Prom Dresses: Elegant or Suggestive?

Last year, in the midst of prom season, I was on a search for FOUR formal gowns for myself. I was a judge for the Miss North Carolina pageant, the preliminary for Miss America. Let me just say, “Moms, I feel your pain.” It took much longer than I had anticipated, but I found four gowns that met my own modest expectations, without adding a shrug to any a frock. It can be done, with patience and a little stubbornness.

But in our quest for modest prom dresses, we needn’t think we all look the same. In modesty, every variance counts. The juggling act lies in the wearer’s desire to express her individuality—through style, color and accessories—while maintaining modesty in her dress and actions.

I know this can be a frustrating balance for parents and their daughters, especially when it’s usually difficult to find said dresses.

Although I don’t have a daughter, (I have two boys) my experience from last spring proved to me that most off-the-rack dresses exhibit some form of immodesty. They have beautiful straps and a top that covers the cleavage, but wield a high cut slit or a mini-skirt bottom. Or, the dress has a beautiful full skirt, but is strapless…etc.

No one ever said the narrow road was an easy road, but hopefully, with some clear dialog and standards, your daughter can be fashionable while maintaining her integrity.

Step one: The first place to start the search for the perfect gown isn’t in the store. It’s in a conversation with your daughter. Talk about dress styles—long, short, colorful, flashy, etc. Then discuss the difference between dresses that seem to exude elegance and ones that shout suggestive.

Two: Remind her that we live in an age where everything we do and wear is posted on social media sites. Her date and his parents should also be thoughtfully taken into consideration.

Finally, decide on some clear standards. These are mine:

  • Absolutely no showing of cleavage, even when bending forward
  • No low-cut backs, midriffs, or skin-showing cutouts
  • Hemlines or slits must come to no more than 3” above the knee,
  • Nothing strapless

As difficult as it seemd to find the right dresses to honor my “non-negotiables,” it helped to look in the right places. Simply Elegant, a brick and mortar store in Fort Mill, SC (and one of many online resources) is one retailer who specializes in modest formalwear.

Many schools, including Alabama’s Opelika High School have led the charge against the runway of the risqué. Among other requirements, they forbid midriffs as well as slits or skirts that rise more than three inches above the knee.

True vintage dresses or vintage inspired ones almost always hold to these standards. ’50s glamour holds great allure for students like high school junior Erica Beebe, who praises the modest elegance of icons like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn:  “Grace and Audrey always left something to the imagination,” Beebe writes at

“I believe it is that sense of modesty that my generation is often missing…”  Beebe goes on to blame the absence of modesty and an unquenchable thirst for attention as the driving forces behind scandalous prom dresses.

As far as high-fashion goes, the revealing dresses we often find on the rack are actually out-dated. What’s hot on the runway in Italy is a more elegant, almost demure look. The focus is on the face, not the body.

It’s important for girls to love their choice of dress, but the parents have to provide boundaries and know the school requirements for prom dresses and be supportive of them. The goal is for your daughter to feel comfortable and beautiful in her dress while having the knowledge that her reputation isn’t in jeopardy because of others questioning her intentions.

A prom is a rite of passage, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to teach your daughter the importance of making choices that will affect how others view her, and ultimately, how she views herself.

Rachel Lee Carter © Modeling Christ 2013


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7 Responses to Prom Dresses: Elegant or Suggestive?

  1. Daryl Carter says:

    I like the part about the search starting with the conversation, not in the store. These instructions are a must for moms, dads and teenage daughters. Your boys, Daryl-Jack-Jude are very proud of your stance on Modesty. Love, your husband -Daryl

  2. Ersula says:

    I have a 13 year old daughter and it has been a struggle with her and fashion over the past 3 years. Things have gotten much better though as she is starting to see the wisdom in not showing everything off. I’m dreading the prom though! I wasn’t as fashionable conscious at her age and it was still a struggle with my mom. If she had had her way I would have went to prom looking like a Golden Girl…and not even Blanche lol! I’m trying to work on not being a kill-joy when it comes to her fashion statements but I fear it will be even harder to tame the next generation.

    • Rachel Lee Carter says:

      Since you’ve already begun to dialog with her at this age, she should know what to expect when it comes time for the prom. It may be fun to start looking at dress styles that you both like and ones that are off-limits. Talk about why those dresses aren’t good choices. Or, become a design team by pulling dresses off the rack or looking at magazines and talking about how they can be made into modest dresses…tack up the high part of a slit, add some pretty straps, lengthen the skirt by a layer of tulle underneath. It can be fun, like a Project Runway kind of thing. 🙂 You are right, fashion will continue to push the limits. It’s just up to us as parents not to let it infiltrate our families 🙂

  3. Cindy Viers says:

    I just came across your site and my daughter and I are currently experiencing this exact struggle of trying desperately to find a “modest” and appropriate prom dress. Wow…it’s nearly been impossible! Thank you for this article and the tips, we will definitely be checking them out. I appreciate your stance on modesty, and agree completely!
    God bless you!

  4. Dianna Wood says:

    I love what you are doing here. Just one observation. I would love to see the motivation be less focused on a “girls reputation” and more focused on honoring Christ’s name by those of us who call ourselves Christian. Ultimately, a young woman can be modest in her choicing in order to protect her reputation (that was me growing up) without actually knowing the Lord.

    Hope that makes sense.

    • Rachel Lee Carter says:

      Absolutely, Dianna. There are lots of reasons for modest dress and behavior. I try to post them all. Reputation, Testimony, Self-esteem, Depression, Eating disorders…but most certainly, to honor Christ. Many of my readers aren’t Christians, so I try to give the gamut and let the Holy Spirit do His thing! Thanks so much!!

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