More Catalogers Help Girls Dress for Prom

Although many of the catalogs targeting teen-age girls have been around less than a year, several already have capitalized on what may be a high-school girl's most anticipated purchase: the prom dress.

Teen catalog Zoe, produced by Fulcrum Direct, Rio Rancho, TX, named its spring issue dropped in late February its “prom issue” and featured teen models in dresses on the cover and first seven pages of the 56-page book.

Meanwhile, Just Nikki, a catalog that launched its inaugural issue Feb.1, included a two-page prom dress spread in its 68-page second issue, dropped April 1. Delia's, New York, the oldest player in the teen catalog market, also included dresses in the front of its 68-page book with prom in mind, though it did not specifically play up prom season.

“Our whole book is about how fun it is to be a teen-age girl, and prom is a big part of her life,” said Brian Doyle, director of catalog operations for Just Nikki Inc., New York, which is owned by Claire's Stores, New York.

Many catalogers were reluctant to release exact figures about responses in this newly competitive field, but Patricia Flanigan, Zoe's director of brand management, said the inaugural prom catalog was performing better than expected.

“It has exceeded our expectations and then some,” she said.

Zoe included sleek floor-length gowns and mix-and-match ballerina skirts with T-shirt tops, while Just Nikki featured similar ballerina-type outfits along with sparkling stretch tube dresses. Meanwhile, Delia's offered more shiny, flowered slip dresses.

Apart from its ballerina-skirt outfits, all Zoe's prom dresses are named after popular movie stars, with styles ranging from the Gwyneth (Paltrow) to the Jada (Pinkett). The entire line was performing well, Flanigan said, but a floor-length stretch, navy, velvet dress, called the Neve (Campbell), with daisy trim and a screened back, was proving to be a favorite.

Although the dresses may seem alternative compared with the full-skirted, floor-length dresses of just 10 years ago, Flanigan insists they are not out of the ordinary for today's teens.

“The are very mainstream, they're hip. Our buyers follow the trends of the juniors' market very carefully,” she said.

Indeed, Maria Moss, fashion director at young women's magazine Seventeen, which reaches 2.5 million readers monthly, noted that many of the styles from the catalogs were likely to be popular with young women. The idea of naming dresses after popular stars was particularly appropriate, she said, as most dresses for prom are modeled after what the stars wear to such events as the Academy Awards.

“Designers watch the Academy Awards and watch what the stars are wearing, and some of the designs are on the drawing board the very next morning,” Moss said.

Trends in Seventeen's annual prom issue included long, black-lace dresses inspired by those Madonna wore to promote her new album, “Ray of Light,” and one Kate Winslet wore in the movie “Titanic.”

Another trend is a long, sleek, lighter colored dresses, “such as the pastels that Minnie Driver and Claire Danes would wear,” Moss said.

Through years of experience in the market, Seventeen traditionally has used the March issue, which drops in February as its prom issue, but generally has some content related to prom through June.

Catalogers would reveal little of their strategy for selecting lists for their prom issues. Doyle noted that Just Nikki did not select lists any differently because prom was approaching. But as the issue was only the company's second, he noted there was hardly a regular course for the catalog to stick to. The company's first book dropped to 500,000, and the second was mailed to 1 million, he said. For Zoe, Flanigan would only say that list selection was done carefully.

However, to appeal to the young consumer, there seemed to be a consensus that the playful, fun approach was the one to take.

“We went to Florida and filmed the shots on a yacht so they have a young, fun look,” Doyle said.

Meanwhile, at Zoe, the first page of the prom section included copy that read, “The prom isn't the highlight of my life, but it should be a great party.”

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