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Wedding articles/High school girls scour shops for that one perfect dress for the prom
CAPITAL REGION — Here comes the prom.

Across the Capital District, high school girls, accompanied by their moms and a gaggle of girlfriends, have scoured shops for the prom dress that may just be the second-most important prom gown purchase of their lives.

But chic styles this year are more likely to be slinky and risque than white and lace-adorned. Today’s prom attire for young women also comes with price tags not even in the ballpark for parents who sprayed the hems of their polyester prom gowns with Static Guard and danced to “Stairway to Heaven” at their prom decades ago.

By this week, with local proms scheduled for May and June, most girls are having fittings done on prom dresses purchased as many as six months ago.

The hunt for the perfect dress now begins with the mailbox, with many high school juniors and seniors receiving glossy, full-color catalogs and magazines to thumb through. The choices are seemingly endless, with young women able to pick and choose colors and styles to match their wildest dreams. They can be a princess with a full, flowing skirt that rivals Glinda, the good witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” or a slinky vamp with dresses cut low in the back, front or leg, low enough to make fathers want to bar the front door. One popular designer offers gowns in “hot colors, sleek fabrics and sexy cuts for a statement of maturity and individuality.”

Sami Smith of Ballston Spa opted for a more traditional look, choosing a full-skirted off-white gown scattered with burgundy flowers purchased at Danielle’s Bridal Boutique in Saratoga Springs.

“I went through the catalogs and knew I wanted a poufy ball gown,” said Smith, who will be attending her senior prom at Ballston Spa High School in June. “It was actually the first dress I tried on, but then I went around and tried a bunch more to be sure, then I brought my mom to see it.”

$400 price range

Sami’s mother, Joie Smith, said she was willing to pay $400 for the dress because it suited her daughter so well.

“I knew we’d spend a few hundred dollars; this is her senior prom that only comes around once,” Joie Smith said. “I love the dress too, and I couldn’t help but get sentimental when I realized the next time she stands in front of a mirror with a dress, it will be her bridal gown.”

Unlike the bridesmaid dresses tucked in the back of many closets, Sami is hoping her prom dress can be recycled for future formal events.

“We’ll shorten it and take off some of the ruffles and it will be a great party dress,” Sami said.

Marylu Ferri and her mother, Lina Ferri, owners of Ferri Formals and Bridals in Schenectady, have helped fit hundreds of flustered girls this prom season, and have seen a growing trend for new fabrics to update familiar styles. In short, fabrics are going wild.

“The styles don’t change much, but the patterns are incredible this year, with leopard and even black-and-white zebra stripes,” Marylu Ferri said. “Girls want a red-carpet look now, like what they see on movie stars at the Oscars and Grammys.

The price for emulating Hollywood’s finest is steep.

“I sold a Vera Wang dress for $1,800,” Ferri said. “It had layers of silk chiffon and Austrian crystal beads.”

pictures put online

Of utmost importance is ensuring there won’t be a single other girl in the room with the same dress at any given prom.

That’s where registries come in.

“We have girls tell us what prom they’ll be going to, and we’ve turned sales away because that identical dress was already reserved,” Ferri said. “But girls today are so savvy, they put pictures of their dress online immediately so no one copies it.”

Locally, it is possible to don the perfect dress without giving up hopes of ever paying for college.

At consignment shops like Designer Exchange in Burnt Hills, high schoolers from across the Capital District can walk away with a brand-new dress for as little as $145.

“I work with many area dress shops that give me their overstocks, leftovers and dresses ordered but never picked up,” owner Ivy Williams said. “A good 98 percent of my inventory has never been worn.”

On all consignment sales, 50 percent of the price is returned to the original store, but even with low prices, Williams is willing to negotiate because business is brisk.

“Dresses are flying out the door,” Williams said. “I wish I had this business every day. The first of May is really crunch week; if you don’t have your dress now you’re most likely panicking.”

Once the prom is over, the pictures printed out and sent to relatives, and graduation parties take over as top priority, it’s even possible to recycle the coveted gowns to become someone else’s once-in-a-lifetime purchase.

“I tell girls they can bring them back after they’ve worn them once and I’ll re-sell them,” Williams said. “But in three years, I’ve never had anyone take me up on that offer.”