Although gems-on-chiffon-type prom dresses are cute on some people, they’re not my style at all. I’ve been searching for more-unconventional dresses online, but what I’ve seen is either too casual or on a site popular enough that someone else at prom might be wearing it, too. Suggestions? —Sarah, 16, South Carolina

Over the years, on and off the internet, I’ve seen people make prom dresses out of candy wrappers, duct tape, empty Doritos bags (though why even empty them when you can have a snack for later?), and all sorts of other crazy things. I’m not saying to grab a hot glue gun and a few empty boxes of Lucky Charms and get to work on dat ballgown, but any time someone wants to do an alt-prom look, I get a wistful glimmer in my eye, and I remember my own proms. At one of them, I wore a dress made of sparkly purple fabric sewn over a hoop skirt. I accessorized it with a lavender wig and a corsage made from a doll’s head, and I looked like I was from another planet. It was awesome, and about as “anti-prom” as you can get. Here’s what I looked like, plus other Rookie staffers in their own excellent prom outfits:

Rookie staff pizza prom, clockwise from top left: Me in my purple space-age dress, lavender wig, spiked collar, and doll-head corsage;  Maggie Thrash in an actual DUCT-TAPE DRESS; Jane Marie sporting a homemade black-brocade dress and bolero, a velvet choker, and bangs dyed to match her corsage; Shriya in a $25 floral sundress with tulle sewn underneath, her mom’s blazer, and a pair of holographic Nikes.

Rookie staff pizza prom, clockwise from top left: me in my purple space-age dress, lavender wig, spiked collar, and doll-head corsage; Maggie in an actual DUCT-TAPE DRESS; Jane Marie in a homemade black-brocade dress and bolero, a velvet choker, and bangs dyed to match her corsage; Shriya in a $25 floral sundress with tulle sewn underneath, her mom’s blazer, and a pair of holographic Nikes.

It’s pretty easy to find a unique dress these days without having to rent a gothic Victorian prom outfit from a costume store, as some of my friends did—though that’s not a bad idea! Let’s get hunting, starting with a few out-of-the-ordinary dresses that no one else will be wearing at prom:

Clockwise from top left: maxi dress, $40, Too Fast; fringe dress, $36, Sourpuss Clothing; pencil dress, $56, Sourpuss Clothing; monster dress, $82, Sourpuss Clothing; tulle dress, $56, Too Fast.

Clockwise from top left: maxi dress, $40, Too Fast; fringe dress, $36, Sourpuss Clothing; pink dress, $44, Sourpuss Clothing; pencil dress, $56, Too Fast; monster dress, $82, Sourpuss Clothing; tulle dress, $66, Sourpuss Clothing.

If you wanna get ambitious, you could build your prom outfit around a theme. Why not, for example, be a “junk food prom queen” theme in the adorable snack-festooned dress below, with a candy fascinator in your hair, carrying an ice cream cone–shaped purse?

Left: dress, $70, ModCloth. Top right: fascinator, $28.50, Odd Cookie Couture. Bottom right: ice cream purse, $68, Betsey Johnson.

Left: Good Enough to Eat dress, $70, ModCloth. Right, top to bottom: fascinator, $28.50, Odd Cookie Couture; ice cream purse, $68, Betsey Johnson.

Another idea: Draw inspiration from movie characters! What if you took a cue from Hairspray and wore this roach shirt and a tulle skirt?!

Top: Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray (1988). Bottom left: crop tee, $88, Toy Syndrome. Bottom right: tulle skirt, $35, Topshop.

Top: Divine as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray (1988). Bottom, left to right: crop tee, $88, Toy Syndrome; tulle skirt, $35, Topshop.

If your tastes are tamer than all that, you can still stand out in a dress like this pretty one from Betsey Johnson, this pinstriped cutie, this sparkly dress, or this retro-style gold number. And a cool purse will always step up your game: Some faves of mine are here, here, here, and here. Hope that helps! —Marie

My girlfriend recently asked me to her prom, which is super exciting, but I’ve been stressing about what to wear. She’s wearing a short white dress, and I’m wondering how to match a dress…to a dress! Should I try to contrast with hers by wearing black, or perhaps a pattern? I’m also considering finding an awesome pantsuit. –Sarah

Hooray, I’m so happy you’re going to your girlfriend’s prom! LOVE IT. Now, I have good news and bad news. Here’s the good news: Everything goes with white, and you should feel free to wear WHATEVER you makes you feel the best, whether that’s a short dress, a long dress, a pantsuit, or several hundred Werther’s Original wrappers sewn onto leggings for a blinding disco effect. Now, here is the bad news: Because everything goes with white, and you can wear whatever makes you feel great…you have a million options. OK, DEEP BREATHS. This is actually really cool—it means you’re guaranteed to look amazing, no matter what you pick. So don’t be intimidated!

If you’re going to wear a dress, I love your “opposites” idea! You could try a contrasting color, like you suggested, by wearing something in black, blue, or a deep purple, and completely switch up the style of yours versus your girlfriend’s so you two don’t look like salt and pepper shakers (unless that’s what you’re going for).

For a long dress, you could go with a classic prom situation, by which I mean something long, gauzy, and/or shiny, if you want. BUT you could also go kinda goth-y, like the black lace number below, which will look cool next to your girl’s sweet white dress.

That brings us to your last idea: a pantsuit. This is my favorite idea, because I LOVE PANTSUITS, but I want to make sure you do not feel pressured to wear a pantsuit just because your GF is wearing a dress! If you want to wear a dress too, do it! And if pantsuits truly have your heart, as they do mine, do that! A quick Etsy search for “formal pantsuit” or “vintage jumpsuit” turned up a TON of great options, like the little tuxedo-pantsuit below. Or you could go modern and sleek, like the ASOS deal. Among your wonderfully endless options:

Clockwise from top left: tuxedo jumpsuit, $98, Etsy; lace tier dress, $133, Pixie Market; racer-front jumpsuit, $85, ASOS; short blue dress, $103, ModCloth; strapless dress, $63, ModCloth; high-low dress, $83, ModCloth.

Clockwise from top left: tuxedo jumpsuit, $98, Etsy; lace tier dress, $133, Pixie Market; racer-front jumpsuit, $85, ASOS; short blue dress, $103, ModCloth; strapless dress, $63, ModCloth; high-low dress, $83, ModCloth.

Whatever you choose, have fun! —Krista