“I’ve got girls whipping out their iPhones,” Stacey Rywelski, the manager of David’s Bridal in Long Island City, N.Y., said the other day. “They’ll say, ‘What do you guys have that looks like this?’”
Rywelski was describing the annual shopping frenzy that takes place in America shortly before that hallowed high school ritual, prom, customarily in May or June. And this year, she and others say, the Academy Awards in February, quickly digested by style commentators, have been a particularly fertile source of ideas for young shoppers and the designers who cater to them.
“Every girl is taking red-carpet inspiration,” said Katherine Vargas, 16, a senior at Robert F. Kennedy Community High School in Queens who watched the Oscars intently, zooming in on Jennifer Lawrence, who won best actress, in a Dior couture gown. “I loved her in ‘The Hunger Games’ and on every red carpet, she stuns me. She inspired me to look for a blush dress.”
So Vargas took to Google, searching for “blush prom dress” and found a strapless fit and flare dress with cut-glass beads from David’s Bridal.
Alexi Buliavac’s choice, which she bought for $378 from Unique Vintage, is a simple Night Moves by Allure blue dress with sparkles on the waistline and a sweetheart neckline. “I got the color from the Oscars,” said Buliavac, 17, a senior at John Burroughs High School who lives in Burbank, Calif. “I liked the silver and blue dresses like Amy Adams’ dress and Penelope Cruz’s. I wanted that for prom.”
The Oscar ceremony is broadcast when prom issues of teen magazines hit the newsstands, many dresses are already in stores and girls are planning their looks. This year’s crop of red-carpet trends (neutral colors, strapless necklines, beading and sequins) had a sweetness that seemed particularly prom-friendly. “A great return to feminine beauty, with sweetheart necklines and the emphasis on hourglass silhouettes,” said Zoey Washington, the owner of Littlebird, a lifestyle company for teenagers in Manhattan.
In his column for Slate, Barneys creative ambassador Simon Doonan was somewhat more acidic. “Is it fashion? No.” he wrote of the styles that prevailed at this year’s Oscars. “Is it a parade of conventional prom dresses? Yes, I am rather afraid it is.”
But as Doonan said in a recent phone interview, “when a girl goes to the prom, she wants a silver-screen, old-school moment of glamour.”
“It’s not got a lot to do with high fashion,” he noted.
Hollywood has long figured in the dreams (and nightmares) of prom-bound teenage girls: The daisy-adorned dress worn by Elizabeth Taylor in “A Place in the Sun” reverberated through junior departments for years; less so the homemade ones of “Carrie” and “Pretty in Pink.” But only in recent years, with the rise of stylists and endless Internet images, has the focus been on the red carpet, which, like prom, is “a highly crafted theatrical moment that is pure drama,” said Ann Shoket, the editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine.
The Oscar ceremony is far from the only event to influence decisions. By February, Carter Rutherfurd, 17, had already bought two possible dresses for her prom at T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville, N.C.: a tangerine Nicole Miller dress and a dark green dress from J. Crew inspired by a Vera Wang gown that Mila Kunis wore to the Golden Globes in 2011.
But then she saw Jessica Chastain’s copper Armani Prive Oscars gown. “It took my breath away,” Rutherfurd said. “It was simple, classy and so elegant. I love the color, and the sparkle on it made it stand out.” Using Pinterest and Rent the Runway and with a budget of $250, she said, “I am looking for a dress similar to that for my own.”
Some girls are looking at photos of after-parties and even to broadcasters for inspiration. Natalie Steele, 17, loved the black Tony Ward couture dress that Giuliana Rancic wore as a red-carpet correspondent. “It was simple and classy, it’s what I want when I go to prom,” said Steele, who is a senior at Santa Susana High School and lives in Simi Valley, Calif. With $150 to spend, she found a black strapless dress from David’s Bridal that was form-fitting and flared out at the bottom. “The dressing rooms don’t have mirrors,” she said. “I walked out and my mom and I saw it at the same time. I knew this was the one.”
Others like Buliavac find inspiration merely in the color, or detail, of an Oscars dress. Samantha Parrish, 17, who attends Garrison Forest School and lives in Randallstown, Md., is planning on sewing her own prom dress a la Molly Ringwald’s character in “Pretty in Pink” — though arguably with a more sophisticated influence. “I liked Adele’s dress,” said Parrish, referring to the “Skyfall” singer. “I’m thinking of that design with sleeves and a long dress, maybe in sheer navy.”
Julie Durocher, the design director for the dress brand Jovani Fashions, said that after the awards, stores called the company looking for champagne and blush hues like the one Lawrence favored. Fortunately, she had plenty.
“I’m making sure we’re right there with the Oscar look, so that when somebody wants to buy a dress, they don’t have to wait till next year,” Durocher said, since it takes from six to 12 months for a dress to go from her sketchbook to retail.
Having dresses in stores that reflect Oscars trends is partly luck, said Lisa DiBello, prom and adult-occasion buyer for David’s Bridal. “We carry so many looks from the minimal to the heavily embellished that we’re bound to have something that is similar to what is on the red carpet,” she said. “If we saw a great dress this year, we could do it for 2014.” The crystal ball can also be helpful. “We had forecast beads and sequins would be hot like what we saw on Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jessica Chastain and Amanda Seyfried,” said Omid Moradi, the chief executive for the line Faviana. “Gold is very hot right now over silver.”
We have a dress in our collection similar to Renee Zellweger’s.”
“Similar” has become a key word, rather than “knockoff.”
“Girls are less in interested in ‘ripped from the red carpet’ than looking to these celebs as icons,” Shoket said. “It’s about channeling the energy. You want Jennifer Lawrence’s girliness, or Rihanna’s flirty sex appeal or Taylor Swift’s sweet glamour rather than being a one for one.”