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Last Dance

June 13, 1996|Kathryn Bold | Special to The Times

When prom kings and queens ruled in the 1950s, the girls swished across dance floors in strapless dresses with full skirts. Crinolines forced the boys, clean cut in white dinner jackets or classic black tuxedos, to keep their distance.

Twenty years later, prom royalty reflected the dubious taste of the '70s. Boys rented tuxedos in powder blue, peach and other sherbet shades, often with ruffled shirts. Their dates saved up for lacy granny gowns with sweet floral prints, unless their mothers let them slink out of the house in something Qiana.

So what did the kings and queens wear on prom night '96? Many took subtle cues from the past, drawing from the glamorous '50s or easy-to-parody '70s to create formal wear with a stamp of sophistication.

Here's a sampling of the royal attire found at selected Southern California proms.

Alhambra High School

Queen: Tami Taketani, 18, of Monterey Park

King: Jason Ashimoto, 17, of Monterey Park

Prom: "This Moment Forever," May 4 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles

No girl, least of all a queen, wants to see someone else wearing her special dress to the prom. Tami Taketani solved the problem the way any royal would: She had a one-of-a-kind gown custom-made to her liking. "In the stores, most of the dresses are kind of the same," Taketani said. "I wanted something no one else would have."

Poring over bride magazines, she designed a simple but elegant chiffon gown with a scoop neckline and plunging crisscross back--not a ruffle in sight. The peach fabric and a seamstress' time cost just $60. "Most of my friends had their gowns made too," said Taketani, who will attend UC San Diego in the fall.

For Jason Ashimoto, the decision of what to wear to the prom hinged on his date, Sandy Park. "I wanted something that would go with her dress," he said. At the local Friar Tux Shop, the couple picked out a black tuxedo with a shawl collar, a black vest and bow tie, and a white shirt. Rental fee: $80.

Park later changed her mind and wore a white dress instead of a black one, but "the tux still looked good," said Ashimoto, who is bound for UCLA. Most of his peers also wore basic black, he added, with two noticeable exceptions: "One guy went in a gold tuxedo, and the other wore shorts."

Woodbridge High School, Irvine

Queen: Lolita Harper, 18, of Irvine

King: Zain Vally, 17, of Irvine

Prom: "Enchanted Evening," May 17 at the Irvine Marriott

Zain Vally knew exactly the kind of look he wanted for prom night: "Dumb and Dumber." He and a buddy planned to wear orange and blue tuxedos, just like their heroes Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels did in the hit movie.

"My friend later chickened out," Vally said. But he went on to score a powder-blue tuxedo, matching ruffled shirt and white bow tie in a thrift store. "Let's just say that my shoes cost more than my entire outfit," he said, showing off a pair of white loafers. Vally has been accepted to UC Irvine, proof that his "dumb" look was just an act.

Prom queen Lolita Harper tried on no fewer than a dozen dresses in malls before choosing a black gown with a sequined halter-style top and flared chiffon skirt at Macy's in Santa Ana's Main Place. Price tag: "About $100."

A hairstylist gave her a sleek updo, and her best friend's mother applied her makeup. But Harper's long black satin gloves had as much to do with practicality as with style. "I had a CIF [softball] game that afternoon and I couldn't get my nails done in time," said the future USC student.

So the resemblance to Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany" was purely coincidental? "Who is she?" Harper asked.

Arcadia High School

Queen: Queena Wei, 17, of Arcadia

King: none

Prom: "Manhattan Moonlight," May 25 at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood

With help from a studio-lot backdrop, Queena Wei (pictured with date Hubie Wang) proved that you can get a movie-star look on a student's budget.

First, she designed her own gown, an ivory sheath with an empire waist. She purchased the fabric--lace over satin for the bodice and chiffon for the skirt--in the Los Angeles garment district. "It was fun bargaining," Wei said. A friend's mother sewed the gown for free, keeping the total tab down to about $45.

"I know a girl who paid $1,600 for her dress," she said.

A shrewd shopper, Wei also saved on accessories. At a Glendale bead shop that was going out of business, she bought enough pearls to make a double-strand necklace for $5. She borrowed pearl and gold earrings from a friend. "My parents were like, 'Wow. You did this all by yourself?' "

Wei, who plans to attend USC in the fall, said it felt a little weird for a girl named Queena to wear a crown. "People told me I really did look like a queen," she said.

Inglewood High School

Queen: Liliana Salinas, 18, of Inglewood

King: Akida Warmsley, 17, of Inglewood

Prom: "Unforgettable," May 24 at the Hyatt Regency, Los Angeles

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