by Jon M. Oliver for The Elegant Edge

Having been in the formalwear business for a very long time, and having worked with thousands of clients over the years, there are a few truths that I know when it comes to choosing your perfect prom dress.

Truth Number 1:  There’s beauty in every girl!  And no, I’m not just talking about internal beauty, although there certainly is that!  But there’s physical beauty in every girl as well.  That beauty doesn’t come in a specific size or number.  It doesn’t come in a specific proportion.  It comes in the uniqueness of YOU are the ONLY YOU that there will EVER be, and no one will EVER be able to exactly duplicate YOU!  You can’t put a number on that kind of beauty!  Sometimes, though, the girl just has to recognize that remarkable beauty in herself and come to feel comfortable in her own skin.  Not everyone is there yet.  And if you’re not, that’s ok.  Becoming takes time. Recognizing your own beauty and seeing what others have seen in you all along takes time.   It’s not for the faint of heart.  So, give yourself some grace.  And if you ARE already there, well then, congratulations!  Perhaps you can use your experience to help others along in their process and help them to find their own unique beauty too.  Remember, there’s beauty in everyone!

Truth Number 2:  There’s beauty in every gown!  Everyone might not agree with me on this one.  But as someone who is an expert in formalwear with years of experience, I KNOW that there’s beauty in every gown.  OK, wait.  Maybe that really is going a bit too far.  Maybe even I don’t agree with this one.  I have, after all seen some pretty HIDEOUS gowns in my time.  (“Pretty hideous.”  Isn’t that an oxymoron?)  So, let’s quantify that statement!  Truth Number 2:  There’s beauty in every gown IN THE ELEGANT EDGE!  Because, as the expert (remember all that experience I mentioned), Jodi of this FABULOUS SHOP personally chose these gowns!  This really is HER collection.  And she has great taste!  So, if there’s not beauty in every gown IN THIS STORE, then Jodi wouldn’t have chosen them to be in HER collection in the first place!  So there!  They’re all beautiful!  OK?  Just trust me!  And if you question that sentiment, and see a gown that YOU think is less than beautiful, then just realize that you haven’t seen it on the right girl!

Which brings me to my next point.  Despite all that aforementioned beauty, not every girl is made for every dress.  And vice versa.  There are indeed certain things such as size, color, and silhouette that have to be considered.  But once you figure those out, you are eventually going to find the right dress.  And that leads me to . . . 

Truth Number 3:  There’s beauty in finding THE dress!  And when you find THE dress (or THE dress finds you), then you just need to go ahead and BUY THE DANG DRESS!  “That sounds really harsh,” you say!  Not really.  Everyday, I see clients pass up on dresses that I know, and even they know deep inside, are PERFECT for them.  But they pass on them, or decide to wait, or decide to continue looking, thinking they might miss something else that might be out there.  Then later, when they come back to the realization that their first instinct was correct, it’s too late because the dress is already sold or gone or out of stock or someone else at their same school has already purchased it.  So, what are the reasons girls pass on dresses?  Way too many to count!  But here are just a few of the top ones:

  1.  I have to consult with and get the approval of my friends.  Nope, nope, nope!  You do not.  Nor should you!  Your friends aren’t wearing your dress!  They certainly aren’t buying your dress!  So, they absolutely should NOT get to CHOOSE your dress either!  Besides, if they really are your friends, then they’re going to love whatever dress YOU choose, because that dress represents YOU, fits YOU, makes YOU feel beautiful, and they love YOU!  They’re going to be happy for you no matter what you choose because it’s YOUR choice and because YOU are their friend, not the dress.  They can’t exactly carry on a conversation with a dress!  Hot pink sequins might be loud, but they don’t talk back very well!  And if your friends can’t be happy with your decision not to seek their approval, well then, maybe that’s the universe telling you it’s time to seek some new friends!  Either way, you don’t need their approval!  BUY THE DANG DRESS that you love!

While we’re on the subject of friends, whatever you do, DO NOT SEND PHOTOS OF YOUR DRESS TO ANYONE!  Too many times I’ve seen girls share photos with friends only to see those “friends” go out and try to buy the same dress or one very close to it just to outdo them.  Or maybe the friend shares the photo with someone else, and they try to sabotage your big day instead.  You know how this sharing thing can get out of hand!  So, JUST DON’T SHOW YOUR DRESS OR SHARE YOUR PHOTOS WITH ANYONE!  The stars don’t share what they’re going to wear on their next red carpet!  They keep it a well-guarded secret and allow it to be a surprise when they show up!  And that’s what you should do too!  Let your appearance in your gown be the surprise!  If everyone already knows what you’re going to wear, it’s back-page news.  The paparazzi aren’t even going to look your way.  Keep it a surprise, give them a reveal, make it a front-page moment, and really give them something to talk about!  The only thing you should share prior to your event is a pic of you holding your gown INSIDE your bag at The Elegant Edge, and that will only increase the speculation of your pending fabulousness!

  1. My boyfriend has to approve what I’m wearing.  NOPE, NOPE, NOPE, AND NOPE!  Did you catch that?  All caps!  BIG NOPE!  If your boyfriend has to approve of your gown, then you need to stop reading this RIGHT NOW and DITCH THAT DUDE!  Seriously!  Send him packing RIGHT NOW!  And, mamas, if your daughter doesn’t ditch him RIGHT NOW, then you may need to intervene and help her ditch him RIGHT NOW!  That’s not healthy.  And it’s a big warning sign!  But it’s his senior year.  Sorry.  Don’t care!  He still doesn’t get to choose YOUR gown!  Coordinating is one thing.  Discussing, communicating, sharing ideas, coming up with a shared vision, planning your fun, ideal prom experience together, that’s the goal!  But neither should be telling the other what they HAVE to wear.  Nor should you have to have his approval.  So, forget the dude, BUY THE DANG DRESS that YOU choose!
  1. I can’t buy the first dress I try on!  Really?  Why not?  If THE dress is THE dress, then who cares if it’s the first dress you try on or the fiftieth dress you try on?  Listen, something drew you to that dress in the beginning.  Either it fit your initial vision, or something about it spoke to you, or your Mama knew it would look great on you!  But something whispered, “Try THIS ONE on!”  And so, you did.  And then a light from heaven opened up, and angels sang “Aahhhh,” and everyone in the store melted at the vision of you, and Randy Fenoli appeared from out of nowhere and said, “So is this your dress?”  OK, so unless you’re appearing on a reality show on TLC, maybe that last part with Randy didn’t really happen.  And who needs all that drama anyway?  But I bet you smiled really big, and you didn’t really want to take the dress off.  Or maybe after you took the dress off, you wanted to put it back on!  In my experience, those are two really big indicators that it’s your dress – you can’t stop smiling, and you don’t want to take the dress off.  You would be totally surprised just how many girls end up buying the first dress they try on, even after 50 others.  So, what are you waiting on?  Heaven’s saving on electricity these days, and the angels joined the singers’ equity group and now charge exorbitant fees!  But you don’t need a celestial intervention!  You already know!  Seriously!  Do you need a neon sign?  If so, maybe it should say, BUY THE DANG DRESS!
  1. But it can’t be over yet!  I think you need to try on more dresses!  OK, mamas, this one’s on you.  Here are some words you need to hear:  IT’S NOT YOUR PROM!  This is your daughter’s big day, so let her have her say!  And if she’s happy and feels beautiful and knows it’s the one, then what more could you ask?  Isn’t that ultimately what you want?  So, go ahead and BUY THE DANG DRESS, even if it is dress number one!  But are you sure?  Really sure?  Don’t you want to sleep on it or look other places?  This is just so stressful!  NO!  IT’S NOT!  SHE KNOWS, MAMA!  Just look at her!  See that smile!  She’s beaming!  She’s not stressed!  Empower her to be confident, both in herself and in her decisions.  BUY THE DANG DRESS!  Then look at it this way, if you’re done shopping for her, you still have time to go get a chai mocha half-caff venti grande frappélattepressoccino with extra foam and a manicure!  Win, win!
  1. But it’s out of my price range.  OK, Miss Beauty, this one might actually be on you!  Two thoughts here.  First, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING and what on earth were you doing trying THAT dress on in the first place?  Yes, of course it’s beautiful!  Gorgeous even!  But everyone has a budget, even Harry Styles!  The key is to know your budget before you start shopping, then vow not to try anything on that you know is above what you can, or your mama is willing, to pay.  This advice will save you, and your mama, some heartache.  HOWEVER, and second thought, if you made the mistake of trying THAT dress on and now you just can’t live without it . . . well, that’s why stores created a little thing called LAYAWAY!  So, go ahead and BUY THE DANG DRESS!

All of this comes down to one, final, basic truth, perhaps THE most important truth of all.  When you find the dress . . . the perfect dress . . . the one you know deep down inside is the one for you . . . it ISN’T going to make you beautiful.  Yes, you’re going to FEEL beautiful while wearing it.  Yes, when you have it on, you are going to SMILE like you do on Christmas morning, when given pink cupcakes with sprinkles, or while playing with adorable puppies.  Yes, you are going to want to WEAR IT HOME and not take it off.  But, listen here, honey, that dress ISN’T making you beautiful.  YOU are making that dress beautiful!  Because there’s beauty in YOU!  YOU are more beautiful than any dress could or will EVER be!  And that, my darling, is the biggest truth of all!

© 2023 Jon M. Oliver for The Elegant Edge

Jon M. Oliver is a contributing fashion writer for The Elegant Edge.  He has over 30 years of experience in the formalwear industry, is a nationally-certified pageant judge and former state ED, and has consulted with clients on formalwear seen at national events including on the Miss America stage, at Presidential Inaugurations, and at performances in Carnegie Hall.