Prom gown shopping with an offbeat teen

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Misty Brockway
Misty's sixteen-year-old daughter, Autumn.
When my 16 year old daughter came to me earlier this year and mentioned she was going to homecoming, I experienced a mix of excitement and dread. Excitement because I honestly felt like she'd never actually WANT to go to a high school dance, and I was looking forward to taking her picture and seeing her all dressed up. Dread because, well, her tastes are not like your average teenager, and shopping with her can be daunting.

Did I mention that she didn't tell me about going to the dance until a few days before the date? Not much time to find the perfect dress for someone with such specific tastes.

We spent the evening wandering around the mall, hoping to find something. Definitely no sequins, nothing too lacy or skimpy and nothing strapless. Unfortunately, almost everything fit that description. We ended up finding an acceptable dress at Target, of all places.

Then we had to go shoe shopping. Ever since she began to have her own style and tastes, shoes have been our biggest obstacle. During her 7th and 8th grade years, there was only ONE shoe-style she would wear (Macbeth Newmans. I must have replaced those shoes 5 or 6 times.)

These days she's branched into plain white canvas shoes, slippers and slouchy boots. Unfortunately, wearing slippers to homecoming wasn't going to fly, although I suppose she could have worn them if she really wanted to. She didn't want flats, but she didn't want high heels. Low heels were also out of the question. Where does that leave us?

Our day of shoe shopping didn't end well. I gave up and we went home. There were some tears, arguing and finally me BEGGING her to try again. Homecoming was now that very evening. She said "Maybe if a friend comes with me, I'll find something."

Well, we didn't find anything. She is just too offbeat, so to speak, to find anything she likes in such a short amount of time at your typical stores. I'm sure if I had time, we could have searched on Etsy and found something unique and perfect.

So, while we stood there in the shoe department at Kohl's, the three of us came to an agreement. I'd pay for them to go to a movie as payback for the money her date spent on the wasted homecoming tickets. Then Autumn and I can spend the rest of the school year looking for her perfect prom dress (and shoes!) so we don't have to scramble at the last minute. Deal made.

But, I'm still wondering — where would you go to look for a dress for an offbeat teen girl to wear to a prom? There's only a couple months left to shop!

  1. Kudos to you on tackling shopping for formal dances. It seems to me like hitting your local vintage/used clothing stores might be a place to look for dresses! Lots of fun/unique styles, likely less skimpy and strapless-esque. Yea, it'll be tougher to find something that fits because you won't have one dress in multiple sizes, but if you get shopping now you might have time to find something fantastic.

    But the shoes? Oof. Where's the middle ground between no high or low heels? Middle heels?

      • my mother made one of my formal dresses, both of my prom dresses and also made my friend's prom dress. if your daughter has a clear idea of what she wants, can sketch it out, my mom can sew almost anything.

  2. I sewed all my homecoming and prom dresses myself. Of course that takes planning and some time, but I loved the whole process. Sometimes it's easier to just borrow something from a friend. Does she have any older female friends she could borrow from?

    And high-top chucks go with all dresses, in my opinion. But for mid-level heels, try Aerosoles (I know they have the reputation of being old-lady, but they've come a long way recently). Their mid heels are very reasonable, and their 'high' heels are more like mid-heels. Plus they're comfortable and durable.

    • All my bridesmaids and I wore bright-colored low top Converse All Stars to my wedding. It was outdoors and there was no way I was stumbling around dirt paths in heels all day.

    • Oh my god, I just spent too much time staring at the landing page for Irregular Choice. The colors!

  3. Wedge heels? I had the hardest time finding my wedding shoes so i feel her pain! I wanted vintage but settled for classic peep-toe heels i found at payless shoes! Anywho, def. or etsy for shoes, dresses, or even find two dresses and have a friend/tailor/seamstress combine them…?

  4. Etsy is actually a great option for buying dresses, too. You could even get a custom dress made from a seller there if you explain the time constraint.
    Many of the Offbeat Empire's advertisers also offer custom work and off-the-rack pieces that WOW. Just be sure to be clear about your time issue.

    Has she thought about doing separates? A big skirt (which covers the shoes?) with a funky top can perfectly express her style without being as much fuss as looking for a total-package dress.

  5. Thirding! I LOVE drooling over their dresses πŸ™‚ I also love looking at the dresses at The ones in the prom section seem to fit mostly what she DOESN'T want in a dress, but in the "PinUp" section, there are some really cool, retro dresses she might like. Good luck!

    • I love Unique Vintage! My prom dress was my mother's early seventies handmedown. It had a hood! So I definitely endorse vintage, whether real or recreation.

  6. Modcloth is so awesome for dresses! You could also try they have some really cute dresses that might be formal enough for prom, and they are all vintage inspired and adorable. For shoes you could try, they aren't necessarily an offbeat store, but they have a HUGE selection and you can search based off of heel height, color, style etc.

  7., of course, too, because if all else fails you might be able to get something custom (just give yourself plenty of time)!

    oh how i wish i had those options when i was in school!!

  8. i was picky about my prom dress too. i didn't want anything poofy and princess-y, but i also didn't want one of those slinky silky things either. Nor any of those styles with huge cutouts, anything two piece, and the list goes on. My mom and aunt took me to a regular dress store and the first dress I saw I fell in love with. I only found two dresses there that i liked, one was a form fitting, yet classy gray one, and the other was a poofy princess dress in black with a little lizard brooch thing. So i say its worth just popping into a regular dress shop and giving it a peek. there is always the internet too.

    • Do we have to click the links via the offbeat websites in order to support OBM? How do we make sure our purchases support OB Empire?

        • What! I never see this on the sidebar!!!!
          One day I will actually make a purchase (instead of just starring)
          and i'll make sure to use the linke! : )

  9. On the shoe front, this is what fancy sandals are for! They're flat and non-fussy, but don't give you stump legs like closed-toe flats always seem to, and they come in a million styles. Homecoming would have been a bit chilly for sandals, but isn't prom in late spring where it should be pretty comfy?

    There are some seriously bad ass beaded boho sandals out there

  10. One of my besties had a dress made for her kiddo out of all variety of red, white, and black ties (paisley, paid, check, houndstooth, patterned) and she wore a solid red tie as a headband and high top chucks…

  11. "I'd pay for them to go to a movie as payback for the money her date spent on the wasted homecoming tickets."

    Why? I mean, it wasn't your fault she decided she couldn't/didn't want to go.

  12. I'm glad you found a solution that's happy for your daughter and your date, and that the OB community has so many excellent selections about where to look next time.

    As auntie to a couple teenagers, I'm curious about how the story ended. The way you wrote it, it sounds like your daughter concluded, "I can't find the right shoes, so I don't want to go to homecoming." How would you have handled this if the challenge for offbeat self-expression came up against a required activity?

    • Well, when we were out shopping for some shoes, the dance was starting in literally just a few hours. We just didn't have time to continue looking. I had suggested she just wear her boots like she is wearing in the picture I included with the post (I don't think you can see them though) but at that point she just decided it was getting to be too much to pull off in a few hours and opted to not go. I suppose that if it were a required activity, maybe I would have known further in advance and we would have had more time to prepare and look around for things she likes.

  13. Know some one who sews? Do you sew? My friend's grandmother made my prom dress for me. Your daughter can pick any print/texture of fabric and any style of dress. If the seamstress/taylor is really good he/she can make even fabric that isn't "supossed" to be a dress into a dress.

  14. For my prom, I was determined to do something unique but also be comfortable at the same time. I bought plain white tennis shoes, painted them coral to match my dress, and added some glitter and adhesive gems. They turned out great, and I was the only one without sore feet at the end of the night.

  15. I bought my prom dress at this amazing vintage clothing store in RI called "Divas Closet." It was a 1954 robin's egg-blue explosion of tulle and netting. Beautiful, and went better with my 12-hole Doc Marten's than anything else I had found.
    Since Diva's Closet is out of business and you probably aren't from RI anyway, try Salvation Army or Goodwill, Modcloth if you want to buy something new (but be prepared to order early and possibly return to get another size… it runs small), or even her school's drama department's costume rack (if she's in with the teacher (and if her school's lucky enough to have drama dep't)).
    Shoes – wear anything you want! You can't dance if you're not comfortable!
    Good luck!

  16. I wore vintage dresses, and then an 1840s ballgown for my senior prom.

    I had the advantage of having costumers and theater nerds for family!

  17. I wore a shirt and long skirt. I think it was from debthat gave me more options and made me mega hot. The shirt might have been from hot topic.

  18. I like Ebay for shoes, as well as vintage, resale, and thrift shops for unique clothes and shoes. Is there a Buffalo Exchange in your area? Good luck!

  19. thrift! my junior prom dress was from the thrift store and my senior prom dress was from loehman's. I wore sneakers to both.

    • I had suggested boots (I think). She's actually wearing some cute ones in the picture I included with the post. Not sure why she didn't just go with that. lol!

  20. Thrift stores ahoy! As a young adult who has given my mother countless gray hairs due to my teenage attire (beaded safety pins that weighed down my jeans and bedazzled sneakers galore), thrift stores can be wonderful places to find quirky, unique gowns and you won't spend a ton of money.

    Also, I'm completely the same as your daughter in procrastinatory style. Perhaps ask her to print out some stuff she's looking at so you can both have an idea of what style she's going for and can have fun keeping your eyes peeled. Lord knows that could have saved this duo a lot of exasperated eye-rolling and sighs of "You just don't understaaaaaaaand…"

  21. Thrift stores. We always go there first when we shop. We're both a bit offbeat and chances are we will find something a little funkier at a thrift store. (Although with the right amount of patience, a pair of white pumps at Target can be made pretty damn offbeat).

  22. My local goodwill always has interesting dresses, I'd bet secondhand or consignment stores in your area have some good ones too. Etsy and Ebay are always good helps too. As for shoes, I found flats and a friend of mine wore knee high Converse.

  23. I agree with the previous gazillion people's modcloth recommendation. When I was in highschool I got all of my prom and homecoming dresses from area boutiques that way I could guarantee no one else had them and they were dresses I could re-wear (to weddings and other fancy occasions.) This site has a variety of vintage dresses:

    If your daughter has a specific color or style of dress/shoe/accessory in mind you can search through this site and it will give you all sorts of options:

    Good luck!

  24. Is is super important to you and your daughter that she be dressed "formally" for school dances? I've worn a myriad of outfits in varying levels of formality to my high school dances- from a poodle skirt and sweater vest to a pleated skirt and button down skirt to a foofy ball gown. Unless the school has a formality dress code, the priority should be that she feels pretty– ever if that means she's not in a traditional prom dress.
    As for shoes, tell her to where whatever she wants! I mean, have you seen how many of the ladies of Offbeat Bride rock sneakers and still look classy? Floor length dresses are popular for prom, so it's possible her shoes won't even be seen until she's on the dance floor. Everyone I knew wore fancy shoes to dances solely for photos, then slipped into flip flops or slippers, so there's always the option of buying some shoes exclusively for photos, never to be worn again…

    • Not at all. I want her to be comfortable. It was her decision to want to wear a dress, she just had a really hard time finding one she liked. She isn't really a sneaker girl either. She just wears plain white canvas shoes mostly (and I swear, she wore a pair of slippers to school almost every day this year) and didn't want to wear those with her dress. Like I said, she is just really picky and it's hard to find things she likes on such short notice.

  25. For all three of my proms I wore: a vintage tuxedo from a local mod store, a strappy little number from a local handmade store, and a dress I made myself in sewing class at school. To all three I wore combat boots (which now come in so many colors and height combinations its dizzying). So good luck! Maybe check out neighborhood thrift stores just after homecoming, I bet a lot of folks get rid of those dresses right away.

  26. My mom had a few friends my size-ish who'd been bridesmaids half a dozen times, and their hand-me-downs kept me in formal gowns for three years. If your area has a good thrift stores, check them every week or so, but don't get your hopes up too high β€” there's a reason thrift stores are famous for serendipitous finds and not for reliability.

    Since you're starting so well in advance, just keep an eye out for great deals, and don't buy online yet β€” you'll kick yourself if you see the perfect dress for $20 the week after you decided on the $80 gown online.

  27. You say she likes plain white canvas shoes? When my sister went to prom, she bought a simple pair of KEDS and painted them to match her dress. (Denim-blue shoes covered with a thin coat of silver glitter, to match a silvery glittery blue dress that she made.) In my opinion, sneakers like this go particularly well with vintage dresses, especially ones with knee-length circle skirts or poofy petticoats for a semi-rockabilly look, but the dress my sister wore was sleek and long and they worked great for that too.

  28. I'm 10th-ing ModCloth. LOVE THEM. I could spend all of my paychecks on their skirts and shoes.

  29. Definitely seconding (or should that be 27th-ing?) vintage or DIY dresses, which can easily and beautifully be worn with Converse or similar. But if she is after cool shoes, then, yeah, Irregualar Choice get my vote – I wore them for my wedding and loooooove them. Can you post again after the prom so we all get to see how cool she's bound to look? :p

  30. Oh, and if that's your daughter in the pic, then she should just wear the outfit she has on in it – she looks fab!

  31. I WAS an offbeat teen… so much so that I only went to one high school formal – my senior prom. I found my dress (a 1950's, coral pink number) at a thrift store for $20. My mom didn't get to shop with me, so I compromised by having her do my hair. After prom, I cut the dress off at the knees (hey, it was only $20!), threw on my doc martens, and afterpartied.

  32. For my own prom, I got my dress from Forever 21. The top reminded me of a corset and the bottom was black lace. I don't remember where my shoes were from, but they were black wedges.

    Fourthing (or whatever we're up to) Mod Cloth, Unique Vintage, and Etsy. She can also try looking at bridesmaid dresses on Offbeat Bride.

    And speaking of Kohls, I found a pair of purple heels there on clearance that felt vintage to me. I think they were $14 πŸ˜€ They aren't too tall and are squishy inside which makes them sound comfy in theory. I haven't worn them long enough to know.


    They have some of THE cutest, vintage-inspired shoes, a little on the pricier side some of them but if you save a lot on the dress, that might be a good compromise. They have some cool, dressy Oxfords that might solve the heel dispute…? I also agree with the Chuck Taylor idea–it's kind of overdone at this point but I still plan on wearing them at my wedding. Not gonna be stomping around a vineyard in heels, and my mister is short…

  34. How about formal mens shoes? I'm sure you can find some in womens sizes, but they are different, smart and cute.

  35. I graduated in 2006, I got my dress at a thrift store, it was metallic blue 80's vintage craziness. I took it to a tailor for some minor adjustments and paired it with some ruby red platform shoes. But, that was before my knowledge of etsy. I'd definitely check there. A lot of sellers will do custom work as well.

  36. My Mum made my dress for my first prom & then I made my own for my second. I wore it with bright pink fishnets & my Dr Martens!

  37. besides a second hand store, i'd reccommend looking at non-prom dresses at sears, etc. that's where i found my dress for my sister's prom–the REAL dress I wish I'd had to wear to my prom…and the one i still wear today πŸ™‚

  38. I love shopping at goodwill– you can find some cute stuff there. Take a gross puffy eighties dress, hack off the sleeves, add lace gloves, and you've got a great ensemble.

    If you're willing to spring a bit for the shoes, maybe a tall (knee-height) boot with laces, and use a lace to match the dress.

  39. I advocate for making your own dress for prom. It took less then a month(although I had experience.) I knew that just like your daughter I would have a hard time picking out the right dress. If she likes vintage, vogue has patterns at Jo-Anns, and they go on sale pretty often. Also the whole dress only cost me 60 dollars. As for shoes, at my high school we wore the shoes to pre dance dinner and then took them off in the gym. I recommend perhaps a cute pair of booties? They come in mid heals. Good luck.

  40. Yes! ModCloth, thrift/vintage stores, eBay! As for shoes, would she wear sequined sneakers or something? Sort of her everyday shoes but kicked up a notch?

    Or, formalizing a pair of sneakers? With paint or beadwork or fabric overlays or appliques?

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