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Prom dress shopping at Deidre's in Pittsfield

The hair, the makeup, the black-ties and glamorous gowns. The stretch limos and outrageous styles -- but don't forget, curfew is at midnight.

No it's not red carpet during awards' season, it's time for the prom.

But if you have teenage children, grandchildren or neices and nephews -- babysitters, even -- you probably already knew that. You most likely also know, this isn't your mom's prom anymore. Heck, it isn't even yours.

"I've never seen anything like it," says Deidre Torra, co-owner of Deidre's Special Day, of the prom craze that takes over her South Street bridal shop every spring, since the store first opened its doors downtown 13 years ago.

"It wasn't like this when I went to prom," she jokes, standing in the middle of her showroom -- dubbed "Prom Central" -- where she and her staff rotate the racks of hundreds of prom dresses for Berkshire County highschoolers looking for the latest fashions and "the" dress.

This season, what's old is brand new again, with prom dress designers leaning more toward vintage-inspired designs, using lace and interesting necklines that often cover the shoulders.

"The big change this year is they're putting straps on the dresses, building up the dresses where there is a sheer top with beading on it," says Torra. "We were worried the girls might not like something with a sleeve, but they made it sheer and then opened up the whole back so it still looks a little sexy, but they are covered at the same time. The girls just love those styles."

Backless is in, with girls requesting open backs down to "here," explains Torra as she points to the base of her spine, with a somewhat motherly shrug. The neon-hued highlighter colors of the past few years are gone, replaced by pastels and softer hues.

"They've softened the colors along with the styles," says Torra, who attends national prom shows in August to choose the dresses she'll line her shop with.

With most county schools' proms taking place sometime in May, many girls already have dresses, or are in the middle of the hunt. Some girls come in the store as early as January, according to Torra.

The dresses in the store might induce stickershock for those who haven't shopped for a prom dress in a while -- ranging from $150 all the way up to $400. The shop's prom price tags don't go over $400, Torra says, but they do offer girls the option of ordering dresses through them with prices in the $550-$600 range.

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"Nobody should be paying that much for a prom dress," she says. "But some of them don't care. I have brides that come in and want to spend less than these prom dresses for their wedding gowns."

For girls -- or better yet, parents -- who don't want to break the prom bank on a gown, designer Tasha Polizzi of Great Barrington says there are many ways to re-purpose borrowed dresses or thrift shop finds to make the style your own.

"I borrowed my cousin's prom dress," said the designer. "My mother took it in and it was fabulous. We didn't have the budget for a new dress."

Polizzi, founder of TP Saddleblanket and Trading Inc. on Main Street in Great Barrington, has an impressive background in designing and manufacturing women's and men's clothing, as well as furniture. Before opening her store in 1990, Polizzi worked with Ralph Lauren as head of women and men's design for 10 years and then went on to work with Calvin Klein. In a way, she says, she and her husband Jack were re-purposing fashion before it was really something people in the industry talked about.

"Not everybody knows or thinks about re-purposing [something vintage], but when they see it and it's so right, they just have to have it," says Polizzi of the trend that has served her western apparell clothing line well.

For young ladies thinking about making their own look for prom out of something previously worn, Polizzi recommends making sure the fit is already close to perfect.

"Re-fitting a dress is not as easy as you think it might be, and you don't want a last minute disaster," she says. "You don't want to bite off something more than you can chew. A simple hem, or shortening sleeves -- keep it simple."

Shortening the length of a dress, or achieving the "hi-low" hem -- a shorter dress in the front that dips longer in the back -- is also another way to personalize and turn something old into brand new, as long as you have the sewing chops to do so, Polizzi says.

She also reminds thrift shop buyers to make sure to look out for stains or spots on dresses, which will most likely be difficult to remove.

And when in doubt, choose a simple, elegant dress and jazz it up with accessories -- be it a statement necklace, great earrings or a new pair of shoes.

"A well accessorized, classy dress -- there's nothing better than that," she says.

No matter what style or look a girl is looking for, there's most likely something out there for her, whether it be hippie chic, romantic, or classic Audrey Hepburn stepping out of "Breakfast at Tiffany's," says Polizzi.

"You have so many more choices and can still feel appropriate going to the prom," she says. "You can express yourself in a far more personal way."

Torra also agrees, saying that all girls who attend prom -- no matter what kind of dress they wear or where they get it -- should feel beautiful.

"They should be as pretty and as excited about being at prom as possible," Torra said. "They feel good, they look good. It's like a wedding gown. [The prom is] your first big social outing. We want people to look beatufiul and feel beautiful."