One of the most exciting parts of going back to school – maybe the most exciting part – is the homecoming dance. It’s the first major dance of the year, and it may even be the first time anyone is going to see you all dressed up at a school event, which means it’s obviously the best time to make a statement in a gorgeous outfit that makes you feel like the confident, beautiful babe you are. There are tons of homecoming dress styles you can choose from, but with so many options, you might be wondering how you can narrow it down to the exact right one for you. Not to worry! Whether it’s your first homecoming dance or it’s your senior year and you want to go out with a bang, these tips will make shopping for the perfect homecoming dress a breeze. Ready to wow them all as the belle of the semi-formal ball? Let’s get shopping.
A few things to keep in mind before you start
- — Know your school rules: You may think you’ve found the one, but if it doesn’t fit in with your school dress code and dance rules, it’s not the perfect dress for this event. Take a second to review your school’s guidelines for what’s appropriate so you are sure the dress you fall in love with won’t get you sent home. If you aren’t sure, bring a light jacket, cardigan, or cover up to wear over the top.
- — Know your budget: You should know how much you are working with from the start so you don’t end up falling for something out of your price range. Ask your parents if and how much they are willing to contribute, look at what you have set aside for special occasions, and plan out what you are comfortable spending, not just on the dress, but for the whole night. Finding cheap homecoming dresses is totally doable (hello, Lulus.com) and if you shop for your dress online, you can usually set price limits so you don’t even have to see something out of your budget.
- — Keep an open mind: We’ll be outlining tons of tips for how to easily find the right dress, but sometimes all the preparation in the world can’t account for what’s actually available in stores and what looks good once you try it on. If you are feeling frustrated that the exact style you had in mind just isn’t working out, know that there are hundreds of other options waiting for you to try. Visit a store or website you haven’t gone to before and don’t limit your options if something doesn’t fit in exactly with what you pictured. You never know what might end up being the perfect look if you don’t try it on!
Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s find your homecoming dress!
First up – what’s your vibe?
Or more accurately, what do you want your vibe to be? The great thing about homecoming, and dances in general, is that it’s an opportunity for you to show off your unique style or a new look you’d love to try. Day to day, you might prefer comfort over cuteness, or you might be a secret glam girl moonlighting as a tomboy for your Monday through Friday vibe. But come the big night, you can do a total 180 and show off a completely different facet of your personal style. There’s no reason you can’t be one or the other or both at the same time, so a dance like homecoming makes perfect sense as the place to show off your fashion alter ego or enhance the style you’re already showing off on the daily.
Are you a glam girl looking for your moment to shine? Show off in metallics and luxe fabrics like sequins or velvet. Got that sweet and girly vibe going on? Try a flowy skater style, pastels, or lace details to go full femme. Want to keep it modest and chic at the same time? Do the demure thing in a ladylike long sleeve look. Are you crushing it in the gym and want to show off your hard earned bod? Blow everyone away in a bodycon dress or two-piece style.
The most important things to remember about picking the perfect dress for your vibe and vision are 1) do you feel comfortable in it and 2) do you like the way you look in it. No one else has to approve of your style (except maybe your parents and school principal, but even then, as long as you are following the dress code, you’re golden) and a special night that’s all about getting dressed up and feeling your best is the ideal opportunity to work your look like no one’s watching. Of course, they all will be with how brightly you shine when your style is true to you 😉
Finding the right dress for your body type
Repeat after us: everybody is a bodycon body. But that doesn’t mean you have to love that kind of style or feel it is your most attractive look. Take stock of what about yourself makes you feel the most confident, and then look for homecoming dresses that play up those attributes. Not sure which styles are the most flattering for your favorite features? We’ve got you covered.
If you love your…
- — Strong Shoulders and Arms: Play up broad shoulders and strong arms with strapless looks, a high-neck halter dress, or a one-shoulder style. Wear something with a wider neckline and thick straps or long sleeves if you want another part of your body to be the focus.
- — Full Bust: Support the girls and flatter your figure in a dress with a v-neck, scoop, or square neckline. Pick one with thicker straps and a covered back if you feel most comfortable in a full bra, which will also help define your shape. Pass on the high-neck looks, which can create a uni-boob effect.
- — Beautiful Back: Try a dress with back appeal, such as cutouts and lace-up details, or go full backless to highlight this part of your body. Off-the-shoulder styles also look great to show off your upper back. Not your favorite feature? Pick a dress with a fully covered back or create an illusion of exposure with sheer mesh or lace overlays.
- — Slim Waist: Make your middle the main focus in a skater dress that nips in at the waist and creates a figure-flattering shape with a fuller skirt. Shift styles will skim your middle and create a straighter silhouette.
- — Curvy Hips: Wrap dresses and dresses that hug your curves but don’t constrict you are the perfect way to show off your proportions. You can also highlight your hips with a bodycon dress, just be sure the fit is perfect or you choose one in a supportive, stretchy fabric to make sure it flawlessly conforms to your body. Skater dresses and a-line looks help to minimize the look of curvy hips if you want to show off something else.
- — Long Legs: Hello, mini skirts! Short dresses with long sleeves ensure the focus is on your gorgeous gams. Want a little more coverage with surprise leg appeal? Choose a maxi dress that maximizes your height with a slit to show off your stems. Midi styles offer more coverage while still exposing a little bit of leg if you’re focusing on another body part.
Get some inspo…
Now that you’ve figured out the style you want to show off and what body parts your dress should highlight, it’s time to gather some inspiration. Create a collection on Instagram or fill a Pinterest board with your favorite images, then take a look at what your saved styles have in common. If there is a consistent trend among your looks, keep it in mind as you scroll through your favorite shopping sites to see what’s available and what catches your eye. Maybe all your favorite looks happen to be blush pink, or you’ve been searching for a dress to show off your back and you found the lace-up look appeals to you more than a totally open back style. Narrow down your search with these types of descriptions to get a more curated selection and arm yourself with ideas for your eventual shopping trip. You don’t have to stick to just the homecoming section or homecoming dress websites either! Look through a variety of shops for more options, and browse other dress categories (or even jumpsuits and dressy separates) to see if something that’s right for you is hiding in another part of the store or website.
… and get shopping!
If you plan to go to the mall or a boutique to find your dress, you should think about who you are going to shop with. Going with a parent or grandparent will be a fun memory for your family, or you can plan a trip with a few friends to get recommendations from the people who know you and your school best. Just be sure your group isn’t too huge so you don’t have trouble finding enough dressing rooms or keeping everyone on the same page throughout the day. Want to look online? You can still gather your girls or sit with a parent to get some opinions and advice before ordering. Whoever you choose to shop with, make sure it is someone whose advice you trust. Pass on a shopping trip with a frenemy, rival, or anyone who isn’t going to give you their honest opinion to make sure you feel as beautiful and confident as possible.
Now it’s time to try stuff on!
If you are shopping in the store, be sure you go with your hair styled and wear some makeup (if you wear makeup or are planning to wear makeup to the dance), so you aren’t distracted by anything other than how the dress looks. You’ll be all dolled up for the dance, so trying on looks without any makeup or with a messy top knot could make it seem like the dresses aren’t going to work out the night of homecoming. You don’t have to go all out (an updo and fake lashes are not necessary), but put your best foot forward so you can focus on the dress and nothing else. Depending on the styles you are shopping for, a skin toned strapless bra and seamless underwear will help make sure you get the right effect, without bra straps or panty lines ruining the look. Additionally, if you plan on wearing heels to the dance, bring a pair with you into the dressing room to see how they alter the look. Your posture will change and a dress may hang differently compared to how it looks with bare feet or flat shoes, so put on a pair with a similar height to what you’re planning for the final look to get the best representation of your dream dress.
Besides sticking to the tips above, if you are shopping online only, you’ll need to have a plan for trying on at home and returning anything that doesn’t end up as your choice. You’ll also have to factor in shipping times to make sure you get your orders in plenty of time to make a decision and make any minor alterations necessary before the dance. Most online stores have express shipping options for last minute needs (though they can be pricey), but you’ll feel better if you give yourself enough time to receive items well in advance of the dance. Be sure to read the return policy, too, before making a big purchase of multiple sizes and styles with the intent to return any looks you don’t love – you probably don’t want to stock up on fancy dresses you can’t send back later!
You have your dress! Now what?
You followed the tips above and finally found the dress you adore, but we still have a few pieces of advice left to share about how to make sure your homecoming look is practically perfect.
- — Make sure you have the right undergarments: As mentioned above for trying on your dress, make sure you have the right bra, underwear, and any shapewear you would like to wear to make sure everything stays in place and there are no visible lines or bumps. Pick undergarments in your skin tone so camera flashes don’t pick up a bright color underneath your dress. Decide if you need a full coverage bra, strapless bra, backless bra, or nipple covers to keep your chest in check. Opt for fuller coverage underwear if you have a swingy short skirt, or pick a seamless pair for smooth lines in your bodycon. If it makes you more comfortable, look for shapewear to smooth your curves and create a flawless fit.
- — Make sure it is comfortable and you can move around in it: Try on your dress and shoes to make sure you can move around in them easily. Dance vigorously in your room (get low, jump high, shake it – whatever dance moves you think you’ll try), walk up and down a couple stairs, practice getting in and out of the car, and sit down at the dining room table to make sure you can do everything you’ll need to do on homecoming night without a major wardrobe malfunction. If any of these movements make you feel awkward or exposed, practice moving strategically and take some preventative measures to ensure you’ll be able to dance and sit comfortably all night long.
- — Make sure you’ve taken care of the styling details: Plan your styling if you didn’t pick everything when you bought the dress – shoes, accessories, makeup, and hair are all an important part of creating the ultimate homecoming look. Look for complementary and comfortable shoes and accessories, see which hairstyles look best with the neckline of your dress, and practice your makeup look once or twice if you’re doing it on your own to make sure you have it down for the event. Thinking about all of these details in advance will ensure that the day of the dance you’ll be able to relax and have fun, totally certain you look smokin’ in your homecoming style.
Have you found your perfect homecoming dress already? Tell us your tips for getting ready for a big night out in the comments and share your homecoming outfits with us on Instagram @lulus with #lovelulus!