7 Pretty Prom Dress Ideas Inspired by Iconic '90s Red Carpet Moments

The end of exam season can only mean one thing—it's time for prom, and there are few things that occupy your mind more in the preceding weeks than finding the perfect prom dress. Whether it's your first time attending a formal event or you're a seasoned pro, it's equally tricky landing on a gown that is equal parts dressy and trendy, but after all of the recent award show red carpets (the Met Gala, the Oscars, the BAFTAs to name a few), we've been taking notes from some of our favourite celebs on how to make occasionwear cool again.

From sleek fishtails to playful minis, one trend that has proven undeniably popular over the past few years is the return to the '90s. Having scrolled through socials and runway shows to find the dresses that stood out the most, the same silhouettes and colour palettes cropped up again and again, and they could have easily come straight from the '90s. Given that most of team Who What Wear UK went to our proms in the mid-noughties, we all agreed that our biggest regret was choosing a dress that we thought was "current" rather than timeless, and looking back, our pictures have not aged well—something you needn't worry about when it comes to the pared-back approach to style the '90s is known for. Think Calvin Klein, Helmut Lang and Ann Demulemeester's brand of design.

90s prom dresses

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So if you're planning to get your prom dress early rather than be forced to do a last-minute dash around the shops, you've come to the right place. Getting the search started now gives you plenty of time to peruse the internet and try on options to find the right one for you (it might even be sensible to nab a couple of sizes and take it to a tailor to make the right alternations). But for now, let's start at the beginning—the inspiration.

Keep scrolling to see the seven prom dress trends inspired by the '90s red carpet that we only wish we'd gotten to wear back then.

1. Spaghetti Straps: Gwyneth Paltrow

90s prom dresses

(Image credit: SGranitz/WireImage)

Style Notes: Nothing says "the '90s" quite like ultra-skinny spaghetti straps (particularly with a square neckline), and you'd be surprised just how many formal dresses rely on these teeny tiny straps instead of long sleeves to make them feel fresher. A case in point? Gwyneth Paltrow's 1999 Oscars dress designed by none other than man of the moment Ralph Lauren.

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2. Buttermilk Yellow: Naomi Campbell

90s prom dresses

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Style Notes: This picture could easily have been taken two years ago given just how popular this pastel shade of buttermilk yellow has become. Alongside burgundy, cream and navy, pale yellow is one of our secrets to making an outfit look expensive, and it just so happens to be perfect for the summer months that prom season falls into. Thank you, Naomi, for reminding us just how chic a simple dress in a statement colour can be.

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3. Slip Dress: Jennifer Lopez

90s prom dresses

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Style Notes: It almost goes without saying that if we had to choose one piece that would encapsulate the best of '90s fashion, it would be the slip dress. Everyone from Courtney Love to J.Lo slipped into these slinky dresses for parties three decades ago, and we still wear them today in exactly the same way; stripped-back and under-accessorised as a nod to their minimalist roots.

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4. Watercolour Florals: Jennifer Aniston

90s prom dresses

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Style Notes: Print fans, this one is for you. If you've been looking for a dress with a little more character than a simple slip, you can't go wrong with a pattern, and according to the '90s, a light floral wash is all a dress needs to be red carpet-ready. Jennifer Aniston's outfit at the 1997 Picture Perfect premiere is one we'd happily still wear today, and it proves that watercolour florals are anything but dated.

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5. Bandeau Dress: Sarah Jessica Parker

90s prom dresses

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Style Notes: After the return of cargo pants, baggy jeans and flatforms, we weren't sure that our wardrobes could take any more throwbacks, but then the bandeau top came back in full force and reminded us why we loved them in the first place. This clean-lined trend translates perfectly to dresses too, and strapless silhouettes are the perfect foundation to personalise with your own style, so have fun experimenting with eye-catching jewellery and statement shoes.

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6. Sequin Mini: Pamela Anderson

90s prom dresses

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Style Notes: A formal occasion doesn't have to mean a maxi gown; sequin minis are perfect for playful personalities who are first on the dancefloor. Take it from style icon Pamela Anderson—having a head-turning mini in your arsenal is always a good idea (and just so happens to photograph particularly well). Add elongating platform heels in a similar shade and you've got the archetypal '90s-party-girl 'fit.

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7. Draping and Cut-Outs: Tyra Banks

90s prom dresses

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Style Notes: You can always rely on a supermodel to bring runway trends to the red carpet, and Tyra Banks' Council of Fashion Designers of America dress managed to combine both subtle draping and daring cut-outs for an unforgettable dress that you can easily shop on the high street.

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Remy Farrell
Fashion Editor

Remy Farrell is a London-based shopping editor with nearly 10 years of editorial experience covering fashion, beauty and lifestyle. After graduating with a journalism degree and working on the editorial and fashion teams for titles such as Grazia, Elle, Cosmopolitan and British Vogue, she moved into the luxury e-commerce sector, working as fashion assistant at TheOutnet.com styling for the social media channels and helping to develop the collections for the in-house brand Iris & Ink. After expanding an assisting and styling portfolio that includes shooting talent such as Gigi Hadid, Victoria Beckham and Miquita Oliver, she also branched out into beauty, creating tried-and-tested reviews and diverse beauty content.In her role as shopping editor at Who What Wear, Remy is interested in discovering new and exciting brands to share with the Who What Wear readership and particularly loves uncovering hidden gems at affordable prices to make shopping accessible to everyone.Born and raised in Sheffield, Yorkshire, Remy moved to London in 2014 and lives in the Docklands with her partner and pug Billie.