“Are we going to prom or to hell?” Veronica states simply in the 1988 classic Heathers. Prom is a high pressure moment for high school inhabitants. Finding the perfect dress, deciding who to ask, using social media to ask them in an obnoxiously cute manner, arranging pictures and limo rides and hiding your hangover from your parents the next day, blah blah blah. Prom can only go a couple of ways: it can be the best night of your life, or it can be totally awful. Maybe you went with someone you didn’t really dig, and your dress ripped and you fought with your friends and your photo will one day show up on Reddit. Or, maybe you were in the coveted prom court and your friends had an amazing time, and you still reminisce about it over drinks.
Either way, that fateful dress is probably still hanging in your closet, to be repurposed as a Halloween costume or wrapped in plastic forever. Fortunately, the proms that exist in films live on, and so do their prom dresses. We’ve scoured the good, bad and the truly ugly and compiled a list of 15 of the most memorable prom dresses, from worst to best.
15. Deb in Napoleon Dynamite
This is a dress. (It is also the hybrid of a duvet cover and a cake topper, but we digress.) Deb fearlessly sports this tiered 80s number in pink lace, complete with her signature side ponytail, crimped to perfection. Its hideousness cannot be denied, but it does possess a certain charm and quirk. We have to give it to Deb. She wore that. On purpose.
14. Bella in Twilight
To make things clear, we just don’t get Twilight, and thus are predisposed to hate this look. However, the accessories here suck the life out of an otherwise decent dress. (See what we did there?) A white grandma sweater, ankle-length leggings and chucks have no business anywhere near a dress this sophisticated. Even if you’re a self-described boring chick and the only attractive thing about you proves to be your blood type, do not wear a cardigan to prom. Don’t be a frumpster.
13. Andie in Pretty in Pink
Andie’s arrival at prom in this pink polka-dot-pink ensemble totally impresses Blane McDonnagh, the uber rich dude that steals her affections. While the dress obviously wins over Blane, we can’t really decide how we feel about it. It’s sort of a halter top, sort of a shift dress, but mostly baggy and confusing. We are reminded of a bad Project Runway challenge, but given that the year was 1986, we are aware it could be much, much worse.
12. Lux Lisbon in Virgin Suicides
Lux Lisbon and her sisters are all bohemian visions, usually clad in flowing white dresses and faded floral prints. Basically, the Lisbon sisters are a walking Free People ad, and their prom style is no different. The sisters wear floor-length handmade dresses all cut from the same cloth (crazy parents can be so resourceful), and Lux’s version, complete with cap sleeves and a cinched waist, is our favorite. Although she looks like an Amish tablecloth, Lux is still alluring in this modest gown.
11. Carrie in Carrie
It’s safe to say that nobody wants to be doused in pig’s blood on their prom night. It’s even safer to say that no one wants their prom to end with a gymnasium full of sociopathic teenagers getting burnt to a crisp. However, classic weirdo and prom queen Carrie White looks killer (pun definitely intended) in her satin pink floor-length gown. The matching wrap, the 70’s curls, the silky fabric glimmering in the incandescent lights—before Carrie decides to murder the entire student body, she looks just like an angel.
10. Courtney in Jawbreaker
This is one of our favorite prom looks solely because of Courtney’s bold choice to channel her inner alien space queen. Although she is a bad girl in this dark comedy, Courtney’s sheer dress is pure goodness. It’s not even really a whole gown, so much as a long tube top with sheer overlay. The 90s was a decade dedicated not only to strange silhouettes but also to accessories, and Courtney nails it with her strappy silver pumps, silver headpiece, silver eyeshadow and silver wrap.
A lot of the aforementioned chickadees dig pink, but Ariel owns the hue in a billowy, off-the-shoulder pink dress fit for any dancing queen. There are some really large ruffles going on here, but in a town where you’re not allowed to dance (say what?) you need to sport a dress that makes a statement while getting down.
8. Mary in Saved!
Mary was banned from prom for being pregnant but sneaks in anyway, wearing a dress brought to her by some friends. Her friends obviously know how to dress her, as Mary looks perfectly devilish at prom, standing out in a simple floor-length red gown with a statement necklace. Even with a bun in the oven, Mary steals the spotlight away from the evil Hilary Faye.
7. Romy & Michele in Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion
Romy and Michele’s prom dresses hold sacred bitchin’ 80s powers. The duo accessorize their tutu dresses with rosaries, lace gloves and bangles, creating the ultimate Madonna tribute. Shout out to Madge aside, Romy and Michele accessorize with confidence, disregarding the opinions of their snooty peers while they vogue the night away. Beauty’s where you find it. Okay, we’ll stop.
6. Laney Boggs in She’s All That
In keeping with the classic tale of the nerdy girl falling for the popular dude, Laney Boggs shines when it comes to prom. After reluctantly getting all dolled up in her gorgeous black sequined gown, all eyes are on her. (It’s also really confusing to us that she ever needed a makeover in this film because she’s totally a babe even as a “nerd.”) Plot holes aside, Laney owns the prom in this stunning, shimmery number.
5. Josie Gellar in Never Been Kissed
There are two prom scenes in this adorable rom-com but we are going to focus on the prom where Josie is not humiliated while wearing pink taffeta and braces. Since this is Hollywood, Josie Gellar gets a redo on her horrid high school experience while decked out in an intricate Shakespearian ensemble. The ornate dress is not typical teenage attire, but suits the theme of “Couples Throughout History,” and we love it. It is seriously romantic, with a corset and detailed bell sleeves that could make anyone feel like a princess. Not to mention, it’s way better than Josie’s first dress, the metallic, mega-puff-spacesuit.
4. Sandy in Grease
The prom in Grease was idyllic, with its endless dance routines and tribute to the Hand Jive. Sandy embraces her reputations as a Sandra Dee-esque innocent in this white A-line number that is beyond perfect for a choreographed prom experience. This is a look so classic and flawless (those t-strap heels!) that we would wear this now.
3. Sam in Perks of Being a Wallflower
Okay, so this is technically not prom, but it’s still an important school dance moment and thus, it counts. Sam wears this short, black strapless number at the homecoming dance and totally embodies a classic manic pixie dream girl. The sweetheart neckline with flower broach and subtle layers of lace create a look that is sophisticated but not stuffy. Plus, Sam pulls out an insanely fabulous dance routine with her brother and proves this dress has excellent twirling potential.
2. Bianca in 10 Things I Hate About You
Let’s face it, Bianca was always the more stylish Stratford sister, and she shows it with her ballerina-inspired prom dress. At first, you may not realize that the dress actually comes as a two pieces, but take a closer look and you’ll see that little bit of midriff peeking out. It takes guts to wear a crop top to prom. The messy updo along with the sparkly necklace give just the right amount of umph to this darling dress.
1. Janis Ian in Mean Girls
Janis Ian doesn’t give a shit. She won’t call you by the right name and she doesn’t really care what your real name is, but she’s a loyal friend. When attending prom she adopts a more Diane Keaton-esque approach to things, donning a purple tuxedo and polka dot bow tie to match her bestie, Damian. Looking past her resemblance to Grimace, she has the courage to challenge gender roles (despite those pesky lesbian rumors) and catches the eye of Kevin G.