LIVERMORE -- Dana Cusimano-Bates is creating a new wrinkle in prom wear.
The local entrepreneur has opened Prom Headquarters, a pop-up prom store that will remain open into June then disappear until Winter Ball season rolls around again.
"It's like the Halloween Spirit store, except for prom," Cusimano-Bates said. "We opened at the end of January, and we'll stay open until mid-June. We'll move around in the city to whatever space is open and available with the hopes of creating a chain."
This year's spot is 59 S. L St. in Livermore.
Cusimano-Bates isn't entirely new to the prom business. She carried prom dresses at Dana's Bridal Gallery & Dress Boutique in Livermore, which she closed at the end of last year's prom season. The bridal store was her longtime dream that came about after she lost her job and got a divorce, leaving her a single mom with two young girls.
"I decided to take that opportunity to do what I've always wanted to do," she said.
She dabbled in the wedding business when she worked at hotels straight out of high school, but ultimately landed a long-term career with a title company. But the fun she had helping people with weddings was always in the back of her mind. She opened her bridal shop in 2008.
"My bridal designers started asking if I wanted to take on their prom lines," Cusimano-Bates said. "At that point, I was no longer just bridal. I got so much business from the prom and tuxedos, and it was a more enjoyable business for me. With the bridal business, I was working so hard that I was missing out on time with my kids."
Cusimano-Bates went heavy on prom products last prom season before finally closing her bridal store. During the offseason, she's a contractor for a title company, plunging back into proms for half the year.
"It just evolved, and I thought, 'Well, I'll just do the prom part,' " she said.
In addition to prom dresses, the shop offers alterations and rental tuxedos and shoes. Cusimano-Bates says the shop specializes in designer dresses that girls may not find at chain stores and also offers exclusivity -- she keeps track and once a girl buys a dress, she won't sell the same dress to another girl going to the same dance.
"That is huge for the girls," she said. "You want to stand out.
"I remember wearing the same Gunne Sax dress that every other girl had on at my prom. The next year, I had my dress made so that nobody was wearing the same dress."
Ana Self, mother of Granada High School twins Morgan and Brandon, likes everything the shop offers since she needs both a dress and a tuxedo rental.
"We definitely need a seasonal store like that," Self said, adding that she thinks a seasonal store is more likely to have the latest fashions than a year-round store that may be trying to clear its inventory.
"If you're a seasonal store, you're going to have the most up-to-date dresses," she said. Cusimano-Bates says girls prefer long dresses for prom, though some seniors prefer short styles for senior balls.
Long, flowing gowns are popular this year, as are form-fitting Marilyn Monroe-era styles. White, coral, sea foam green and neutral beige colors are big this year, she said.
Joanna Popepa at Joanna's Bridal Boutique in Danville (500 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Danville) sees similar trends.
"This year, they're looking for more simple gowns," Popepa said. "They're looking more like bridesmaids instead of prom. This is how it's different now than it was last year.
"Last year, we had a lot of sequins and beads. Everybody's simple this year. Maybe it's because of the economy," she said.
Last year's prints are out in favor of solid colors this year, Popepa said. Popular dress colors at her shop are aqua, various shades of pink, white and the ever-popular ivory. Some girls prefer bold colors like royal blue and red. Seniors tend to prefer elegant black dresses for senior balls.
Popepa readily admits that bridal shops carry prom dresses because it's a fantastic way to ensure future business. Girls prefer the smaller shops because they can find styles different from what the big stores carry.
"If they go into the big places at the mall, a lot of people will be going there and buying the same dress," Popepa said. "We carry different lines that nobody else has so that we're not competing with (the big stores). They go to small boutiques like mine so they can have something that nobody else has."