Here’s a look at more than a hundred of the styles available back then that eighties girls thought were totally awesome.
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.
“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 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.
“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.
“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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’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.
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.
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
Vintage 1980s prom dresses in silver sequins and white
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 PromTime dresses by Columbia (1980s)
Three formal lace-accented formal gowns of “lustrous polyester knit”
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
Pale pink corset-style sleeveless dress (late 80s)
Blue classic prom dresses (plus see pink versions in the corner)
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.
Promwear from Nadine Formals & Party Dresses
“Glamorous. Glimmerous. Flirtatious. Romance… waiting to be unmasked.” (See more retro Nadine formalwear here.)
Collection of prom dresses from the 80s, by Loralie Originals
Fabulously stylish retro 80s prom dresses
Cute flouncy formal dresses from 1984
Off-the shoulder dresses with big tulle skirts
Promtime Frolics dresses, by Columbia – Designed by Mimi
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.
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”).
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.
Brooke Shields modeling a pink prom dress (1984)
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
Red formal dress with black ladybug spots
80s prom fashion for him and her
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.
Red prom dress, worn with a double strand of pearls
4 retro prom dresses with sequins and sparkles for days
An eighties new wave/punk girl in a silver-gold dress sequined dress
Strapless and one-shoulder vintage ’80s prom dress styles
’80s formal dress styles from Alyce Designs in Chicago
Lacy & romantic white 80s prom dress fashions (1983)
Retro pink formal romantic-style dresses from 1983
Retro 80s white lacy prom dress formalwear from Charlotte Russe stores (1986)
A soft and lacy white dress & matching fingerless gloves
Pale pink & white dotted prom dresses from Seventeen magazine (1984)
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.)
Black and white retro formalwear for girls
Dark-toned retro prom dresses: black, dark blue and teal
Serious girls with serious dark dresses and seriously 80s hair
Blue, pink and purple long prom dresses from JC Penney (1983)
Pink long dress with bare shoulders above puffy ruched short sleeves
Long prom dress fashions for teens from 1988
NOW SEE THIS: Gunne Sax prom dresses of the eighties