Do-it-yourself prom dress: Some teens design, make their own

Thursday, March 11, 2010
Olivia Mastrangelo 13, of Summit, N.J., begins to hem her muslin during a class at the home of Fern Bass in Montclair, N.J. The class is the seventh in a series of 12 that will teach teenage girls how to make their own clothes. Each girl will get a chance to model their creations during a fashion show in May. (RICH SCHULTZ ~ Associated Press)

When Karynn Johnson steps onto the dance floor at her senior prom, she won't have to worry that any of her classmates will be wearing the same dress.

She knows her hot pink tulle and satin dress will be unique because she's designing and making it herself.

"I don't want to be wearing the same thing as somebody else," said the 18-year-old, who is in her second year of sewing class at Lincoln High School in Stockton, Calif.

Johnson, like some other fashion-conscious teens, makes clothes as a creative outlet. Television shows featuring fashion designers, and a growing number of celebrities launching their own clothing lines, have helped build interest in do-it-yourself wardrobes.

"Fashion design is very hot right now," said Fern Bass, owner of Bass Arts Studios in Montclair, N.J. "There's a real desire to touch and feel and use your hands."

Last year, Bass offered a class in making prom dresses. This year, some students are making formal wear in their general sewing classes.

Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, the Hudson, Ohio-based fabric retailer, has held a prom dress sewing competition since 2008.

Usually about six Lincoln High students make their own dresses, said Gail McAuley, who teaches fashion design there. The girls love the chance to show their personalities in clothing, she said.

"If you make your own dress, you're definitely making a statement," she said.

Claire Pasch, a senior at North High School in North St. Paul, Minn., likes to sew her own clothes and remake store-bought items.

"All my clothes are altered in some way," she said. "It's an easy way to express myself."

For prom, she's making a silky, knee-length blue gown with a sheer black overlay. She's run into a few challenges: The first time she assembled the dress, it was too small. She also sewed one of the pieces in backward and upside down.

"The only hard part of the dress was getting it to fit," said Pasch, 18, who started sewing when she was 12. "It has lots and lots of layers. Lots of pins have been used."

She has spent about five hours a week over the last two months working on the dress, which is nearly complete.

"It's time-consuming," she said. "You have to be willing to take the time and learn."

Pasch's teacher, Jane Hinrichsen, typically steers her more talented students toward prom dresses. Usually five or six students can pull it off, she said. The best results are featured in a school prom fashion show.

"They usually get a lot of attention," Hinrichsen said of the student-sewn garments. "I'm not saying every dress that comes out of my class is fantastic, but there's some pretty cool dresses."

Hinrichsen said many of her students consider sewing as a possible career. She credits the reality show "Project Runway" -- on which aspiring designers compete to make the best clothing with limited time and money -- with heightening interest in sewing and clothing design.

Pasch said she also has saved a lot of money by making the dress herself. She spent about $30 on fabric. "I was looking at the store. The dresses similar to mine cost $300," she said.

Students who make savvy fabric choices can save money, Hinrichsen agreed. "Many of the kids are money conscious besides talented," she said. "They look for deals."

Allie Prew, another of Hinrichsen's students, said doing it yourself doesn't necessarily cost less. But she likes the sense of accomplishment that comes from creating a quality garment. Many classmates thought she bought the gold satin dress she wore to prom last year.

"I get a lot of pride out of it -- that they actually turn out well," she said.

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