The Best Prom Dress Trends of the Past 30 Years (And a Few That Shouldn't Have Seen The Light of Day)

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When prom season rolls around each year, the most-uttered question by attendees aside from those regarding potential dates, is "What am I going to wear?" Despite trends which come and go each year, there are a few pervasive styles which remain ubiquitous at school formals. For your viewing pleasure, here are the best prom dress trends of the past thirty years as demonstrated by your favorite celebrities, plus a few styles which are due for an early retirement.

The Pastel Ballerina Dress

The tulle ball gown is a prom night classic for a reason, namely that it give the wearer a bit of regal allure. Though it’s easy to overdose on too many layers of tulle (the term “mille feuille” should definitely not be taken literally), a gossamer gown rendered in a candy color is perfect for the prom-goer who covets a princess moment, as demonstrated by Zooey Deschanel. 

The Puff Sleeve Prom Dress

Puff sleeves may be one of the hardest trends to pull off, but that didn’t stop them from taking over the ’80s prom circuit. A rule of thumb: if the sleeves are voluminous enough to touch your earlobes, the dress shouldn’t be worn out of the house. Or in the house, probably. Sadly, many prom goers of yore failed to comprehend this fashion commandment. Rosario Dawson dares to take on the trend in this golden gown.

The Metallic-Sheen Gown

Kate Hudson takes the ’80s metallic trend and turns it into something unequivocally chic with her strapless Roberto Cavalli stunner, but let’s be honest: the look wasn’t always so on point. When dealing with reflective fabric, cut and volume tend to be the deciding factor between a stylish statement and a fashion flop.

The Red Spaghetti-Strap Mini Dress

Best displayed by Rachael Leigh Cook in She’s All That but equally showstopping on Rihanna, the red mini dress was ubiquitous at prom in the ’90s. Despite its innate simplicity, the red mini was — and still is — the ultimate captivating number to render a date speechless.

The Slip Dress

The slip dress will always have a place in my heart because of its association with quintessential ’90s fashion, especially its dressed-up formalwear iteration which was embraced by prom-goers galore mid-decade. When paired with black, strappy heels and a French twist, the slip dress may as well be a time capsule from the era. 

The Off-the-Shoulder Dress

Despite the fact that off-the-shoulder dresses tend to be hit or miss, the style has been a regular on the prom circuit since the ’50s. The trend highlights the collar bone and shoulders especially when paired with a glamorous updo. However, unless you happen to look like Rashida Jones in a gown, proceed with caution. A’nd under no circumstances should the sleeves be puffy.

The Cut Out Dress

For the most daring prom dress consumers, the cut out dress was the style du jour in the 90s and early aughts, especially when rendered in a vibrant shade and bedazzled with sequins. However, I tend to favor Elizabeth Hurley’s interpretation of the trend: an understated, deep shade, relatively demure cut-outs at the sides, and subtle beaded embellishments at the neckline.

The Tiered, Ruffled Gown

Caroline Issa looks quite striking in her ruffled Prabal Gurung gown, but ’80s and ’90s prom attendees were less lucky in their choice of tiered, ruffled gowns. The style tends to add volume to any frame whether you have supermodel-esque proportions or enviable curves. But the ubiquitous prom look was especially offensive when ruffles enveloped the wearer like a candy-colored duvet cover.

The Bubble Dress

Marion Cotillard manages to make her Dior bubble dress look effortlessly chic when in fact, the prom dress trend often makes even fashionistas look a bit other-worldly. A bubbled hem may be fun to experiment with, but especially rendered in a silvery shade, the style can easily veer into Zenon, Girl of the 21st Century territory.