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Known for her coveted wedding dresses, Vera Wang
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Known for her coveted wedding dresses, Vera Wang started White by Vera Wang to offer lower-priced special occasion options. A chartreuse satin sash adds a modern pop of color to this classic crepe bodice and flowing charmeuse skirt; $188 at David's Bridal and davidsbridal.com.(Credit: Handout)

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Designer prom dresses for less

Today’s prom girls are looking to the red carpet for inspiration more than ever — much to their parents’ dismay. Take A-list ingredients like jewels, organza and lace, and tie them all together with a designer label, and what do you get? A tab that will rival that first semester college tuition bill.

Some high-end designers — among them Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman, Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier — offer evening collections that take some of the sting out of that price tag.

“Prom in my mind is about having fun,” says Chapman, who designed Pearl, a collection of formal looks for J.C. Penney costing from about $70 to $180. “If a girl is looking for a more formal option, we offer floor-length gowns that are feminine and whimsical,” says Chapman. “For a more fun and flirty look, we have a range of cocktail dresses where we’ve added special details.”

Though Marchesa gowns can go for upward of $4,000, Chapman says Pearl doesn’t sacrifice quality or style. “I approach designing for both Marchesa and Pearl with the same level of respect and the same intention: to help women look and feel beautiful,” she says. “I pay close attention to detail to make sure that both collections embody my signature style and design sensibility.”

And the same is evident in other designers’ creations — from the wistful floral appliqués in a White by Vera Wang tulle dress ($198) to the stunning silhouette of a black lace and chiffon floor-length ML Monique Lhuillier gown ($298).

Here, some of our picks that are sure to turn high school girls into Hollywood head-turners, if only for a night. -- By Nina Ruggiero