Adding Glamour to Modest Formal Dresses

Modest formal dresses from Landa, Venus and A Formal Choice

(Photo credits, clockwise from left: Landa, Venus, A Formal Choice and Glory's House). The Wall Street Journal published an article about prom season 2012 entitled "For Prom, Schools Say 'No' to the Dress," a reference to rising standards of modesty in high schools and a play on words from the television show Say Yes to the Dress that not only showcases popular bridal gowns but also sparks new formal gown trends among its young viewer following.

Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Holmes gathered data from high schools around the United States, citing five of them in her article, that are enforcing standards of modesty this year in dress codes for their proms, largely in response to female students in the past who have attended school events wearing formal dresses that were deemed too revealing by school staff and even other students. Ms. Holmes interviewed Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of trend forecasting company Tobe, who said that the move toward revealing prom dresses comes straight from Hollywood. Teen girls see barely covered celebrities in music videos, on TV and at red carpet events and seek to emulate their trending styles. Retailers capitalize on the market created by celebrity style and manufacture similar designs without regard to the modesty of cut-aways or bare, two-piece ensembles. Then school officials are faced with the result of female students purchasing these styles from retailers and showing up at school events to over-ignite the male hormones of their dates or embarrass others in attendance.

Teen girls who want to be both style leaders at formal events and also remain modest, whether to meet school standards or out of personal preference, must turn creative to add glamour to some of the more modest dresses available. Style elements seen in some of the most popular formal and prom dresses on the general market right now include the following:

  • Sleek silhouettes with slim or softly draping skirts
  • Lightweight, floaty fabrics including chiffon overlays
  • Abstract, colorful prints
  • Jeweled and sequined fabrics for the bodice
  • Glittering trims and embellishments

The photo above pictures several of the slimmer silhouettes of formal gowns offered from manufacturers Landa, Venus and retailer A Formal Choice. We would love to see similar styles made available in printed silks and chiffon with perhaps bodice fabric cut from beaded or sequined material. The big, poufy skirts seen in years past have fallen out of popularity, for the most part. Sleek formal gowns with high necklines and sleeves are not easy to find, and rarely do they include special trims or prints. Girls can always add their own rhinestone trims, whether in ribbon form or as appliques or embellishments. The two rhinestone embellishments pictured are from Glory's House online. Any local craft or fabric store should also carry a selection of similar trims.

Another option for style would be to sew your own formal dress using fashion-forward prints and color combinations. The ultra creative types may even want to make their own sewing pattern inspired by a current style found online, in a store or in a magazine. Evening gown patterns are normally draped on a dress form (see our post on making a dress form to fit your own measurements) with cheap fabric in a weight similar to what the final fabric will be. Often, a bra or corset is used as a foundation for the dress, and fabric is sewn straight to the bra to help with structure. Remember that the bias grain is used extensively in evening gown designs. Our favorite book that covers techniques of pattern making by draping is Draping for Fashion Design by Hilde Jaffe and Nurie Relis.

As a starting point for finding modest evening gowns with a glamorous touch, see our Reviews of Modest Formal Dresses. Even though some of the suppliers we review target the prom market, we've chosen to title the section for formal and bridesmaid dress shopping. The reason for this is that while some groups see no problem with unmarried couples dancing, other groups feel that modesty extends beyond just appropriate clothing into an avoidance of touching between unmarried males and females. That is the heart of the dancing debate in some circles, the feeling that a man's touching of a woman during couples dancing takes the edge off of an unmarried woman's modesty. The decision belongs to each individual, and regardless of what your next formal event may be, we hope that you'll be able to attain a high level of style as well as modesty in your dress selection.