Prom and prejudice

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Posted by HSG on April 09, 2005 at 05:10:32:

(Before we begin, we must offer a disclaimer: this fashion-related article is, regrettably, illustrated with images of straight-size models. It is a practice that we abhor; however, no corresponding images of plus-size models in the types of apparel that we intend to spotlight are available. Therefore, when viewing these garments, please try to imagine how someone with a figure like that of, say, our own resident prom queen, Lindsey Garbelman, would look in styles such as these.)

* * *

By now, most girls who will be participating in the 2005 prom season have presumably already purchased their dresses, and are finalizing their evening's plans.

Nevertheless, it occurs to us that, as part of this site's ongoing series of discussions about plus-size fashion and styling, it might be worth sharing a few thoughts on the subject of prom apparel. Some of the ideas and images that appear here may even have applications outside the specific context of prom wear.

We were primarily motivated to assemble this essay by two recent articles concerning current prom trends.

First, here is an informative article about how the burgeoning feminine revival has influenced this year's prom offerings:

As the article notes,

"The greens, yellows, hot pink, all pastels," Privette said. "Most are going with the fluffy girl look. I think girls are wanting to look more like girls. Most are wearing full length, a few will do bi-level. More are going to a bi-level, short in the front with a train in the back. I think the girls are looking for more conservative, fun things."

Melanee said the trends have shifted from the dark, slinky look of years past.

"I keep telling the girls, a lot of the dresses are totally different," she said. "A lot are tea length with ruffles.

This all sounds wonderfully encouraging, doesn't it? As we described in our styling essay titled "The New Femininity," romantic details such as frills and ruffles are ideal adornments for plus-size beauty.

And the fact that this prom season has seen the popularization of the strapless, sleeveless style (which is a very flattering cut for curvaceous figures) makes 2005 a banner year for plus-size prom-goers, because "mainstream" fashion trends are finally coinciding with the specific attractions of the plus aesthetic.

However . . .

Like latter-day Ebenezer Scrooges trying to spoil everyone's Christmas, a few so-called fashion "experts" are trying to deprive curvy vixens of their chance to wear precisely the kinds of fashions that will play up their goddess attributes.

A typical example of this kind of size prejudice masquerading as fashion "advice" is the following quotation, which comes from another recent article about prom styling:

If you're full-figured, you'll want a more structured, tailored dress," McBratney said, "something that doesn't cling to the body, has more weight to the fabric and more shape on the hanger."

Let's think about the rationale behind this kind of fashion advice. Something that "doesn't cling" (and therefore doesn't show off the figure)? Something with "more weight to the fabric" (i.e., to cover up the curves)? Something with "more shape on the hanger" (as opposed to, "more shape on the wearer")?

Such a statement reveals only one thing: that the person making it has an aesthetic bias against curvaceous female figures. This "expert" wants girls with such figures to hide and disguise their shape, to make themselves invisible, to cover up every trace of the very curves that are their most irresistible features.

So let's see what would happen if a plus-size prom-goer were to take this nonsense to heart:

That's right. She would end up wearing a bland, boring plank of fabric, a curtain of ponderous drapery that looks like it was beaten out of a sheet of tin.

The writer's fashion advice would make a shapely girl look shapeless, and turn a curvaceous cutie into a vertical column cloaked in a fabric wrapper.

In fact, it is reasonable to assume that the current counter-intuitive association of emaciation with "shape," and curviness with "shapelessness," has arisen simply because of prejudiced fashion advice such as this, which has encouraged generations of voluptuous vixens to don cumbersome styles that camouflage their buxom beauty from the world.

(One may also assume that the writer of that nasty bit of prom "advice" did so at the insistence of an underweight teen daughter, who feared that she would lose her boyfriend to the more resplendent charms of a fuller-figure rival.)

* * *

So, now that we have seen a stellar example of the wrong approach to plus-size prom apparel, why don't we have a look at some of the better choices that full-figured prom-goers can make.

First, let's remember the most significant point that the linked article raised about the practical side of prom dresses--namely, that they are made for dancing.

With this in mind, prom participants absolutely do not, under any circumstances, want to trap themselves in gowns that are made out of thick, ponderous drapery. Rather, they want fabrics that are as light and delicate as possible--both because such styles allow for ease of movement, and also because these styles are intrinsically more attractive.

One of the best and most obvious ways to achieve this "liveliness" in the fabric is via perennially-popular frills and ruffles:

Another way to avoid monotonous flatness is with layers of overlapping sheer fabric of different lengths. The resulting effect is quite lovely, and somewhat reminiscent of flower petals:

Still another way to break up vertical sameness is with a "qualified" or asymmetrical hemline. This approach, which has endless variations, preserves the "gown" qualities of a dress, but allows the wearer to show off her gorgeous legs (not that the models in these images possess any such attributes):

And from asymmetrical hems, we can even go a step further, and examine the wonderful possibilities of so-called "dissolving" hemlines:

And incidentally, with styles such as these, which expose the shapely legs of plus-size prom participants, a marvellous feminine accessory that is becoming very popular--not only in prom fashion, but in feminine fashion in general--is a pair of "leg ribbons." (This accessory may have a different name in the fashion world, but if so, we are unaware of it.)

The dresses in the following collage are quite awful, but we include these images specifically in order to demonstrate how much beauty the leg ribbons add to the ensembles. And on the dance floor, these items surely direct the viewer's eye to a prom-goer's fancy footwork.

However wonderful these hemline variations may be, some girls may nevertheless opt for the big, ballgown style. For those who do, it is still possible to incorporate embellishments that avoid the tedious, sheet-of-metal look.

Embroidered patters certainly help give a dress character. And another, more recent innovation is the introduction of bold floral designs (or, in the image on the left, what appear to be actual flower petals sewn into the fabric):

Yet another idea is to fashion the "bell" of a dress out of the most delicate fabric possible, to create the impression that it is dissolving right before the viewer's eyes, and that the wearer is shrouded in a dreamlike mist, rather than in a dress:

On the other hand, some prom-goers who possess the kind of overweening body-confidence that all curvaceous vixens should have might consider these loose, flowing styles too conservative for their tastes. These individuals may prefer more body-conscious cuts, such as the dress shown below. This type of design, which comes in at the knees, accentuates the nether-hourglass sinfulness of a feminine figure. This style is widely available (often with ruffled ends), and shows the influence of the gowns that were on display last year in the Christian Dior "aristocratic chic" haute couture collection.

In fact, some of the styles that are on offer this season are yet-more-daring than these. Some dresses even bare wearers' midriffs altogether (!). However, plus-size prom customers should bear in mind that such outfits are potentially lethal to their helplessly-infatuated male admirers, and have been known to put many a curvy vixen's prom date in the hospital, once the poor fellow goes into shock at the sight of such unbridled beauty.

Perhaps a safer bet--one which retains the sensuality of the bare-figured look, yet still permits a prom date to survive the evening, heart-attack-free--are dresses with sheer fabrics in strategically-chosen areas, such as the following:

There are still extremely dangerous dresses, mind you, and curvy vixens should ensure that their dates have no history of heart ailments before exposing them to such intense allure.

Another approach to prom fashion which suits the timeless aesthetic of full-figured femininity particularly well is the incorporation of vintage elements. French lace, for example, is quite attractive, if used properly:

Like the sheer fabrics noted above, these details whisper rather than shout, and leave something to the imagination--even as they inflame and inspire said imagination.

Here is another successful vintage design, which is Classical by way of John William Godward (because the arrangement of the fabric in the hip area is so strongly reminiscent of the antique fashions in Godward's paintings). With its almost metallic quality, and somewhat heavier-looking fabric, it differs from the rest of the items that we have discussed in this essay. But the way in which the dresses embrace the hip area makes this a distinctly plus-favourable style.

One way to avoid the monotony of a monochrome swathe of fabric is to select a dress that blends two hues together. Many colours clash terribly when juxtaposed, but some, like gentle yellows and pinks, harmonize very well (as anyone who saw Natalie Portman's dress in the last Star Wars film can affirm), especially when one shade is allowed to gradually dissolve into the next, rather than having the two colours butt up against each other, like adjoining nations on a political map.

It is probably wise to limit the colour blending to two hues, or else one ends up wearing a psychedelic rainbow.

And in the midst of all of these angelic fashions, the diabolic hues of the following item caught our eye. Be careful, though: there is a subtle but important distinction between a dress, and a costume. The flowers on the skirt are nice touches, and the red purse is an absolutely must. (Don't try to pull off this look without it.)

And finally, if anyone is interested, here is the prettiest dress that we chanced upon while researching this essay. Why is it so appealing? Perhaps because of its interesting fabric, or possibly because of its curve-friendly cut, but most likely, because of the flowers that are integrated into the garment. This couture-like element makes it seem as if the wearer is truly is the handmaiden of spring.

* * *

Ultimately, every prom-goer will select the dress that best suits her own personality. But the most important lesson that every curvaceous girl should learn is to never, ever allow the anti-plus prejudices of so-called fashion "experts" prevent them selecting designs that celebrate their curves, and accentuate their femininity.

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