I know it's a little early, but one of our lovely readers asked for us to help her find an affordable, fun prom dress. And being a total formal occasion nerd, I'll take any excuse to create festive outfits, especially for other people. So I scoured all over the interwebs and came up with a bunch of dresses. So many that I'm putting them in two posts, under $200 and over $200.
Mini disclaimer: I went to an all girl's school with a very informal prom, so when I think prom I think cute cocktail dresses, no floor-length sweet-heart gowns. So if anyone's confused by my choices...well, that's why. :)
The thing with more affordable dresses is that you get what you pay for, which is often more basic silhouettes and fewer details. That means that these dresses are often more versatile, but they depend on accessories to get jazzed up.
Wink "Stella" Printed Silk Dress, $181.50 down from $383 at bloomingdales.com, Donna Morgan Belted Chiffon Dress, $138 at nordstorm.com, Victoria's Secret Cutout Dress, $48 at victoriassecret.com: This Wink dress is an absolute steal. The cut is really basic and sweet, easy to wear and flattering, but the print (it's hard to see, I know) is a multi-colored, watercolor paisley. It's bohemian in a very chic, minimalist way, and you could really wear it over and over. Bright colors aren't really my thing, but if you can work something like a lovely, sunny yellow, I think prom is a great place to do it. It will make you stand out in pictures for sure. Since the color is so bright, having a simpler cut and a lighter fabric helps keep the dress from wearing you instead of vice versa. It's just a really clean, fun, sweet little dress, and the attached belt totally makes it. Now, I like this Victoria's Secret dress in BLACK, not purple, but they had no pictures. I know it doesn't scream prom, but it's really on-trend and affordable, and could totally be glammed up with a wide belt and a statement necklace, and maybe a really fierce shoe. One of my friends has a dress just like this, and I get serious jealousy ever time she wears it out. Shoulder cutouts are so unexpectedly sexy!
Sun Dot Dress, $148 at anthropologie.com, American Apparel Stretch Velvet Double U-neck Long Sleeve Mini Dress, $ at americanapparelstore.com, Modcloth Award's Night Dress, $49.99 at modcloth.com: If retro's your thing, this Anthropologie dress is pitch-perfect. It has removable straps, so you can get the look of a sweetheart strapless dress with the support of being able to wear a bra, and the bustier top and wiggle skirt are so '50s, but the color palette and embroidered polka dots give it a touch of modern whimsy. This would be great with a big necklace and a menswear-ish belt. I know this American Apparel dress takes a little explaining (actually, I feel like most American Apparel dresses need a little explaining). First off, velvet is definitely making a comeback, and it just feels luxurious. And second off, the long-sleeved, body-con cut is actually really flattering, but also really sexy with being too revealing. I think this would be fantastic with, again, a statement-making necklace and maybe a cuff bracelet. This Modcloth dress is so glam! That's all sequins, for just under $50. Total steal. It's a little '80s, very disco-glam, and has the same body-con, long-sleeved silhouette that's not only really on-trend, but subtly sexy. There's no way you would blend in in this dress.
Modcloth Quasar Cocktail Dress, $82.99 at modcloth.com, American Apparel Interlock Asymmetrical Dress, $42 at americanapparelstore.com, Rodarte for Target Swiss Dot Dress, about $50 on eBay: How darn cute is this Modcloth dress?! The fit and flare shape is very '50s prom dress, but the black/metallic geometric print makes it completely modern, and the notched neckline is a refreshing alternative to the typical sweetheart. That dress and a black, patent leather belt? Love. So that's actually me in the American Apparel dress, just because the pictures on the website make it look way more boring than it actually is. I can't even tell you guys how versatile this dress is. I get compliments on it every time I wear it. It's body-con and one-shouldered, with pleats on the top of the one sleeve, and would be really, really easy to dress up for prom. Just add a statement belt and a few necklaces, and you're good to go. And this last dress is Rodarte for Target. I debated between posting this one and the leopard one for forever, but I think this one could be a little more formal. The first time I wore it it actually got mistaken for a '50s prom dress a bunch of times. Add a skinny, crystal embellished belt, a delicate necklace, and some sweet little heels, and you have a darling, slightly retro-inspired ensemble that you can namedrop as being Rodarte. Maybe that just makes me happy.
Chains & Bow Necklace, $6.80 at forever21.com, Classified Layers Necklace, $10.80 at forever21.com, Tassel Pendant, $10.80 at forever21.com: When you're working on a budget, I think the best thing to do is spend the bulk of your money on the dress, just because that's what you're really going to remember, and then hit up somewhere little Forever 21 for accessories. For necklaces, I'd layer a bunch of Forever 21 necklaces like these. The chain/ribbon necklace is very Lanvin, modern chic, the middle necklace has a bit more of an Art Deco, faded glamour kind of feeling, and the tassel necklace (which also comes in gold) is very bohemian/world-traveler. I have one and I totally wear it all the time.
Got to Have Bangles Set, $4.80 at forever21.com, Lacquered Accent Cuff, $6.80 at forever21.com, Aphrodite Cuff, $5.80 at forever21.com: The same thing goes for bangles. You don't want to blow your budget on a fab cuff and leave nothing for your dress. Go cheap and chic at somewhere like Forever 21. The bangles would go great with the tassel necklace (they both have a similarly exotic vibe), the black cuff is very Coco Chanel and Verdura in the '20s and would be fantastic with the first dress, and the gold cuff would add great visual weight to a lighter, floatier dress.
J. Crew Silk Bouquet Sash, $25 down from $35 at jcrew.com, J. Crew Slim Square-buckle Belt, $35 at jcrew.com, Forever 21 Metallic Point Elastic Belt, $8.80 at forever21.com: Belts are the funnest part! There are so many different ways go you can go with belts--they can totally change the feeling of an outfit. I'd pair this floral sash (which comes in a bunch of different colors at J. Crew) with the one-shouldered LBD or cutout LBD, to spice them up and add a little femininity to all that black. This gold belt (again, comes in a ton of colors and is just practical on a daily life level) has just enough of a menswear vibe to work with pretty much all of these dresses. And if you really want to make a statement, I love this Forever 21 belt. Since it's elastic, it will hug all your curves, and the metal applique on the front would add a fantastic space-age vibe to any girly dress.
Alice + Olivia for Payless Sasha Cutout Platform Sandals, $34.99 at payless.com, Forever 21 Jolene Heels Jocelyn Velvet Trim Pumps, $14.99 at forever21.com, Forever 21 Posh Stiletto Heels, $20.80 at forever21.com: Shoes are hard to do on a budget. Either you can wear a basic pair that you already have, or if you want a fun shoe, I'd recommend hitting up Forever 21 or Payless. They won't be the most comfortable shoes, but you're really only wearing them for one night. I like Payless because they have a ton designer diffusion lines, like Alice + Olivia. Metallic heels like these would be great with really all of the above dresses, and the platform really does make them more comfortable. For an edgier look, Forever 21 has a lot of on-trend, black heels, like this Mary Jane inspired pair, or these strappy, mesh heels.
I didn't accessorize all the above dresses because it would have taken about a million years, but the basic idea is that you can mix and match accessories for a different look, and that on a lower budget it's best to get the nicest dress you can and go cheaper on fun, flashy accessories.
PS: We love getting reader emails, guys!!! If anyone has any suggestions, questions, comments, whatever, feel free to email me. I don't bite, I swear.
Wink dress: bloomingdales.com, Donna Morgan dress: nordstrom.com, Victoria's Secret dress: victoriassecret.com, anthropologie.com, American Apparel velvet dress: americanapparelstore.com, Modcloth dresses: modcloth.com, modcloth.com, Forever 21 necklaces: forever21.com, forever21.com, forever21.com, Forever 21 bracelets: forever21.com, forever21.com, forever21.com, J. Crew sash: jcrew.com, J. Crew belt: jcrew.com, Forever 21 belt: forever21.com, Payless heels: payless.com, Forever 21 heels: forever21.com, forever21.com.