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Sunday, March 6, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

You call that a prom dress?

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Enlarge this photoKNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

This dress from Xcite has become one of the company's biggest sellers for high-school spring proms.

Most prom dresses live in relative obscurity. Oh, sure, they have that one night of glory, swishing and showing off on the dance floor. But then back to the closet they go.

The exception is dress No. 376 by the prom-dress company Xcite. Months before prom season, this skimpy little black number is not only ready for its close-up, it's also getting it — all over the country. Fox News did a feature on it. So did "The Today Show" and "Entertainment Tonight." Bloggers blather on about it. Discussion boards buzz with fascination.

And why not? A New York television show tabbed it the "It" dress of 2005.

Some say it's wholly inappropriate for many proms, but that hasn't stopped the dress from becoming one of the company's biggest sellers. Xcite has shipped out nearly 1,000 dresses, and that was before all the publicity.

And to think it's all because a runway model put it on incorrectly.

Company CEO Nick Yeh explains how it happened:

Last July, Xcite held a fashion show in Houston to preview its collection and take orders for the upcoming season. A model was supposed to cross the dress straps at her neck and have the material fan out across her chest. Instead she wore it with the straps coming straight off her shoulders, crossing at her waist. Since the material didn't need to stretch as much, the straps became narrow, and therefore, much more revealing. The mistake quickly turned into a boon.

"When we counted up the orders it was the No. 2-selling dress out of 400 dresses in our collection," Yeh said.

And what can he say? He's a businessman. He started selling it like that.

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Now the controversial dress is raising interest along with eyebrows.

At Mia's Bridal & Tailoring in Olathe, Kan., manager Tonya Dohrman said customers have come in just to look at or try on the $248 dress. Some are fascinated, others offended.

But it's still early. No one has bought one yet.

She's not sure anyone will — at least not as a prom dress.

"If a girl is going to wear this to a prom, I believe she has to have permission from the school first because it's so revealing," she said. "I'm just not sure a 16-year-old would be appropriate in that dress."

Sharon Miller, owner of the Gown Gallery in Kansas City, Mo., carries the Xcite line.

"But we chose not to carry that particular style," she said. "It's just a bit over the top for young women to be wearing for prom."

Jenny Stalder, an 18-year-old senior at Bishop Miege High School in Shawnee Mission, Kan., said the dress looked like "a long skirt with suspenders.

"If I ever tried to sneak out of the house wearing something like that my dad would stand in front of the door," she said. "He'd take my car keys."

Yeh bristled at the criticisms.

"This dress is no more revealing than swimwear," he said. "And everybody's making such a big deal about it."

For good reason, said Stalder.

"If some girl was dancing in that she'd fall out of it," she said. "Then (school officials) would say, 'I'm sorry, that's completely inappropriate.' "

You bet, said Shawnee Mission South principal Joe Gilhaus.

"If a girl were to wear that particular dress to our prom, we would ask her to find something that would make the dress more appropriate and not so revealing," he said. A sweater or shawl, perhaps.

Gilhaus said he isn't worried about this dress setting a sexier new direction for prom dresses.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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