100 vintage 80s prom dresses: See the hottest retro styles teen girls wore

Vintage prom dresses from the eighties

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From looking pretty in pink to bold in black, teen girls put a lot of time and money into finding just the perfect — now-vintage — 80s prom dress for homecoming, junior and senior prom, or other high school formal dances. (And for sure, some of these also served as bridesmaid’s dresses.)

Here’s a look at more than a hundred of the styles available back then that eighties girls thought were totally awesome.

Vintage 80s prom dresses from Promtime

Looking back at vintage ’80s prom dresses: The night required a certain style

The first thing you have to understand about dressing for the prom is the utter, absolute importance of Seventeen magazine.

“I saw this dress in Seventeen, and it had a toll-free number you could call in California, so I called and they said it would be at the Mayfair, so I went and bought it,” said Molly O’Brien, 16, of South Burlington, whose parents sank more than $150 in a hot fuschia dress with spaghetti straps.

Retro 1988 prom dresses

Seventeen does that March issue — Gunne Sax shows seven or eight dresses, and that’s what the girls want,” shrugged Shirley Alpert, owner of Gigi’s on Church Street.

“It’s their Bible,” agreed Cheryl Cummerow, who buys the prom dresses for Magrams.

Vintage 80s prom dresses from Promtime

Vintage ’80s prom dresses hot in ’86: Pretty in Pink

“I saw my dress in Seventeen, so I knew someone else would have it, too,” said Laurie Watson, 16, of Underhill, who spent $130 of babysitting money on a strapless white formal by Gunne Sax with a candy-box pink satin bow.

Her good friend Lori Ardovino, 16, of Underhill, also will be going to the Mount Mansfield Union High School prom Saturday. She, too, will be wearing the $130 strapless white Gunne Sax dress with candy-box pink satin bow.

Tampa Bay Magazine May-Jun 1987 Prom

“It doesn’t really bother us,” Watson insisted. “I really like my dress — pink’s my favorite color.”

And that’s the other thing you have to understand about dressing for the prom this year: the importance of pink.

“Pink, pink, pink,” cried Lori Reese, 17, a senior at Winooski High School. “Everybody’s wearing pink.” That includes Lori herself.

Stylish vintage '80s prom dresses

“My date wanted me to wear pink,” said Karen Kane, 16, of Winooski, who found a pink off-the-shoulder satin with a hoop skirt.

Asked to name someone wearing an unusual dress to the prom, Michelle Gosselin, 16, of Winooski (who was wearing a pink-and-white striped Gunne Sax) came up with the name of Tami Jo Smith, whose dress is an unstartling frilly white confection trimmed with red bows.

“The color is mostly pink this year,” Gosselin said, in explanation.

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1980s prom dresses - Coty

’80s prom dresses: Southern Belles and vampish looks

The Gunne Sax look, in addition to being pink, means big hoop skirts, lots of lace and bare shoulders.

“They all want to look like Scarlett O’Hara — like they just tore down the curtains and made a dress,” one salesperson said of the wide-hooped, off-the-shoulder Southern belle look.

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Gunne Sax prom dresses of the eighties

Lace and satin prom dresses with 80s style

The alternative is what Barbara Tarshis, buyer at the Mayfair, calls “a little more vampish ‘Back to the Future‘ — that ’40s look that my mother might have worn.”

That means slinky satin (no hoops or crinolines) with lots of big satin ruffles and bows, and plenty of bare shoulders and backs.

“It made a statement,” said Cheryl May, 17, a junior at Rice High School, of her clinging white jacquard satin dress. It wasn’t, she said, like the other prom dresses.

80s prom dresses

May couldn’t exactly say what the “statement” was, but going out on a fashion limb this year mostly involved avoiding Gunne Sax and pink.

“I liked it because it was different,” said Karen Brouillette, a sophomore at Colchester High School, who invested in a strapless, royal blue tea-length gown from the Mayfair for the May 25 prom.

“I wanted to steer away from Gunne Sax. I was afraid I’d see not just double of myself, but triple,” said Stephanie O’Brien, 18, of South Burlington, who ended up with pink, but slinky pink. “I wanted something more sophisticated… I don’t want to be like everyone else.”


Fancy sequined vintage 80s prom dresses from Alyce Designs

Fancy sequined vintage 80s prom dresses from Alyce Designs


Vintage 1980s prom dresses in silver sequins and white

Vintage 80s prom dresses (5)


The Prom Collection from What’s Up, New York

Fashion descriptions: Three lacy vintage tea-length dresses — two are strapless, and one has thin straps. The pale pink and teal dresses feature low (thigh-height) sash belts, while the middle silver and white dress has a metallic bodice and a big white bow on the back.

Vintage 80s formal dresses - The Prom Collection from What's Up, New York


Vintage PromTime dresses by Columbia (1980s)

Vintage PromTime dresses by Columbia (1980s)

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Three formal lace-accented formal gowns of “lustrous polyester knit”

The hottest styles & colors for '80s prom dresses


Frilled retro prom & party dresses from the eighties

These red, blue and yellow Disney-esque long dresses were from Nadine Formals & Party Dresses back in 1981

ALSO SEE: 16 breathtakingly gorgeous vintage evening gowns with long skirts so full they’d make a Disney Princess jealous

Nadine brand prom dresses in red blue and yellow from 1981


Pale pink corset-style sleeveless dress (late 80s)

Pale pink prom dress from 1987


Blue classic prom dresses (plus see pink versions in the corner)

Prom dresses from 1983 (1)


Three 80s prom dresses with old-fashioned style, from JC Penney (1983)

Gown with Bow Trim: Of polyester taffeta. Sweetheart neckline. Fitted bodice. Elasticized at shoulders — can be worn on or off shoulders. Sleeves elasticized above flounced cuffs. Slightly raised waistline with attached bow belt. Full skirt. Back zipper. Available in frost rose & wine colors.

Gown with Lace Yoke: Bodice of polyester chiffon, lined with acetate taffeta. Full skirt of polyester taffeta. Lace stand-up collar with satin ribbon trim. Lace trimmed front and back bodice with V-shaped satin ribbon trim. Sleeves, elasticized above lace flounce cuffs. Lace-trimmed flounced hemline. Back zipper. Available in ivory/wine and ivory/royal blue.

Dress with Handkerchief Hem: Of polyester taffeta. Modified sweetheart neckline. Scoop back neckline. Front and back basque bodice. Short sleeves are shirred. Back zipper. Available in wine and violet colors. 

Three old-fashioned prom dresses from 1983 at JC Penney


Promwear from Nadine Formals & Party Dresses

“Glamorous. Glimmerous. Flirtatious. Romance… waiting to be unmasked.” (See more retro Nadine formalwear here.)

Classic 80s prom dresses (6)


Collection of prom dresses from the 80s, by Loralie Originals

Vintage 80s prom dresses from Loralie Originals


Fabulously stylish retro 80s prom dresses

Vintage 80s prom dresses (1)

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Cute flouncy formal dresses from 1984

Prom dresses 1984


Off-the shoulder dresses with big tulle skirts

Prom dresses from 1984


Promtime Frolics dresses, by Columbia – Designed by Mimi

Prom dresses Promtime 1985

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Article continued from above

Happy with their retro ’80s prom dresses & fancy fashions

Few girls went as far as 16-year-old Diane Sullivan of Burlington, a junior at Rice High School. She’s wearing a white tuxedo to the prom Saturday at Mather’s.

“The typical prom dress is just so so… prom-y. It’s like fingers scratching on a chalkboard, so I thought a tux would be fun,” she said.

Scarlett O’Hara or Clara Bow, the costs add up. Dresses range from $80 to $200; most girls said they were spending $130 to $150.

Kim Niquette of Burlington didn’t like the dresses she saw in stores and made her own for $60; Cheryl Maheux of Jericho transformed her two-year-old $94 dress by adding a hoop (“I couldn’t see buying a whole new dress — at least this way no one will have the same as mine”).

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Alyce designs vintage prom dresses in Seventeen from 1984

In most cases, though, Mom and Dad foot the bill.

“My mom thought it was a little too expensive, and said to talk to my Dad; so I told him I really, really wanted it and so he said I could get it,” said Michelle Gosselin of her $144 pink-and-white striped Gunne Sax.

Then there are Daniel and Sandra O’Brien of South Burlington, parents of Stephanie, Molly and Kerry, 15. All three girls are going to the prom, and all are deliriously happy over their new dresses.

“My Dad says to say he’s filing for bankruptcy,” Stephanie relayed over the phone, to giggles and groans in the background.

1980s movie Pretty in Pink - Andie Walsh's (Molly Ringwald) pink prom dress, and her date Duckie (Jon Cryer)
From the 1980s movie Pretty in Pink – Andie Walsh’s (Molly Ringwald) pink prom dress, and her date Duckie (Jon Cryer)

Brooke Shields modeling a pink prom dress (1984)

ALSO SEE: Young Brooke Shields: The early career of a budding supermodel (1975)

May 1984 Brooke Shields prom dress


Formal dresses prom 1984: One sleeveless, one with a high neck

Formal dresses prom 1984: One sleeveless, one with a high neck


Supermodels in pastel vintage ’80s prom dresses

That’s supermodel Yasmin (Parvaneh) LeBon in the middle there

Top models showing prom dresses and lacy mesh gloves back in 1987


Red formal dress with black ladybug spots

Gunne Sax, Seventeen magazine, November 1985


80s prom fashion for him and her

80s prom fashion for him and her


Sleeveless red prom dress from the mid-80s

Sleeveless red prom dress from the mid-80s


Bubble-skirted red prom dress by Willi Wear (1988)

His outfit: 100% cotton separates from Matinique: Cropped fine herringbone-patterned jacket paired with matching double-pleated tapered and cuffed slacks. Mandarin collared shirt and striped tie.

Bubble-skirted red prom dress by Willi Wear (1988)


Red prom dress, worn with a double strand of pearls

Vintage prom dresses from 1988 (4)


4 retro prom dresses with sequins and sparkles for days
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Vintage 80s prom dresses (6)


An eighties new wave/punk girl in a silver-gold dress sequined dress

Retro silver lame formal dress from 1988


Strapless and one-shoulder vintage ’80s prom dress styles

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Seventeen prom dresses from 1987


’80s formal dress styles from Alyce Designs in Chicago

Vintage 80s prom dresses (3)


 

Lacy & romantic white 80s prom dress fashions (1983)

Lacy & romantic white 80s prom dress fashions (1983)


Retro pink formal romantic-style dresses from 1983

Retro pink formal romantic-style dresses from 1983


Retro 80s white lacy prom dress formalwear from Charlotte Russe stores (1986)

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Retro 80s white lacy prom dress formalwear from Charlotte Russe stores (1986)


A soft and lacy white dress & matching fingerless gloves

Lacy white mid-80s prom dress style


Pale pink & white dotted prom dresses from Seventeen magazine (1984)

Dotted prom dresses from Seventeen magazine (1984)


Black vintage 80s prom dresses

Black vintage 80s prom dresses


A black satin sleeveless formal dress

The model here is wearing the dress with a beaded bracelet and a big lace bow in her hair — and has a bottle of champagne! (Until the 80s, many states allowed drinking at ages 18 or 19. Find out more about that here.)

Prom dresses of the 80s - black sleeveless


Black and white retro formalwear for girls

Vintage 80s prom dresses in black and white


Dark-toned retro prom dresses: black, dark blue and teal

1986 prom fashion


Serious girls with serious dark dresses and seriously 80s hair

Laura Ashley prom dresses from 1984

 


Blue, pink and purple long prom dresses from JC Penney (1983)

Blue, pink and purple long prom dresses from JC Penney (1983)


Pink long dress with bare shoulders above puffy ruched short sleeves

Long pink vintage 80s prom dress


Long prom dress fashions for teens from 1988

Long prom dress fashions for teens from 1988

NOW SEE THIS: Gunne Sax prom dresses of the eighties

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. I truly enjoyed reading this article and seeing the photos of 80’s prom dresses. I had an 80’s poufy wedding gown with poufy hair to match. The dress was the “most beautiful” wedding gown I had ever seen and I was so sure my daughter would love that dress when her wedding day arrived. WRONG!
    It is fun to look back!

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