If you attended your high school prom, there are probably a few things you remember: cheesy pop music, posing for endless photos or the awkwardness of dancing with your date.
For many young people heading to prom, one of the most important aspects of prom is what to wear. And for students in the queer community, it’s not always a simple decision.
That includes Avery Selk, a senior at the Commonwealth School in Boston and chair of the Safe Schools Team for the MA Commission on LGBTQ Youth.
"The dress I wore this year, I got in P-Town actually this winter," they said. "I think originally I was going to go with something more [masculine] and I know my mom was kind of surprised that I was going for a dress for senior prom.”
As someone who presents in a gender non-conforming way, Selk said an inherently gendered event like prom can be limiting for some students, with traditions like prom king and prom queen, pre-set heteronormative music playlists and the pressure of bringing a date.
"There is this layer of comfortability that is part of being a student that exists no matter which school you're going to — in that even if you're comfortable with other students, [you may] not be comfortable with teachers. Or maybe you're comfortable with teachers, but you're not comfortable at home, or maybe your parents are really supportive, but then you're worried about what your friends will think," they said. "So I definitely think there are some mental hoops that you have to be jump through when you're queer and wondering about how people perceive you.”
Despite those limitations, Selk and many other students in the LQBTQ community are showing up to prom dressed as their authentic selves: including Lou, a junior at Commonwealth, who asked to use just their first name.
"[I wore] a men's dress shirt with a cummerbund and a skirt and heels and a tie. And I threw some nice makeup on there too, which was really fun," they said. "And that was the most comfortable formal outfit I've ever worn. I got so many compliments on it and I felt so happy wearing something that made me feel comfortable.”
"I definitely think there are some mental hoops that you have to jump through when you're queer and wondering about how people perceive you."-Avery Selk, Senior at the Commonwealth School in Boston
Finding the perfect fit can be a challenge at a traditional tailor or formal wear shop for students who do opt to dress in a more masculine or androgynous outfit.
Olivia Tramuta is a senior style advisor at 9Tailors in Boston,one of the few custom tailoring shops in the area that deliberately makes suits for women, men and gender-non-conforming people.
"We create garments from the body up. So when you come in, we're trying to learn exactly what you're looking for and how you want to feel and what your needs are of those pieces," Tramuta said. "And from there we create and try to make your vision happen."
Tramuta said making prom suits this season has been a highlight of her work.
"It's always super exciting and very cute to see kids come in and get really dressed up for it and excited," she said. "We've definitely done some really creative designs for people, something that you wouldn't be able to get if you're a kid going to a suit shop and renting something — something that’s really personal."
The awkwardness of teenhood is a given for any student going to prom. But being able to wear something that feels comfortable can help students feel better about expressing themselves freely, so they can let go of the high school stress and dance the night away.
Tramuta said a custom suit can take months to get the measurements exactly right — but once it's done and steamed, the end result is rewarding.
"Clothing shopping can be really intense for a lot of people — it can cause a lot of dysphoria and it can feel really uncomfortable," she said. "And I mean, even for myself, I like to look very feminine and I have a hard time shopping for clothes because fit is a huge thing for me because I work in tailoring. But when you're not feeling comfortable in the clothes, it's so much harder to even feel good through that process."