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Designer decades: step back in time for prom dress inspiration

Proms are becoming ever more popular up and down the country – and so it’s becoming ever more imperative to find the right inspiration for your choice of dress. Do you really want to look like everybody else on your big night? To merge into the background like a wallflower on the edge of the dancefloor? Or do you want to stand out from the crowd and mesmerise by looking fantastic and simply timeless? If the answer’s the latter then you might consider looking back for inspiration – that is, to one of four decades that proved utterly iconic in the fashion stakes…

The big band bopping look of the ’40s

First off is a decade-defined style that, on the surface, may seem a little out of leftfield for prom dresses. The 1940s was the era of fabric shortages (hence hem lines got shorter) and colours became more primary (although floral designs came back with a bang in the second half of the decade following the end of the Second World War). And yet, when it comes to dressy women’s fashion, the ’40s were also a time of big band dances; an opportunity to let your hair down and throw yourself about in figure-hugging garb that also allowed for full freedom of movement on the dancefloor. In that sense, you may conclude, what could be better as a unique but figure-showcasing and unrestrictive prom dress?

Vintage Prom dresses

The fitted but fun elegance of the ’50s

The 1950s is a great decade from which to take inspiration for a prom dress – and that’s because it boasted more variety than you might imagine in terms of women’s fashion. Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ dress started a revolution – it’s maybe the ultimate party look with its fitted waist but then fabulously generous and fun mushrooming-out dress beneath. Offering just as much physical freedom as a ’40s number, this style also smartly understates thighs and hips but accentuates curves – in the right places! By contrast, the ’50s also delivered the far slinkier ‘wiggle’ or ‘pencil’ skirt/ dress (think Marilyn Monroe) and, at totally the other end of the scale, the rock ‘n’ roll-associated pin-up look – a style for a real alternative but intriguing approach to vintage prom dresses, for sure!

The swinging invention of the ’60s

The notion of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ passed into legend almost as soon as the 1960s ended – and endures to this day and, no doubt, will forever. An era of liberation like never before (most of all for the disposable-income-enriched young), it’s fair to say that fashion truly exploded in this decade – you may even say it went a little crazy. But why not? It was all about experimentation, with a real ‘anything goes’ attitude. The Mary Quant-esque mini-skirt was ubiquitous, of course, but when it came to dresses, geometric prints in bold, dynamic colours dominated in swing-style trapeze/ tent designs (think all those iconic snaps of Twiggy). Offering flattering silhouettes and designed to go along with big eye-catching earrings, chunky-heels and a ‘beehive’ or ‘pixie’ haircut, such dresses would make for an unforgettable prom look; don’t doubt it!

The eye-popping looks of the ’80s

And, finally, here’s a nod to the looks – like it or not – from the era that’s sometimes referred to as ‘the decade that taste forgot’. To be fair, though, it’s surely a little harsh to describe the ’80s in those terms, given how much of today’s catwalk clobber and high street fashion quite obviously takes inspiration from its styles. A prom dress look influenced by this era would definitely be all about glamour; we’re talking bright, vibrant shades and sequins galore with high-heeled stilettos – or, taking it down a notch or two, a slightly more demure look with t strapless satin numbers accessorised by long opera gloves (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman). Alternatively, take your lead from early Madonna and properly mix it up – blend the ’50s pin up look with ruffly mini-skirts for that punky but oh-so cool take on the prom dress. Desperately Seeking Susan? Seriously looking sensational, more like!

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