The price of prom

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— Although prom is considered a rite of passage for most Americans, it also is a time for the nation's youngest models to wear the world's most expensive clothing.

Prom is a time when price tags are overlooked and "going all out" is the rule instead of the exception.

Whether the dress, tux or suit is $80 or $280, it's the attitude and style that people are staring at. Think of it as the Oscars for high schoolers.

In fact, Allen Schwartz's line of imitation of Oscar dresses, ABS, comes out just a couple of weeks after the stars walk down Hollywood's red carpet.

But this isn't Hollywood and living in Steamboat Springs can be difficult on the wardrobe ego. Taking time running back and forth to Denver may seem like more trouble than it's worth. But when the special night comes, you want to be the most comfortable and fashionable.

Although this year's "Fire and Ice" theme has not sparked many style changes, Terry Sherrill of Allen's tuxedo shop said boys are trying to match their dates' dresses with cummerbunds or vests.

Many styles in Steamboat are not changing or diverting from tradition, but heading down to the city may change your mind.

Erin Hogan, salesperson for Nordstrom's Special Collections at the new Flatiron Crossing Mall outside of Boulder, said the line of prom-like dresses are dwindling due to the quick approach of the Main Event.

"A lot of them just want sexy," Hogan said of prom dresses. "They're always looking for sexy, skinny spaghetti straps."

The Special Collections offered straight and simple satin-like materials in neutral oyster or mauve tones ranging from $198 to $290. Nordstrom carries mostly Rimini and Crimson labels, with a few Schwartz and Nicole Millers tucked away in special collections.

The oyster-colored dress, a Rimini gown by show, was threaded with small sequins and lace at the straight neckline. Its simple straps, not large enough to hide a bra strap, did not give way to a revealing bust line, but fell straight across the middle of the chest.

Hogan said many girls are seeking out the one-piece dress that manipulates the eye, looking similar to a long skirt with a halter top.

The sequined neckline looks more like a gown my grandmother would wear to the opera vs. what a 17-year-old girl would wear to a high school prom, but maybe that's what some mothers want for their daughters.

The long, black traditional prom dress still is popular, but Hogan said many girls this year are seeking bright, spring colors with flowers.

"But the style is always close fitted to the body, although some like the sort of ball-gown skirt," Hogan said. "But always long."

Anderson said she used to make hair pieces for the girls, but with her busy schedule, she has kept with only designing and recommending earrings, hair pieces and styles.

"Anything to make them feel like Cinderella," Anderson said. "I tell them it all depends on your body style."

Powder blue ruffled tuxedos and pink taffeta prom dresses may have found their way into thrift stores across America throughout the past 30 years, but some styles are returning to haunt us.

Walking into the junior section at Dillard's in the Flatiron Crossing Mall, high school girls ran up and down the crowded aisles scooping up their favorite styles and colors, while criticizing those that stood out or were unconventional.

"Eeww, pink," one girl said of the few dozen dresses marked in every shade of pink.

This may have seemed perfect for the '80s and too far out for the '90s, but with the 21st century posing as the era when everything old is new again, it's hauntingly familiar.

However, boys' fashion doesn't seem to change much.

Sherrill said not many young patrons have opted for a colored tux or entertaining accessories. Most have gone with the traditional black, but one or two gray tuxes have been rented.

"Last year we did a few top hats and canes, but this year I don't think we did any. They're a pretty traditional class," Sherrill said of this year's Steamboat students attending prom.

For Nicole McBride, a 19-year-old University of Denver freshman, returning to prom for an old friend after high school isn't that embarrassing. She's heading back to Smoky Hill High School, but this time her maturity will show with a sophisticated dress.

McBride has noticed that prom dresses are becoming more untraditional with many more bright colors than there ever were. She said she likes straight dresses, fitting in the waist and then flowing toward the bottom. The "ballerina style."

"What I would really like to find is something like this ... but not in this color, and not with these bows," McBride said of a straight-cut periwinkle dress, revealing a small part of the back with two fabric roses in the middle. "I like simplicity, full-colored things."

That's seems to be the most frequently used phrase during prom shopping season. Finding the perfect dress that is not quite so perfect. Nothing is perfect unless you decide to custom make the dress.

Judy Anderson of Udderly Fine Things in Steamboat said most of the prom dresses on her sewing table right now are shimmery and shear.

"Iradescent chiffons, primarily, are what I'm using," Anderson said. "I think they can have a bit different look."

Custom-designed dresses at Udderly Fine Things could run about $350, including talent, labor and materials.

While many ideas come from popular women's magazines, Anderson said the style of dresses she makes are pretty traditional, nothing new or unique.

Hogan said the image of maturity and sophistication seeps into the minds of teen-age girls who browse through magazines or watch TV. She said Nordstrom has many of these dresses, but creating a whole new 17-year-old persona is difficult.

Dresses in the junior section at Nordstrom start around $115 and end in the Special Collections around $320 for those they consider made for prom.

What's the annual spring rite of passage without the right shoes, jewels and satchel to match the dress?

Sherrill said square-toed patent leather shoes are different and more popular this year.

Traditional bow ties and black and white penguin suits have the boys rushing to order from the catalog to get to Steamboat on time.

Hogan said she has seen girls walk into Nordstrom and want to douse their body in crystals, glitter and other makeup that gives off more shine.

"Most are wearing simple necklaces and glitter all over the body. If there's skin showing, cover it in glitter," Hogan said. "Then you don't need as much jewelry."

Sarah Lauricello, an employee at Steve Madden shoe store in Flatiron Crossing Mall, said the $59 Saura shoe has been the most popular, second next to the simple, yet sexy stiletto.

This wedge-heeled shoe, including a small flower near the toe line, is strappy, sexy and so '70s. Two straps cross the foot, then tie around the ankle in a bow.

Lauricello said if you're talking colors, silver shoes win the gold.

"People are sick of looking for something that will actually match their dress, and silver will go with anything," Lauricello said.

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