- Associated Press - Monday, April 18, 2011

Teenage girls live largely in a look-alike culture, wearing the same styles they get in the same stores as their friends. On prom night, though, the idea is to stand out, making sure no one arrives at the big dance in the same outfit.

To ensure their uniqueness — after they’ve shopped in faraway malls and tapped into store registries — girls are using social media to claim dibs on their dresses.

A photo of Ashley McGowan’s floor-length black gown is on the prom Facebook page for her school in suburban Somers, N.Y. She is relieved that only one other classmate has posted a black frock.

“There’s an unwritten rule: The moment you buy it, you post it so it’s ‘your dress,’” Ashley explains.

A fashion-advice website, Fashism.com, even has launched a Facebook-based registry called Got Dibs that enables users to track who’s wearing what to which high school event and get feedback on their outfits before they wear them.

Amy Avitable, senior vice president of marketing for Lord & Taylor, which is partnering with Fashism.com on Got Dibs, says the project is a way to give girls an insurance policy that they’ll have something special, while making sure they won’t be second-guessing their outfits at the last minute.

Here’s how Got Dibs works: Girls can snap photos of themselves with the tags still on the dress and get instant advice on what shoes to wear, if the hemline is right or if the silhouette is flattering.

The opinions of peers, whether they are best friends or online “friends” from around the country, are key to the tech-savvy, fashion-loving consumer, says Ashley Granata, Fashism.com’s co-founder and chief marketing officer.

For prom-goers, though, it’s the claim on a dress that matters most, she adds.

“When I was a junior, a freshman came to my prom in the same dress. I was mortified,” Miss Granata recalls. “It was a pink satin, princess cut with scalloped neckline. I thought it was interesting and beautiful. I was known to have an individual sense of style — and then this trendy girl shows up in the same thing. Now I can say it’s really funny, but I was really upset about it.”

Hollywood stars make a strong impression by owning their looks, and teenage girls want to do the same, says Jane Keltner de Valle, fashion news director of Teen Vogue. They mimic celebrities with elaborate fashion fantasies and hair and makeup plans, but they also play the part of stylist by scouring magazines and websites for months to get ideas, then try to secure exclusivity.

All the preparation fuels anticipation of the prom, which girls start thinking about months in advance. They build it up — with help from movies, TV, fashion magazines and maybe even mom — as their big red-carpet moment.

“Girls feel tremendous pressure to get it right,” Miss Keltner de Valle says. “They don’t want to feel like a copy of anyone else, and she also doesn’t want to be compared to anyone else. They don’t want to wake up to the Facebook comparison of: ‘Who wore it best?’”

Staking an early claim on a dress may help girls breathe easier. Then it’s the girl who doesn’t follow these new etiquette rules who risks rebuke, Miss Keltner de Valle says.

Of course, she adds, it shouldn’t be that way: Girls should be celebrating who they are at the prom and not making it all about “the dress,” but, for better or worse, that is part of the tradition.

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