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By: Alyssa Wagner
The walls are plastered with prom pictures and clippings from newspapers and fashion magazines. And at 10:15 at Lincoln High School in Stockton, California, dozens of fashion design students take their seats and go to town on sewing machines…
One girl alters a friend's jeans for a few extra bucks, and others are making hoodies. Stephanie Hernandez is one of six students designing her own prom dress. She's an outside-the-box fashionista who’s known in the class for pulling off inexpensive fashion feats, like the dress she designed for winter formal. “My parents told me they had a budget for my dress and all the dresses I wanted were really expensive,” so Hernadez decided “To make my own out of teen vogue magazines. And it was really cheap, it only cost me $10.”
Ten dollars for the packing tape she used to assemble magazine cut outs into a strapless cocktail dress. Now Stephanie Hernandez is splurging a bit for the prom by making a duct tape dress for 20 bucks! “I think it takes some brains and some creativity if you want to do stuff on your own,” Hernandez says “And I think when you spend less money and are more resourceful you're dress ends up being more unique and memorable. Than if you spend a lot of money and you tuck it behind your closet and never see it again.”
Girls have long been making their own prom dresses at Lincoln High School, but this year there are incentives other than just personal expression. Gail McAuley is the fashion design teacher at Lincoln High, and she says the economic downturn has significantly affected Stockton, “We have been number one in foreclosures, our jobless rate is rising rapidly. So, economic problems have hit us badly.”
McAuley says even using high quality fabrics, girls can still save money making their own prom dresses, “A short dress is usually about 2 yards. If it's a long dress, they may need up to 4 yards. So my guess is it's going to be more like 40 -50 dollars for a prom dress, which is still cheap.”
But according to McAuley, desperate local department stores are offering rock bottom sales – so low that thrifty students can sometimes find store bought prom dresses for as little as 30 or 40 dollars. But most students don't find dresses for anywhere near that price, because there's another concern that typically trumps cost…finding the "perfect" dress.
Across the country at Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia, students are pushing to preserve the extravagance of prom, and voted against holding prom at the school to save money. Danè White says even with a deep recession, most girls would rather skimp on dinner and the limo than the prom dress, “I think dresses are a big deal for prom. It's about interacting and checking out what people have on. I feel like dresses are really important this year and people aren't going to slack off just because of the economy issue.
White works at Old Navy to earn extra money so she can pay for her prom dress. She studies fashion design at Grady High School's Urban Couture program. Student designers there have the super glam abilities to make their own prom dresses - they design entire lines of clothing their senior year. Vincent Martinez runs the fashion program where students have resisted making their own prom dresses, “What I find amazing is that the students that I teach, and I have predominantly female students, they are looking online for dresses. They’re ranging from 2-300 dollars up to even 600. That is no different than last year, the year before that, or the year before that.
Martinez calls the prom dress splurge an economic stimulus of its own. But he says it's more than that, “It is a rite of passage. Society tells our teenage girls, and this has been going on for generations, ‘You don't really make your own dress. You’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to go out and shop for one.’”
But don't tell that to Lincoln High's Stephanie Hernandez. She’s still feeling great about her winter formal dress, “I don't think I missed out. I actually though it was super cool to have something that you made and nobody else has it, and when other people complement on it, your just kinda like woo woo.”
Hernandez also expects to feel woo woo about her 20 dollar duct tape dress which she'll wear at prom on May 9th. She even hopes to make a little college cash by winning a competition from a duct tape manufacturer offering a $3,000 scholarship to the best duct tape MacGyver-ish prom outfit.