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Pittsburgh-area students on the hunt for the perfect prom dress

| Friday, April 18, 2014, 6:52 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Leah Rupinsky, 15, who attends Fort Cherry High School, tries on prom dresses at Babettes Gowns in Bridgeville, as her mother Joie looks on Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

Emily Mitchell narrowed her choices to two.

She hung the yellow and blue gowns outside the dressing room at MB Bride in Greensburg as her mother, Terri Mitchell, looked on.

“Oh, I just don't know,” says Emily Mitchell, a junior at South Allegheny High School. “I can't make a decision. Should I try them both on again?”

She does.

And the yellow dress is the winner.

“I am happy … and relieved … with my choice,” she says. “I came in thinking I wanted yellow. I think it's a good color on me.”

Her mother agrees.

“I like it,” Terri Mitchell says. “The decision was up to her. I trust her taste. The only thing I told her was to not go too crazy with the price.”

Choosing the dress for that one special night — your high-school prom — isn't an easy task. Most girls visit several stores, try on more than several dresses and often agonize over the decision, but not always.

The choice was an easy one for Taylor Holmes, a senior at Urban Pathways Charter School, Downtown. She selected a mint-green gown with beading at MB Bride, which her mother, Tracy Lee, says flatters her daughter's figure.

“I really like this color, and I love the sparkles,” says Holmes, who saved her money to pay for the dress. “It's different.”

Speaking of different, Olivia Baird, a senior at Ligonier High School, chose a camouflage dress at MB Bride.

“It's unique,” Baird says. “You won't see many dresses like this one.”

Her boyfriend, Garrett Nicely, plans to add some matching camouflage in his tuxedo, possibly in a vest or tie.

“This is the night to be different — your senior prom,” says Baird's mother, Elizabeth. “I think it looks great.”

Nearby, Michelle Theiss, a senior at Plum, came into the store thinking she wanted a certain style.

“It's a tough decision, because they are all so nice,” Theiss says. “I thought I wanted a mermaid dress, but I am keeping my options open.”

Going in without a specific style in mind was how LaSawn Clark approached the shopping experience. She perused gowns at One Enchanted Evening in Pine with her mom, Tracy Clark, who took cell phone photos of the dresses as they discussed what they liked and didn't like about each dress.

“I tried to be open-minded,” says LaSawn Clark, a senior at Penn Hills. “It is cool to see what's out there. I like to try on different dresses because I like to change up my style. It's a little stressful, because there are so many dresses to choose from.”

Emily Reiling, a senior at Pine-Richland, stepped up on the platform next to LaSawn. Reiling tried on a few dresses to show her mother, Sandi Reiling, then they left and came back after a few minutes to try on more.

“I am still deciding,” Emily Reiling says. “It's a tough decision because you only get one senior prom, so you want to make the right decision.”

Going for a dress with some bling was the goal of Diane Sounik, a junior at Bethel Park, who was shopping at Babettes Gowns in Bridgeville. She says a blue gown with straps and beading is her choice because the embellishments are in a nice pattern and not randomly placed on the top of the gown and that she won't have to worry about the dress staying in place because it has straps.

Also shopping at Babettes was Kelly Malone and her daughter, Rachael Green, a senior at Thomas Jefferson.

“My daughter has good, expensive taste,” Malone says. “I let her choose the gown she wants because she has to wear it.”

Green had a purple gown she liked from a previous visit in mind but also tried on several more. She decided on the original purple one.

“I love the color,” Green says. “I love everything about this dress. The bottom is plain and top really sparkles, which I really, really like. I can't wait for prom.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

Find the dress that matches your style

Choosing a prom dress is about the “red carpet moment” says Gina Kelly, Seventeen magazine fashion director.

“It's about her special night,” Kelly says. “The dress she chooses speaks to her personal style. This is the time in her life to emulate her favorite celebrity on the red carpet, to be in the spotlight.”

How a girl creates that special look is based on what she likes, what suits her fashion style, Kelly says. The hottest trend right now “is that there is something for everyone” — from sequined to plain, soft and romantic to traditional ball gowns in bright colors. And don't forget short dresses, which are a nice alternative for the girl who doesn't want a gown and are also less expensive.

The average cost of a long dress is $400.

Kelly says make sure to do research before shopping, so you know what's out there. The gown needs to look good on you. Sit in it and move around, since you will be dancing and wearing it for hours, Kelly says. Undergarments are as important as the dress to get the proper fit, Kelly says. Bring the shoes you will be wearing, too.

“Prom is a rite of passage,” Kelly says. “You want to wear your dream dress, so have fun finding it. That's a big part of the overall experience.”

Going to a store where the associates will help you find the right dress is important, says Jessi Secrist, manager at Babettes Gowns in Bridgeville. Seeing so many dresses can be overwhelming.

Among the collections at Babettes are lace gowns with nude underlay, dresses with bustier tops and sheer illusion backs. Higher necklines and a lot more straps are popular this year, Secrist says, as are the colors coral and mint.

“It's best to try on a lot of different styles to see what you like best,” Secrist says. “It's totally you and defines your personality, for sure. It's about creating that ‘wow' factor, and we can tell when a girl puts on the dress. We see her reaction immediately. That's what makes this job fun, helping a girl find the perfect dress.”

Linda Scolieri, owner of One Enchanted Evening in Pine, says red, blush and aqua are hot colors this year. One two-piece dress that the top or bottom can be paired with other clothing has been popular, and there is lots of beading this year.

Sleek-and-simple silhouettes with pastel colors and dramatic beaded backs are on trend this season, says designer Tony Bowls, for Mon Cheri.

“It is a little more fashion-forward,” Bowls says. “I am proud of these girls. They are stepping out. And these dresses are not overly sexy or in bad taste. They don't show too much skin.”

He agrees with Scolieri about the popularity of a gown with a crop top that shows a little bit of belly.

“That is a trend in ready to wear which has carried over into prom,” Bowls says. “I look at what a girl wears into a store to help determine her style, because that tells you something about her style.”

This generation also does its homework in terms of knowing the styles and the designers ahead of time, Bowls says. They use Instagram as a way to help each other shop for dresses, maybe finding one that they don't like but that would look good on a friend.

MB Bride in Greensburg has been selling a lot of lace this year, says manager Jenn Mason. She says nudes, royal blues, deep reds and blacks are the trending colors right now.

“Girls are going for high illusion necklines, sheer bodices and a slinky look this season,” Mason says. “Mosaic beaded gowns with multicolor or kaleidoscope beading — which is a darker, iridescent bead — we have been seeing a lot of.”

If you haven't gotten your dress yet, she has some advice.

“Don't pass up on a gown hanging on the rack that you aren't sure of. They always look better on than they do hanging there,” Mason says. “Try on different colors. Just because you are hooked on a color doesn't mean you won't love another gown just as much. Go up a size; it can always be altered to fit you. Ask for help. That is what we are here for.”

— JoAnne Klimovich Harrop

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