It was a tough job, but it had to be done. Alia Campagnone, 16, is going to her first prom and last week put in five hours, over two sessions, shopping with her mother. She tried on maybe 20 dresses.
In the end, she had her dream dress: a sparkly navy blue number that fits like a glove. First order of business: to pay for it. Second: to “claim” it. As soon as she bought the dress, Alia posted a picture of herself wearing it on the Peabody High School Senior Prom 2016 Facebook page. By doing so, she staked her claim to the dress, so that no other girl would show up prom night wearing the exact same thing.
“You want to look unique, you want to look different,” said Alia. “You don’t want anyone else to have your dress.”
As prom season approaches, the teenage girl culture is observing an unwritten rule, and rite: calling dibs on a dress, so that it is yours and yours alone. Woe unto the girl who breaks the rule.
“There was a junior who had the same dress as a senior and she got bullied because of it,” said one girl who attends a high school west of Boston and will be going to its senior prom. She asked not to be identified because she feared blowback from others: “I personally don’t see the problem with having the same dress. For lack of a better way of saying this, people can get over themselves.”
But it seems her voice is in the minority. There are Facebook pages throughout the metro Boston region devoted solely to who has claimed what dress. And the biggest prom dress store in New England helps out. At the Ultimate Woman’s Apparel in Peabody, which has 10,000 gowns in stock, the owners keep overstuffed binders with pages full of dresses that have been sold, listed school by school, in alphabetical order.
This year’s books start with Abby Kelley Foster Regional Charter School in Worcester and ends with York High School in Maine. “As soon as they purchase it, we record the name of the manufacturer and the style of the dress,” said Heather Siegel, who owns the store with her sister, Fawn Merlino. “We won’t sell that dress to anyone going to the same prom.”
Siegel gets it. “Prom, next to a girl’s wedding, is the biggest dress-up night, and they want it to be as special as it can be,” she said.
Michelle Tan, editor-in-chief of Seventeen, says that theFacebook registries are both a blessing and a curse. Though the posts may help girls avoid “the horror of twinning with classmates on prom night, what happens, though, is that comments can quickly turn ugly if girls discover they bought the same gown for the big night. . . . It can turn into an online fashion cage match.” Girls should realize that everyone has her own style, said Tan. “Just because two girls have the same dress doesn’t mean they’ll style it the same way or show up with the same exact hair and makeup.”
Mostly, girls are on their own to sort out Gown-Gate, through word-of-mouth orFacebook.
But at the Ultimate, there’s a formal, pardon the pun, procedure. During prom season, a weekend trip there can mean an overflow parking lot and a two-hour wait for one of the 26 dressing rooms. Greeters meet the girls at the door, register them, and call them to the counter in the order in which they entered. They are assigned a sales associate, who is armed with the prom list from the girl’s school. If a gown the girl has her eye on has already sold, they won’t even let her try it on.
Siegel has even heard of a dirty trick or two around prom dresses. “Kids have told me that some girls post a dress on Facebook and say they have bought it when they haven’t, just to keep others from getting it,” she said. “Then, when the girl buys a different dress, she posts that one and says, ‘I’ve just switched my dress.’”
On a recent day at the Ultimate, Angelina DeVincent bought an electric blue two-piece lacy gown for $570. She’s going to the Stoneham High School senior prom on May 31. “You just kind of want to look like nobody else,” she said, explaining the Facebook posts.
What if two girls did buy the same dress? “It wouldn’t be cool, because you pay so much money for it,” Angelina said.
Sarah Cole was in the dressing room eyeing herself in the mirror. She loved the red Gatsby-style gown. Sarah, 18, is heading to the Bedford (N.H.) High School senior prom on May 7. “There were fights last year on the Facebook prom page,” Sarah said. “Two girls [verbally] threatened each other. One backed down. She got the same dress in a different color.”
Sarah said she can see both the pros and the cons of claiming a dress: “You don’t walk into prom with the same dress as someone else.” But on the other hand: “Everyone looks different in the same dress.”
The latter is part of the problem: Girls don’t want to be compared to one another.
Sarah had perspective. “It’s just a high school prom,” she said. Still, she posted it on Facebook after her mother bought the $529 dress.
These days, the popular dresses include two-piece, dresses with low backs and high slits, strapless chiffons, and body-hugging styles.
“They’re looking for sexy and sophisticated, and nothing is worse in their eyes than to walk in and have another girl wearing their same dress,” said Lana Sigrist, manager of David’s Bridal in Westwood. “I hear it all the time.”
Maggie Oram is a senior at Lexington High School and she bought her dress online from David’s Bridal, paying $130. “Personally, I don’t think I’d care that much if you end up with same dress. I’m more of a sweatpants kind of girl,” said Maggie, who plays softball and volleyball.
Still, she did “claim” it on Facebook.
One of her friends is getting the same dress as another student at Lexington High. “But she’s getting it in a different color,” Maggie said. “She messaged the other girl and asked her if it was OK, and it was fine.”
Some stores are reporting less dress anxiety this year. At Macy’s at South Shore Plaza in Braintree, the Juniors Department is seeing a surge in shorter prom dresses rather than the formal gowns. Deb Merritt, who manages the department, said there are so many different styles that girls aren’t freaking out over who is wearing what.
“They might be upset if someone at the same table is wearing their dress, but I’m not hearing that much about it,” Merritt said.
Not so at the Ultimate, where Elizabeth Chaput had just paid $600 for a black two-piece mermaid dress with a big flowery train and beaded detail around the waist. Her senior prom at Wakefield High is June 1.
She of course posted a photo of it on the Facebook prom page. “It’s your night,” she said. “You want to feel special, even on a dance floor of 200. You don’t want to be compared to anyone else.”
Things have changed since her mother, Cynthia Peach, went to her prom in 1976. “I wore a flowered, cotton, granny-ish dress that was the style then,” she said. “I probably paid less than $50. I don’t know that anyone cared what you wore.”
Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.