Prom dresses like this one for under $200You've been hearing the word on your teenager's lips for several weeks now: prom. It almost has an ominous ring, doesn't it? And once you add up what it's going to cost you -- tickets, prom dresses, accessories, limo, photos, and oh, the dreaded afterparty plans -- prom probably seems like even less fun as a parent than it was as an awkward adolescent.

If you have a daughter, what sets the tone for the night -- and the spending total -- is undeniably the dress. But fear not: you can find something you both love for under $200. A few tips:

  • Lucky enough to live in a town where all the girls wear cocktail-length dresses to prom? Awesome. You may be able to outfit your kid for under $100. Just today, Forever 21 blasted out an e-mail of its formal-appropriate minis: you can find stylish dresses like this peplum-pleated dress ($29.80) or this rockabilly-inspired polka dot number ($24.80). One caveat: make her come out of the dressing room and show you these on before you purchase them -- Forever 21 dresses can sometimes run tiny, and even if everyone's going short, you don't want her going short.
  • Another great resource for knee-length and above: the mother of all juniors' departments, Nordstrom's BP section. There, you'll find plenty of sub-$100, youthful happy picks, such as this belted satin halter dress ($68) or this pretty-in-pink bow frock (also $68).
  • Those of you living where full-length gowns still reign supreme don't have to spend all that much more. If your daughter is a chronic online shopper, now's the time to capitalize on that costly habit. edressme.com is the undisputed last word when it comes to formal gowns, and they've always got a healthy selection of stuff on sale. If $200 is a reasonable budget for you, they've also got lots of dresses hovering just under that bar -- like this airy lime column with sequin detail ($198).
  • And have your daughter bookmark the link to Jessica McClintock's weekly coupon -- this week's, for instance, knocks 20% off three styles in platinum and red.

If what you really want, though, is to get the prom-shopping experience without blowing your budget, the best place to head is David's Bridal. Not only are they reasonable (and, lately, much more fashionable), their styles never depart too far from classic silhouettes. My mom and I bought my first prom gown here (a celadon gown with silver thread embroidery) and honestly, I'd still wear it today.

DB also gets points for having every hue under the sun in stock. If this magenta beaded gown ($139.90) doesn't scream prom, what does? And if your daughter is one of those rare understated teens (congratulations!), this draped chiffon gown ($155) comes in 21 different colors.

Which brings me to my personal prom rule, handed down from my mom -- no black! You can wear little black dresses until you're eighty years old, but the right to rock a lavender ballgown belongs solely to high schoolers, so take advantage. Happy prom shopping!

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