For many teen girls, the prom is the most important party of high school.
"It's the night when the teen girl trades her jeans and T-shirt [and becomes] red-carpet ready," said Arlene Goldstein, vice president of trend merchandising and fashion direction at Belk. "It's the night to be glamorous."
Prom dress trends are mostly red-carpet inspired, Goldstein said, noting that many teens watch televised award shows such as the Golden Globes and Academy Awards.
"Prom dresses are very modern and sophisticated," Goldstein said. "Today's teens are pretty grown-up."
A top trend in prom fashions this year is the thoughtful use of color, everything from soft neutrals to bold hues, Goldstein said. "What you choose depends on how you feel about color and how adventurous you are," she said.
Lauren Hood, 15, a sophomore at Girls Preparatory School, said she turns to magazines such as Seventeen Prom or Teen Prom to see the latest in prom fashions.
"I like to wear clothes that are trendy, but I like to add my own style to what I wear," she said. "My dream prom dress would be something that I feel comfortable in and would be easy and fun to dance in. I want my dress to be simple, elegant and classy but still be bold and stand out with bright colors and sparkles."
Another factor in selecting a prom dress is parental approval, Lauren said.
"My mom trusts my style decisions, so I know that whatever I pick out she will probably love, too," she said. "She would definitely be shopping with me for prom dresses because I trust her opinion 100 percent, and I know she'll tell me if something looks good on me or if I should keep looking."
The fishtail hem, a mermaid style, was popular on the red carpet at the Golden Globes and has made the jump to prom fashions.
"We are seeing high/low hems in prom dresses, too," Goldstein said. "That's the interpretation of the fishtail hem. It's new and big this year, and we're also going to see it in skirts and dresses. It glamorous and fresh."
A princess-style ball gown with a full skirt is back as is a one-shoulder Grecian look with ruching and a tighter fit, she said.
"The Grecian style accents the feminine form in a dramatic way," Goldstein said.
Prom dresses are typically more conservative.
"It's more fashionable to allude 'sexy,' than to show a lot of cleavage," Goldstein said. "The stylish look is to have an open back."
Lauren's mom, Lynda Hood, said the open-back dress meets her approval.
"Low back doesn't bother me; low front would," she said. "I don't think showing cleavage is necessary, especially for teenagers. The open back, though, is no different from that of a one-piece bathing suit."
In addition to color, printed fabric is also an option for this season's prom dress, Goldstein said.
"I was surprised to the see the prints, like a washed floral on a chiffon fabric," she said. "But it stands out. If you want to make a bold statement, the print gown would be for you. We're also seeing a lot of sequins -- a definite detail to watch."
Though some girls will opt for short dress, long gowns will dominate, she said. "It's the teen girls' one chance to be glamorous, and most will go for long dresses."
In recent years, girls wore flip-flops with their prom dresses. This year, it's high heels.
"They'll be wearing everything from platform to high-heeled strappy and sexy sandals," Goldstein said.