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Surfing for a Prom Dress: A Date With Disappointment

May 17, 2001|CHRISTINE FREY |

Having moved away from home before my sister entered high school, I had already missed several of her Christmas balls and Sadie Hawkins and at least one formal. Sure, I heard all the details the next day and saw the photographs on my next visit home, but I never participated in the pre-dance prep.

So when Kim said she was looking for a junior prom dress (something strapless in any shade of purple or blue), I offered to help. Being 300 miles away, however, I couldn't exactly meet her at the mall. So we did the next best thing: We met online.

I found a dress I liked and e-mailed her the link. She found one she liked and e-mailed me the link. I rejected hers. She rejected mine. It was just as if we were together.

Our search began at After browsing through prom, party and cocktail dresses, Kim found what she was looking for: a blue strapless gown long enough to cover the silver-white tennis shoes she hoped to wear instead of heels. At $179.99 plus $10 for shipping and handling, it was a little on the high end, but her compelling e-mail--"this is the dress that I really like!!!!"--convinced me it was worth the price.

Unfortunately, the pickings elsewhere weren't very pretty. For every gold lame gown at the mall, there are at least two on the Web.

The dresses at, for example, were really anything but. Though the site offered several dozen to choose from, most were of the same style: straight cut with a slight flare in the skirt. In other words, the kind that only really skinny girls look good in.

There was a wider variety at, ranging from "Belle De Jour" (a pink, poofy ball gown) to "Sea Breeze" (a turquoise thing). Although there were a few of the strapless numbers she likes, most were too expensive, starting at about $200.

According to its site, Simply Dresses takes up to five business days to process an order, but it offers three-day shipping anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.

I decided to check out the prom queen of dresses: Jessica McClintock. Having visited the store during my own prom-dress days, I thought the company Web site, at, would be promising. After spending half an hour browsing through the more than 170 dresses pictured, I came up with a half-dozen suggestions for Kim. Then I realized the site doesn't do online purchases.

As a last resort, I stopped by JCPenney ( There, on the bridal department's main page, was the dress. A two-piece cranberry gown with embroidery on the bodice. It was $99 plus tax, shipping and handling.

JCPenney usually ships in-stock items the next business day via UPS. Most orders are delivered within four to five business days, according to the site.

Our shopping spree seemed to be a success. I found a dress that I liked. Kim found a dress that she liked. Then, five days later, I received an e-mail from Simply Dresses notifying me that the blue ball gown had sold out.

Kim was obviously disappointed. So while I waited in Southern California for the JCPenney dress to come in, she and my mother went shopping in Northern California. By the time the gown arrived (in two weeks) and by the time my sister came to visit (in another two weeks), she had already found the perfect prom dress: a lavender strapless gown long enough to cover the shoes.

Once again, the day after prom, I heard all the details and saw the photographs of the pre-dance prep, of which I was not a part. Oh, well. There's always senior prom.


Christine Frey is a freelance writer.

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