88 A singular sensation at prom with custom-made dresses

The high school junior considered going to the mall or a boutique to find a designer outfit, but she couldn’t risk another girl showing up to the big dance in the http://www.msdress.co.uk/purple-prom-dresses-c-58/. Only a custom dress would do.

“Nobody wants to look like someone else,” the 16-year-old said. “People are trying to look better than the next person and win ‘best dressed.’”

McGill enlisted the help of Natalie Graham, owner of Doll House Boutique, which specializes in one-of-a-kind pieces and custom orders. After a series of meetings during which the two discussed concepts and conducted fittings, McGill was ready to pick up her dress — a fun and sophisticated fuchsia and mesh fit-and-flare number with a tulle skirt.

“It’s different,” McGill said. “It’s unique. I love it.”

As teens attempt to display their individuality, they are going to new and more expensive lengths. Custom dresses are a way to ensure that they are getting the look they’ve envisioned. And even though the dresses are more expensive than picking a garment from the rack of a department store or traditional boutique, getting a custom dress alleviates the worry of a classmate showing up in the same design. As a result, designers say, they are inundated with requests for custom dresses in the months and weeks preceding prom.

Prom spending is expected to average $919 per person this year — with families in the Northeast spending more than the national average, at $1,169, according to research company GfK. Custom-dress designers are selling their creations from $400 to more than $1,000.

“Some of these kids are paying more for their prom dresses then I did for my wedding dress,” said Judy McKinney, whose daughter, Summer, who will be going to prom in a $500 custom gown. “It’s the sign of the times, I guess.”

High schoolers have been creating and altering their prom looks for a while but have really ramped up their efforts in the past five years, according to Zoey Washington, owner of Little Bird Style, a New York-based styling company geared toward teens.

“Girls who would traditionally go to the mall or to a specialty boutique have been bringing tear sheets to seamstresses and independent designers to create something unique,” Washington said.

It’s an expected development for an age group that has welcomed DIY culture, Washington said.

“It is only natural that they would want the same level of control for special occasions,” she said.

“The pool of accessible prom looks is becoming narrower and narrower as department stores like Macy’s or even Bloomingdale’s are relying on ready-to-wear trends to create special-occasion wear,” Washington said. “So if blue is the color of the season in ready-to-wear or the red carpet, then it is the only thing you will see in stores. That leaves very little room for originality for teens. So they make their own.”

Hiring a designer to make a prom dress has pop culture roots in MTV’s “My Super Sweet Sixteen.”

“That put the idea of having a custom dress on the map,” Washington said. “But the idea of making something from scratch — or having it made — combines the impact of having something original with the economic benefit of control over the quality of the material and ultimately how likely you are to wear it again.”

At Doll House Boutique, Graham sells one-of-a-kind dresses right off the rack or made-to-order gowns, like McGill’s, ranging in price from $250 to $900.

“This is the hardest I’ve had to work this past month,” said Graham. Prom is Graham’s busiest season of the year.

“They’re saying they want something unique and extravagant,” said Jasmine Nixon, senior stylist for Doll House. “They want the Doll House to put their signature stamp on it.”

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