Prom is a big deal, and it can go a number of ways: It can be the best night of your life, an evening rife with blissful memories that becomes your happy place later when you’re having teeth removed, or when you’ve locked yourself out of your extortionately priced studio apartment at 4 am clad only in your underpants and needing to wake up for work in two hours. Or, prom sucked. You got pressured into asking a dude you didn’t like that much or maybe a rando asked you and you went and it was a bust because you ditched each other and it was 100% DRAMA at the after-party.
Oooooor you rolled DEEP with your crew and had a BLAST and you wished in your heart that it would never end, but you acknowledged with wisdom beyond your years that this kind of magic can’t be sustained. Now you talk to like two of the 12 OG BFFs over Facebook, and that’s it. The point is, prom is loaded, heady and awesome and vital to a bunch of CUHLASSIC movies that make us swoon time and time again with the boys and the dancing and the budding of young love. To kick off our week of prom coverage, we present The 12 Most Memorable Movie Prom Dresses, to relive the fancy-pants fashion magic that we can witness from the safe distance of our screens.
#12 – NEVER BEEN KISSED (1999)
Photo: Courtesy of Fox 2000 Pictures
The Role: Drew Barrymore as Josie Geller
Costume Designer: Mona May
The Dress: Awwww. Never Been Kissed ruled. Basically, Drew goes back to school and gets a major do-over of the more critical high school experiences, and, of course, prom is a big one. Michael Vartan is a ridic dishy teacher who blablablbla NOSPOILERs and looks banging in a tux and while Drew’s concertina-pleated, bell-sleeved, lace overlaid situation is a little “ornate,” it’s a huge improvement from her original silver lamé, poufy sleeved, French maid’s costume she wore in her teens.
#11 – PRETTY IN PINK (1986)
Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
The Role: Molly Ringwald as Andie Walsh
Costume Designer: Marilyn Vance
The Dress: I’m not going to attempt a synopsis of this because if you haven’t seen Pretty In Pink, you simply have to. Immediately. And you can, because it’s in reruns with a diligence you could set your watch to. Andie, our thrifty protagonist and a talented seamstress—mashes up a preexisting dress that her older BFF Iona (who is an incredible fashion plate, real talk) wore to her prom and a dress that her depressing, broken father buys her from a thrift store—into a pink, polka dotted, cut-away, leg-o-mutton, 3/4 length sleeve gown that wows her friends and Andrew McCarthy (a handsome rich dude who everyone thought was “out of her league”). Admittedly, when you pull away far enough to gain a little perspective, the dress is actually a little fug. But it’s unconventional and original, and the can-do attitude is great. This movie is in my own personal top 10, so just let your ocular muscles go a little lax and blurry on it and you’ll be fine.
#10 – PROM (2011)
Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
The Role: Aimee Teegarden as Nova Prescott
Costume Designer: Shoshana Rubin
The Dress: Prom is still in theaters at the time of publishing SO I’m not going to give too many plot points away, but Nova tries to orchestrate a PERFECT prom and this beautiful, delicate, satin-piped, sleeveless champagne dress with a gathered bodice and gilt floral lace is definitely the first step to a magical, magical night. Peep the way we can barely even see her friends or the rest of the bedroom in the background? That’s how you know you love a dress. Or hate your friends. JKJKJKJK, go see the movie.
#9 – NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (2004)
Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures
The Role: Tina Majorino as Deb
Costume Designer: Jerusha Hess
The Dress: Pluck out a single feature of Deb’s dress from Napoleon Dynamite and it could be construed as categorically heinous, but in concert, this would actually be the best hipster irono-fug prom dress ever. First of all, it’s firmly retro in full ’80s glory. Second of all, the tiered layers are very on-trend for spring. The low-cut square back is flattering for several body types, and the hue is a cloying pink that would look fierce with a black suede platform, T-strap pump.
#8 – HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3: SENIOR YEAR (2008)
Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
The Role: Monique Coleman as Taylor McKessie and Vanessa Hudgens as Gabriella Montez
Costume Designer: Caroline B. Marx
The Dresses: Taylor’s dress from High School Musical 3 skews costumey, but the fit and the thoroughness of the accessories anchor the look. Girl goes for it with layer upon layer of dotted Swiss royal purple tulle and Vee Hudge as Gabriella does diaphanous like a goddess with an empire-waisted, strappy floral dress with a sash in a flirty cocktail length that moves as beautifully as she does. Also, HAAAAY Zac Efron, ssup.
#7 – 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (1999)
Photo: Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures
The Role: Julia Stiles as Kat Stratford
Costume Designer: Kimberly A. Tillman
The Dress: A single strand of pearls, a simple almost severe updo, a chiffon shawl, a spaghetti-strapped column, bias-cut dress that looks fantastic as a silhouette and does nothing for your boobs… aka THE quintessential prom look in the late-’90s, early-aughts. The deep, deliciously, jewel-like purple against Kat’s milky-white skin and the fact that this was the first REAL, sustained length of time that her character wasn’t being an utter a-hole to Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You, makes this one of the most romantically intense prom scenes ever. You could cut the tension with a knife.
#6 – TWILIGHT (2008)
Photo: Courtesy of Summit Entertainment
The Role: Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan
Costume Designer: Wendy Chuck
The Dress: Oh man, I love that after almost getting killed a whole bunch, Bella and Edward from Twilight still get to go to prom. Bella’s gorgeous royal blue, tiered, ruched, deep-V, midi-length dress complements her Converse and her leg cast, and the cream of her soft, vintage, embroidered cashmere cardigan with the satin trimmed contoured edges softens the bold hue. Edward is also nothing to sneeze at. In fact, he is something to cling at. While sobbing. And begging him to bite your neck even if in IRL he’s just some shy, pale British dude.
#5 – JAWBREAKER (1999)
Photo: Courtesy of Crossroads Films
The Role: Rose McGowan as Courtney Shayne
Costume Designer: Vickie Brinkford
The Dress: Dudes. Rose McGowan’s body. Okay, I know in Jawbreaker Courtney’s the baddie and we should all wish her demise but honestly, check this out. This is a structural anomaly and a bit of fashion soothsaying that is wholly impressive. First of all, it’s more a teeny, tiny, sleeveless body-con minidress than a whole frock. Using the white underpinning as the backbone, the other, clingy, silky, see-through pieces are simply draped along the bustline and secured beneath the silver trim and flowed to the floor as an A-line. Granted, the true foundation is that McGowan’s torso and legs are of a shapely tautness that is rarely found in nature but, the reason why this dress is a sartorial anachronism is that THIS is basically an illusion maxi skirt that is presently on all the fash blogs more than a decade later.
#4 – BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992)
Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
The Role: Kristy Swanson as Buffy
Costume Designer: Marie France
The Dress: How funky is your chicken? And more critically, how lose is your goose? As much as I love the Joss Whedon TV Buffy run, there’s something about the zaniness of the Swanson-helmed feature-length Buffy The Vampire Slayer original that make this prom ensemble so memorable. The fact that this ass-kicking, stake-driving badass goes to prom in a Grace-Kelly-on-her-wedding-day perfect blonde upsweep is notable, and the fact that her “glandular assets” are so ample in a halter-neck, dotted Swiss, crinoline-shaped version of a Marilyn Monroe dress (totally almost typed Manson which would’ve been a different dress entirely) reminds us that Buffy, even bloodied and filthy from fighting bloodsuckers, is a total hottie.
#3 – JENNIFER’S BODY (2009)
Photo: Courtesy of Dune Entertainment
The Role: Megan Fox as Jennifer Check
Costume Designer: Katia Stano
The Dress: So Megan Fox may be divisive as far as people either loving her or hating her, but the glory of her very Gothic Lolita, floor-length, almost Edwardian-looking Jessica McClintock dress with the contrasting black lace bands and the looooooong satin gloves in Jennifer’s Body cannot be denied. I mean, look at this, here is a dress that IMPROVES as the night wears on. It looks better totally run-through and sodden and, of course, floating several feet above any surface. The gathers along the bodice and the interplay of the eery track lights on the transparent layers really works for us. As does the fact that she kept the jewelry and hair sleek and simple and murderer-y.
#2 – CARRIE (1976)
Photo: Courtesy of Redbank Films
The Role: Sissy Spacek as Carrie White
Costume Designer: Rosanna Norton
The Dress: Carrie is a prom movie classic, and while the likelihood of you being doused in bucketfuls of pig’s blood and retaliating by locking the gym doors and setting the entire roomful of sociopathic and morally depraved students on fire with your mind is only at about 7-19% on any given prom weekend, you can’t say that Carrie didn’t look positively radiant in her pink sheath on The Big Night. The silky satin. The delicately gathered seams that support Carrie’s dirty pillows. The matching shawl. The entire aesthetic is well thought out and beautifully executed and soooooorta reminds me of a retro version of the pink Gwyneth Paltrow Ralph Lauren dress that she won her Oscar in (in a way that had me Pavlovian conditioned to think something baaaad was going to happen at the Academy Awards), but maybe that’s just me.
#1 – ROMY AND MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION (1997)
Photo: Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures
The Role: Lisa Kudrow as Michele Weinberger and Mira Sorvino as Romy White
Costume Designer: Mona May
The Dresses: Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion has the best version of prom you could ever, ever hope for. You roll with your equally cool and rad bestie and you wear complementary, black, Madonna outfits with “Like A Virgin” and “Blonde Ambition Tour” hair, respectively. You layer as many rosaries as you would eye shadow colors, and you Go. To. Town. You both sew in big, padded bras into your various thrifted pieces with clumsy “it’ll hold for the night” stitches, you dance and “Vogue” like maniacs, you laugh your faces off about EVERYTHING, don’t care a whit about what anybody else is doing and when it’s all done you have ZERO regrets, tatters of this weird and beautiful disintegrating dress, French fries in your underwire and a grip of photos that will remind you that there once was a time when you and your bestest ladyfriend thought you were invincible and untouchable and maybe you totally were and you looked completely cramazing doing it.