The way I see it, prom is like a heist. Sure, it’s potentially The Most Magical Night of Your Young Adult Life and the most important thing is “having a good time,” but the evening and the lead-up to the evening is riddled with toils, snares and countless permutations of how anything will go down. It’s not that I’m a pessimistic, dream-murdering control freak, it’s just that I did prom wrong and want better for you. Sadly I have no juice when it comes to finding you a perfect date or making sure your friends’ dates don’t break their hearts but what I truly believe to be the bedrock of a successful prom is feeling awesome and special. And to do that, you really, reallyreallyreallyreally REALLY have to be comfortable.
You’d think it were a filthy, unsavory, seedy topic the infrequency with which comfort is discussed in the overall strategy. But dressing for prom presents some highly specific challenges. Whatever your pre-prom plans, curfew or your school’s policy for after-parties, the likelihood that you’ve got a long haul ahead of you is high. Every aspect of your prom ensemble must work in harmonious tandem in service of ease and prettiness. You’re obviously not going to wear a paillette-covered mermaid dress made of moisture-wicking, antimicrobial, microfiber so you need to consider practicality without compromising incredible-lookingness. It’s just about mastering some crucial tips that are actually supremely easy to execute with a little forethought.
Let’s dissect the entire prom outfit from the ground up because mauled, blistered feet are too frequently the culprit of a crummy night. Don’t wear shoes that are too high. Period. If it doesn’t destroy the lines, or destroys the aesthetic of your dress, I would suggest a closed toe shoe with a platform heel. It’s simple math. If the platform is 2 inches and the heel is a total of 4 inches, you’re only hoisted up at an angle for 2 inches which is a lot easier than teetering on a 4 inch heel. Your optimal comfort hours are exponentially improved. If you’re going bare legged, dry your feet and slather them in Band-Aid brand friction stick. It’s basically a glue stick that hermetically seals your foot against unwanted moisture or abrasion. This will be your foundation. A thin coating of powder works as well but suffers major endurance issues. Oh, another bonus to a closed toe shoe is that you can line the sole with ball-of-foot gel inserts that will stay in place as well as gel ankle inserts if you need them.
For reasons of comfort, I would shy away from any shoe that features complicated or thin straps. Those buggers will saw at your foot-meat like they’re out for revenge. If you do get a strappy sandal because you love them: respect. But they better be ridiculous, out-of-this-world amazing. Pick up some Dr. Scholls blister band-aids. They’ll stay on your foot upwards of 8 hours regardless of how much you dance. Truth be told, I’ve used them as nipple covers in a pinch when I’m going bra-less too. I find the branded, nipple-dedicated joints way too expensive. Oh and get a pedicure even if you’re going closed-toe, those shoes are coming off regardless of how comfy you are at the outset. Also consider bringing a poppy pair of ankle socks in the off-chance you need to swaddle your swampy toe crevices in cotton.
I won’t get into particulars of silhouette or color trends here but I would urge you to wear a dress that you love that fits you. Fit is not subjective. Real talk. This is not the night for aspirational dresses that you were “hoping to fit into” or tugging or double-spanxing or double-chicken-cutletting or any other sleights of sartorial wizardry because as perfect as you look standing up at a certain angle with one hand on your hip at the beginning of the night, you have to consider how this dress will move. Eight hours later. Any dress, regardless of how expensive, how designer, how sparkly, or how inexpensive is not cute if it doesn’t fit. This will only become more apparent as the night wears on. To you and those around you. The caveat to fit is of course: the magical combination of foundation garments that you can bear to wear all night. I like Spanx plus an adhesive, silicon, backless, flesh-colored bra. Anything beyond that is structurally unsound and you will want to either pass out from stymied oxygen flow or tear off everything in a bathroom panic-rage. Things just don’t sit right after the panic-rage. There’s no going back.
Clutches are garbage. Make sure to get a small cross body bag because this is the arsenal from which you will store all matter of life savers and you should have it on your person for most of the night. I have misplaced more clutches than I care to count and prom is not the time to lose your phone and ID. In this small purse include the following: phone, safety pins (I like the tiny black ones or else the tiny gold ones), bobby pins, hair-tie, lipstick, mints, band-aids friction stick, band-aids, a tiny mirror, back-up eye make-up, tampon, blotting sheets, cash, a wee vial of perfume, a traveler sized deodorant if you can cram it in, credit card and ID. Being trapped without money or means of communication for whatever reason that you become separated from your party is the most uncomfortable you can be. Avoid at all costs.
Overall, it’s good to manage expectations of what you’ll like look as the night progresses. This article deals primarily with the “I am keeping my outfit on all night” camp. If you are of the “screw all this noise, I’m packing leggings and flip-flops for everything post-midnight” camp, bless you and God’s speed. You will not devolve until you’re an unrecognizable heap of mascara smears and hair clumps but you will probably jettison your fake eyelashes if they’ve been irritating and you may want to shimmy out of your tech-girdle. This is all completely allowed but you might feel more fortified if you pack mascara and a nude thong. Plus, you may opt for a loose top-knot at some juncture so bring your everyday hair-tie and stash one for a friend. You might also get chilly once your adrenaline simmers down so bring a layer. I like a single-ply cashmere cardigan because you can mash it into a teensy ball and wad it in your purse but you can also go mega ’90s and incorporate a denim or leather motorcycle jacket from the jump. If you want to boost the jacket of a dude’s suit, feel free. It’s just not the worst idea to be self-sufficient.
This last bit is so obvious and so bears repeating: Have a positive attitude! Buy into prom wholesale. Get into it. Ditch all your self-conscious, self-sabotaging tendencies or your “I’m only going because I’m rage-attending in a fit of irony” disposition and live. Truly live. Even if your dress ends up sucking, or you should not have bought the cheapest hair extensions to have ever existed and even if you break your nails to smithereens, know that you did everything in your power to prep for it and then proceed not to give one single F. Keep it moving. Dance your face off. Actually eat something. Hydrate! Get cozy with your date. Take no less than one zillion pictures. And love your friends so hard you think your heart will explode. Don’t forget. That’s where the magic comes in.
Mary H.K. Choi is Editor at Large of MTV Style and contributor to Wired, The New York Times and The Awl.
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