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

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Vintage prom dresses from the eighties

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 from Promtime

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“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.

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Formal dresses prom 1984

“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 is 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.

Seventeen magazine 1984

’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.

80s prom dresses

Vintage 80s prom dresses

MORE: Gunne Sax prom dresses of the eighties

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.”

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Gunne Sax, Seventeen magazine, November 1985

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Retro silver lame formal dress from 1988

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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.

Pretty in Pink - Molly Ringwald prom dress

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Tampa Bay Magazine May-Jun 1987 Prom

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