.

I recruited just two parents ready to comment on this issue. Both have the more conservative view that, generally, prom dresses shouldn’t send an adult message. I couldn’t find any parent willing to say publicly that short, tight, or revealing dresses are perfectly fine for teenagers. And yet, I know those parents exist.

This is unfortunate because I was hoping to share both sides of this story. (If you’re reading this and want to provide more perspective, send me an email at cbrock@thebudgetfashionista.com).

The context: 2024 prom dress style

The challenge for the modest parent and their teen is that popular prom dress retailers are doubling down on sexy. The options include evening gowns and party dresses that are way too sultry for a fundraiser or work event. Stylistic elements include:

  • Cutouts
  • Wrap-around ruching to emphasize the bust or waist
  • Deep necklines
  • Body-hugging silhouettes
  • Thigh-high slits
  • Low backs
  • Corsets

Take a look at the Sherri Hill dress available from prom and formal wear store Terry Costa below as an example.

Woman wears revealing formal dress while leaning against wall.
Source: Terry Costa.

To be fair, not every prom dress this year has that ultra-seductive vibe. There is a smaller selection of pretty ballgowns available at Terry Costa and elsewhere. But I have to wonder if teenagers feel prudish wearing a ballgown when most other girls are decked out in dresses that scream, “come hither?”

What parents are saying

Ling app founder Simon Bacher is dad to a younger daughter who is still years away from prom. He is concerned his future teenager won’t find formal wear that allows for self-expression while honoring her stage in life.

“Any attire that forces a teenager to grow up faster than they should, or that objectifies them, is a red flag for me. I believe in promoting self-expression, body positivity, and individuality, yet it’s essential to maintain appropriate boundaries at a young age to foster a healthy understanding of self-image and self-worth.”

Simon Bacher, Founder, Ling

In Bacher’s view, tasteful or moderate use of grown-up elements like low necklines or high leg slits can be acceptable — as long as his daughter is comfortable with those choices.

Author, speaker, business coach, and mom Richelle Shaw says her daughter couldn’t find a dress off the rack that wasn’t either matronly or revealing. Too many of them, Shaw explains, were sending inappropriate signals, like “NYC club after dark” and “vavavavhoom.”

“I felt they [the dresses we shopped] were all quite sexy — even from stores like Macy’s. They were either for [the] mother of the bride or sexy sexy.”

Richelle Shaw, Fresh Eyes, Inc.

Shaw’s daughter, who’s just getting comfortable with her curves, said no to slits that revealed her entire leg, tight silhouettes built for smaller chests, and the low-strappy back that didn’t allow for bending over without causing a peep show.

This mother-daughter team resorted to alterations to clean up a plunging neckline and shorten a hemline that required four-inch heels.

For conservative parents and their girls

If designers and retailers want to push adult-themed formal wear for teens, conservative families will have to approach prom dress shopping differently. One solution is to follow Shaw’s lead and buy a dress that can be altered to the teen’s comfort level. Another option is to make a dress or commission a seamstress to make a dress.

Another solution would be to skip prom dress collections entirely and look for other varieties of formal wear. Dresses designed for galas and bridesmaids will be more demure options. They may also be pricey, so this may be a time to rent or shop used.

Here’s hoping that future years will offer a fuller range of style options for teens and their folks. Since I couldn’t find a parent to argue with me on this point, I’ll speak for all of us: We don’t want our girls to feel matronly at prom, but we don’t want them growing up too fast either.  

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