Alternative proms gain a following

June 28, 2011

By Sarah Gerdes

Sixteen-year-old North Bend junior Kayla Morrill wanted to go to prom this year, yet she faced a crisis.

Kayla Morrill talks with Mary Cook, first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at Issaquah’s alternative prom. Contributed

“A lot of my friends couldn’t go to the high school prom, so we went to a different one,” she said.

In today’s language, a different prom is what has become known as an alternative prom, commonly called a modest prom. Such proms are events that cater to teens who opt out of their school dance for a variety of reasons.

“A regular prom would have been way too expensive,” Morrill explained.

Another benefit?

“None of that dirty-dancing stuff,” she said.

Morrill is not alone. Thousands of other teens from all walks of life have been seeking what has become known as alternative proms, dances where the dress standards and music are more akin to a 1950’s atmosphere than the Snooki-improvised club.

For the past four years, the Issaquah Community Center has hosted the region’s largest modest prom open to all teenagers on the Eastside. It regularly draws several hundred teens and is chaperoned by parents in the community.

The sponsor this year was the Bellevue North Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“There are a lot of good youth who desire modesty, clean language, good music, and to have fun,” Bellevue North Stake President Stephen W. Yose said. “This event provides that environment.”

It starts with the dress

For Morrill, the environment was a huge part of determining whether to attend a prom at all. The second consideration was her dress.

“Purchasing a dress can easily run $300 to $400,” explained Chris Hash, founder and CEO of, the largest provider of modest prom dresses in the United States. “That’s before alterations and without any of the accessories.”

Hash said she can identify with Morrill’s concerns about a dress, noting that young women like Morrill make up a large percentage of her customers, but not all.

“Bigger girls don’t want their upper arms showing or the middle of their tummy,” she explained, relating how she recently modified a dress for a 16-year-old girl who is a size 24.

Likewise, well-endowed teenagers who might be thin elsewhere don’t want boys leering down their dresses the entire night. Covering up skin issues can also be a reason for a girl to get a modest prom dress.

“We have young women who come in during the middle of puberty and might have back acne, rashes or psoriasis,” Hash said. “It turns out that these otherwise beautiful girls want a glamorous, affordable dress that doesn’t show their arms or middle of their back.”

A father’s approval

It’s not always about the price. Sometimes, it’s the perfect item that fits a religious standard.

“I had a dad call me about a dress for his 14-year-old daughter, who, as an Orthodox Jew, needed to cover the bones of the neck,” Hash said.

When Hash’s own rental and pattern selection sites didn’t match his needs, she recommended he check a thrift store.

“He found the perfect dress for $30,” Hash noted, a fraction of purchasing or even renting a dress.

Morrill said she is more than ready for next year’s alternative prom. Having the perfect dress allowed her to focus on the best parts of prom — the food, her friends and the dancing.

“I’ll definitely be going back next year,” she said.

Sarah Gerdes is a freelance writer for The Issaquah Press. Comment at

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2 Responses to “Alternative proms gain a following”

  1. S. Hall on June 29th, 2011 7:01 am

    Great story, it’s a breath of fresh air to read of teens like this.

  2. Jace on June 29th, 2011 7:51 am

    My own daughter has attended an alternative prom two years in a row and she loves it. She and her friends really enjoy it without all the pressure to show a bunch of skin plus it is more affordable. The dirty dancing was so bad in the high school that the principal actually cancelled dances a couple years ago for most of the year so it is nice having an alternative without that garbage.

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