By  on August 21, 2008

Come next spring, high school students at their proms are likely to be decked out in slim gowns with open, jeweled backs; short cocktail dresses, animal prints and Cinderella ballgowns with pintucked taffeta or tulle skirts.

These were the main trends at the prom show that ran Aug. 11 to 13 at the Dallas Market Center. The magic retail price for prom dresses was about $300, according to retailers and vendors.

Meanwhile, white, ivory and pale pink quincenera ballgowns, which are worn for lavish 15th birthday celebrations among Hispanics, were also a focal point as a growing business, retailers said.

“Business was up from last year,” said Ron Calk, sales representative for PC Mary’s, a Houston vendor. “There was a lot more excitement about prom and optimism about the economy. The stores are buying deeper and lower-priced goods. Girls are still going to prom, but they are not spending as much money.”

“Attendance was not what we expected, but the people who were here bought extremely well,” said Marty Boikess, sales representative for Mori Lee. “It was across the board — ballgowns, slinky, animal prints and short.”

While this show was held largely in temporary space on the first floor of the World Trade Center, the DMC plans to establish a cluster of prom and bridal showrooms on the 14th floor that open at the Oct. 23-26 show.

“The strong response to the prom market is exciting as we look forward to opening the new home of prom and bridal on the 14th floor,” said Robbin Wells, executive vice president of leasing at the DMC. “The specially branded neighborhood furthers our commitment to the prom and bridal industry and its presence here in Dallas.”

Prom and quincenera dresses were strong last spring and are dependable businesses, retailers said.

“Wedding, prom or quincenera is such a significant event that it’s something that people will continue to do,” observed Tina Loyd, owner of Terry Costa, a leading special occasion store in Dallas. “My prom business was up this year — we had a record April. I will spend about the same for next spring.”

Loyd came to see what was new but planned to order in October when she knew what would be advertised and cut. She is also developing a quincenera business through a bilingual saleswoman.

Quincenera has been increasing for the last five years at J. Saunders, a 38-year-old specialty store in Fort Worth, said owner Melanie Saunders.

“A lot of the girls used to have everything done in Mexico, and now it’s local,” she said. “Many of the wedding dresses in white, ivory and pink translate to quincenera, and Tiffany and Mori Lee have quincenera divisions.”

J. Saunders had its biggest year ever in 2007, and sales are matching that this year, Saunders said.

“We are keeping our budget the same for spring,” she said. “We are going after it aggressively in terms of getting merchandise early. We’re getting some in November for homecoming.”

Saunders, who was searching for Audrey Hepburn-inspired dresses, praised an elegant black halter gown with a pale pink two-tier tulle skirt by Juan Carlos Pinera. She also planned to order liquid sequined gowns by Maggie Sottero that sold well last spring.

Christopher Nevarez, owner of Christopher’s Bridal in Hot Springs, Ark., expects a strong season. He’s pushing business by hosting fashion shows and workshops and catering to the three pageants held in Hot Springs — Miss Arkansas, Miss Teen Arkansas and Mrs. Arkansas.

“Short, trendy dresses is what they’re asking for, and more fitted looks but not that much sparkle,” Nevarez observed, citing Juan Carlos Pinera’s cream jersey cocktail dress with a plunge neckline and silver beading.

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