ó Myasia McGill knew she wanted to stand out from her
classmates at prom.
high school junior considered going to the mall or a
boutique to find a designer outfit, but she couldnít
risk another girl showing up to the big dance in the
same dress. Only a custom dress would do.
wants to look like someone else," the 16-year-old
said. "People are trying to look better than the
next person and win Ďbest dressed.í"
enlisted the help of Natalie Graham, owner of Doll House
Boutique, which specializes in one-of-a-kind pieces and
custom orders. After a series of meetings during which
the two discussed concepts and conducted fittings,
McGill was ready to pick up her dress ó a fun and
sophisticated fuchsia and mesh fit-and-flare number with
a tulle skirt.
different," McGill said. "Itís unique. I
teens attempt to display their individuality, they are
going to new and more expensive lengths. Custom dresses
are a way to ensure that they are getting the look theyíve
envisioned. And even though the dresses are more
expensive than picking a garment from the rack of a
department store or traditional boutique, getting a
custom dress alleviates the worry of a classmate showing
up in the same design. As a result, designers say, they
are inundated with requests for custom dresses in the
months and weeks preceding prom.
spending is expected to average $919 per person this
year ó with families in the Northeast spending more
than the national average, at $1,169, according to
research company GfK. Custom-dress designers are selling
their creations from $400 to more than $1,000.
of these kids are paying more for their prom dresses
then I did for my wedding dress," said Judy
McKinney, whose daughter, Summer, who will be going to
prom in a $500 custom gown. "Itís the sign of the
times, I guess."
schoolers have been creating and altering their prom
looks for a while but have really ramped up their
efforts in the past five years, according to Zoey
Washington, owner of Little Bird Style, a New York-based
styling company geared toward teens.
who would traditionally go to the mall or to a specialty
boutique have been bringing tear sheets to seamstresses
and independent designers to create something
unique," Washington said.
an expected development for an age group that has
welcomed DIY culture, Washington said.
is only natural that they would want the same level of
control for special occasions," she said.
pool of accessible prom looks is becoming narrower and
narrower as department stores like Macyís or even
Bloomingdaleís are relying on ready-to-wear trends to
create special-occasion wear," Washington said.
"So if blue is the color of the season in
ready-to-wear or the red carpet, then it is the only
thing you will see in stores. That leaves very little
room for originality for teens. So they make their
a designer to make a prom dress has pop culture roots in
MTVís "My Super Sweet Sixteen."
put the idea of having a custom dress on the map,"
Washington said. "But the idea of making something
from scratch ó or having it made ó combines the
impact of having something original with the economic
benefit of control over the quality of the material and
ultimately how likely you are to wear it again."
Doll House Boutique, Graham sells one-of-a-kind dresses
right off the rack or made-to-order gowns, like McGillís,
ranging in price from $250 to $900.
is the hardest Iíve had to work this past month,"
said Graham. Prom is Grahamís busiest season of the
saying they want something unique and extravagant,"
said Jasmine Nixon, senior stylist for Doll House.
"They want the Doll House to put their signature
stamp on it."
signature look was exactly what McGill got with her
knew no one else would have anything like it," she
aunt, Chianta Harris, looked on with admiration while
McGill tried on her dress.
wish I could have done this when I was in high
school," she said. "Three people had on my
same dress. I didnít like it."
peace of mind and the finished product more than make up
for the price tag, she said. Harris, who is 30, said she
paid about $200 for her prom dress. McGill spent $700
for hers. But Harris thinks itís worth it.
beautiful," Harris said. "She looks like a
Blanchard, a Baltimore-based designer who owns MB Design
Gallery, has dressed celebrities including actress
Nicole Ari Parker for events such as the 2010 Emmys. She
said she made nine prom dresses this year.
are serious," she said, adding that her dresses
range in price from about $400 to more than $1,000.
"Itís like a wedding for them. If I do their
junior prom dress, they already know what they want for
recalled one girl approaching her this year with her
"dream dress" in mind.
was sketched out and everything," she said. "I
took it from there."
McKinney wanted to express her self-described
"alternative, dark" sense of style at her
schoolís upcoming senior prom. But she knew she couldnít
find a dress off the rack that would do that.
knew I wanted to find something unique," the Severn
McKinney searched the Internet and found Blanchard.
was great. She told us what to expect. I thought she was
reasonable. She did a great job," said McKinneyís
whipped together a black, corseted sweetheart-top gown
accented by a red ribbon around the waist and black lace
gorgeous," McKinney said. "I think Iím one
of the only ones at my school getting a custom gown,
which is pretty cool."
is extremely important to McKinney.
teenage years are when you should be experimenting with
style or figuring out what works best for you," she
arenít the only ones jumping on the craze.
Christopher Schafer Clothier received 30 requests from
teenage boys this year who wanted custom suits for prom.
spring, I get a bunch of calls about it. Most of them
are too late," Schafer said, explaining that it
takes six to eight weeks to complete a suit. "Some
didnít do it after they heard the price."
McCoy, a 17-year-old senior at Mount St. Joseph High
School, decided to get his suit made by Schafer. The
$1,500 ensemble includes black fitted pants, a pink
gingham shirt with black buttons, a black bow tie and
black velvet jacket adorned with a polka dot pattern.
said he wanted to "go out with a bang" for his
the past, McCoy has purchased suits off the rack at
stores, but he said the fit was never right. He said he
wasnít taking any chances this year.
my special time," he said. "Iím hoping to
turn a couple heads."
said his dateís high-low pink gown will coordinate
perfectly with his ensemble.
bought hers at the mall, but sheíll get it
altered," he said.
want to have a unique look and a one-of-a-kind
feel," he said. "Itís especially important