Local retailers predict steady prom dress sales

Ailing economy fails to dampen dreams

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When it comes to prom fashion in a recession, the trend goes something like this: Hems are up, prices are down and sales -- at least at many boutiques here -- remain constant.

Owners of evening and formalwear shops in the region and national trend experts say that shorter, cocktail-length styles are in fashion for this year's prom and pricier designers are expanding their offerings this season to accommodate pocketbooks of all sizes.

Slightly used and practical also are part of the prom dress code this year.

Many shop owners say they have received first shipments of gowns and customers already are shopping.

"I don't yet see that there's much of a change," said Barbara Patterson, owner of the White Orchid in Baldwin Borough. "If they want the dress, they seem to find a way [to pay]."

Margie Kuhns, owner of M'Kaysha's Bridal Lane in Greensburg, said she saw a slight dip in prom dress sales last year and noticed that mothers were more budget conscious. Still, it wasn't a substantial enough change to cause her to alter her inventory this year.

Pam Olivo, of Bridal Beginnings in Mt. Lebanon, said she actually saw a slight increase in sales last year, and she purchased this year's inventory anticipating the same.

Paige Newman, a New York-based trend analyst for the Zandl Group, predicted that some will opt for more "low-key, casual" proms, choosing, for example, to eat dinner at home.

But others still will spend the big bucks to create their own special night.

Ms. Olivo said this year she noticed many of the designers she typically orders from offered more styles at lower prices.

"I was able to find price ranges and styles to suit every girl's style and every girl's price range," she said.

For students in Allegheny County who cannot afford a dress, Project Prom, a program run through the Department of Human Services, gives free dresses to any girl who has received social services through the county. Any dresses that aren't given away are sold for $25 or less, with proceeds going toward tuxedo rental vouchers for boys who qualify.

The Project Prom giveaway will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. March 23-26 at the Department of Human Services on the third floor of Century III Mall in West Mifflin. The sale of remaining dresses will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 31.

Last year, the eligibility requirements were expanded to include girls who qualified for free lunches and girls who have a parent receiving unemployment. Some 240 dresses -- 110 more than the previous year -- were given away.

When it comes to style, Ms. Olivo and others said many girls are opting for knee-length dresses. The dresses aren't necessarily cheaper, but they're more versatile to be worn on other occasions.

"The utility of the dress becomes more important," Ms. Olivo said.

For information or to apply or donate to Project Prom, call 412-350-3428 and leave a message or visit www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/projectprom.aspx.

Moriah Balingit can be reached at mbalingit@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533.


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