Prom gown shopping with an offbeat teen

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!

Comments on Prom gown shopping with an offbeat teen

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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…”

  4. 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).

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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 — 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 — you’ll kick yourself if you see the perfect dress for $20 the week after you decided on the $80 gown online.

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. 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 😀 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…

  15. 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.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation