Dateless and clueless in New Jersey, I skipped over the entire prom scene during my high school years. I never missed the long cheesy white limo, the stick-pin corsage or even the rent-a-tux boy. But I still dream about The Dress.
I can't go back in time, but there are lots of options to meet my high school prom fantasies as well as prom realities for today's high schoolers. Options range from custom dressmakers to discount stores, depending on whether your budget is at the high or low end.
Unconventional channels (eBay, consignment/thrift stores, online swap shops such as Freecycle.org and different charities) have prom gowns from $0 to $300 and up. One local charity -- Becca's Closet -- hands out free prom dresses and formal wear to teenagers in need. I highly recommend this Plantation-based program for teens seeking assistance with prom wear. Check out http://www.beccascloset.org.
No matter where you shop, your prom dress hunt should begin with a few fashion basics, such as fabric, fit and workmanship, according to Wensley Alvarez, a salesman at Consign of the Times, a consignment store in Miami Beach and Coconut Grove.
''It's all about quality and a good cut,'' Alvarez said.
Upscale consignment stores are ideal for prom shoppers with high-end tastes but off-the rack-budgets. At Consign of the Times, for example, clothes and accessories from Prada, Versace, Chanel and other designers sell for one-third of the standard retail price. For instance, a designer cocktail dress or gown sold new for $600 to $2,100 would cost about $200 to $700 at Consign of The Times.
There are a number of consignment stores in South Florida. Inventory varies and it's best to call ahead to see which stores have a collection of prom gowns and cocktail dresses. Thrift stores throughout our region are stuffed with an abundance of gowns because many dresses are cast aside after being worn to just one prom.
Many dressmakers will tailor their creations to fit your budget. I spoke to one Coral Gables seamstress -- located on Miracle Mile -- who makes prom gowns that cost $3,000 and higher. But if your budget is far less, about $250, she'll create and stitch an attractive prom gown to fit that price range. At a coming-of-age party for a friend's daughter, I saw one of the dressmaker's affordable custom gowns, and I was impressed with the cut, color and fit.
On the other end of the scale, Marshall's sells affordable and fashionable gowns for well below $100. I tried on one gown at Marshall's and later spotted that same gown for more than twice the price at a small boutique. Other fashion mavens praise the off-the-rack gowns at JC Penney, Ross and Dillard's.
Other affordable options include bridal shops where either discontinued, unclaimed or sample party gowns are available at steep discounts.
I was also surprised to find a wide range of prices and selections of gowns and party dresses on eBay (www.ebay.com), some with designer labels. From an eBay vendor called Fabulous Gowns, I even found gowns as cheap as 99 cents, excluding shipping and handling. Ebay showed a long track record and high customer satisfaction rating for Fabulous Gowns.
My personal favorite was a size 6 green sheath gown with a V-neck for $1. Of course, my prom days are over, but I can still dream.