Her Marie Antoinette-style dress is elegant and intricate, with detailed lace along the edges, an angular corset and different white, pink and gold layers filling out the hoop skirt.
Lifelike pink florals adorn her matching purse, fan and hairpiece, and detached sleeves cascade from her elbows, almost majestically. A complex, white lace choker completes the regal look.
And it’s all made out of duct tape.
Karla Torres, a recent graduate of Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Boyle Heights, designed and created the 18th-century-inspired ensemble herself — with the support of her crafty mom — for the yearly “Stuck at Prom” scholarship contest, sponsored by Duck Tape, a trademarked brand of duct tape. The Los Angeles teen was named a finalist last week, and is now vying for votes to win the grand prize: a $10,000 scholarship.
“We’ve never made a dress, much less out of duct tape,” Torres, 18, said. “We didn’t know how much duct tape we needed. It’s such a random thing… we were just doing it by trial and error.”
In the end, the college-bound teen estimated she and her mom spent at least 120 hours, over many days, working on the gown, and used 14 rolls of tape.
“Tape is so rigid and you can’t move it like fabric,” Torres said. “It was really challenging making it all come together.”
But the fashion-forward teenager overcame that challenge. Of more than 200 entries to the contest, Torres’ gown was selected among the top five designs for dresses, judged for color, quality, originality, accessories and the use of Duck brand tape, according to the company. Another top five tuxedo finalists were chosen. One from each category will win the top prize, while all finalists will receive $500.
Torres said she’s spent the last few days trying to spread the word about voting for her dress, even dressing up in the heavy gown one more time to show it off on TikTok. Her parents are helping spread the word too, telling their friends and extended family about the contest.
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“It’s just like teamwork, asking people to vote,” Torres said. “You don’t know if we’re winning or we need more votes, but we’re feeling confident and hopeful that we can win.”
And while it’s Torres’ name officially in the contest, as the first in her family headed to college, she said this whole process is more of a collective effort for her family, and especially her parents, who immigrated to the US from Mexico.
“It means a lot to me that I was able to make it this far with the support of my parents — graduating from high school is not just me graduating, it’s my parents graduating, anyone who helped me,” Torres said. “I’ m a first-generation student … it means a lot to me that now we made it past high school and now we’re entering college.”
She said the $10,000 prize would go a long way as she plans to attend a California State University school in August.
“I wouldn’t want my parents to struggle trying to find a way to pay for it,” Torres said. “It would really help my parents.”
Torres plans to study business marketing in college, ideally focused on the fashion industry. In high school, she participated in Nordstrom’s ambassador program, which gave young people a chance to explore the retail industry up close.
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“I really love fashion, it’s a really big passion of mine,” she said. “I’m down and willing to try any style.”
She said she often spent hours looking at outfit ideas or different styles, from the ’70s to Gothic to Rococo, on Pinterest and TikTok — which is how she initially found the Duck Tape competition.
While scrolling on social media during the pandemic, she saw one of the 2021 finalists promoting a traditional Mexican-style duct tape dress, and made sure to vote for her fellow Latina.
“I was so interested and fascinated,” Torres said.
But it wasn’t until a recent visit to The Getty Museum — the only field trip she took in high school — that she found her inspiration from the 18th-century French paintings, featuring lavish, ornate dresses.
“I wanted light pastel colors because that just reminded me of that era,” said Torres, who recognized it as a challenge because of the tape’s neon focus. “I wanted something more subtle, more elegant.”
She was able to find the perfect shade in a light pink tape, which she paired with white and gold.
“When you see the top 10 finalists’ designs, you’ll have to remind yourself that high school students created these out of Duck Tape,” said Ashley Luke, senior product manager at Shurtape Technologies, LLC, the company that makes Duck tape. “The intricate design and personality put into each ensemble is unbelievable.”
Voting for the finalists is open through July 12, and winners should be announced by July 19.
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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.