If you’re a regular reader of Sunday Best, you’ve seen this joy-inducing gown before: Made entirely of duct tape, it was 17-year-old Sunnyside, Yakima County, resident Larissa Leon’s entry into the national Stuck At Prom Scholarship Contest presented by Duck brand duct tape, featured in these pages a few weeks ago after Leon made the finals. When I heard later that Leon had won the Dress Grand Prize (there’s also a Tux Grand Prize) of $10,000 in scholarship money, it seemed right to revisit this unique creation one more time — and to take the opportunity to chat with its designer.
“I was always very creative, always sewing, crocheting or crafting something, so when duct tape became popular, around 2010, I got a little bit obsessed with it,” Leon said on the phone last week. She described how, as a child, she’d make “wallets, backpacks, phone cases, everything!” out of duct tape. Years ago, she learned of the Stuck At Prom contest for high school students, but had to wait until she was old enough to enter.
When the time finally came, Leon knew she wanted to make something “more meaningful than just a basic prom dress.” Growing up in a Mexican American family, she took inspiration from the folklórico dresses of traditional Mexican dancers. “I wanted to showcase a part of me, and a part of my culture.”
Over several months of construction last spring (and 47 rolls of tape, in a rainbow of colors) in her family’s living room, the dress evolved; it ultimately became, Leon said, more complex and more colorful than she’d originally envisioned. The process involved a lot of trial and error, “messing up millions of times, having to cut it out and restart it. The good thing is, if I messed up, I could just cut that piece out.”
To begin, Leon had to make “fabric” from duct tape — a tricky process that involves laying the tape out flat in rows and sticking it to itself to make a sheet — in order to craft the dress’s voluminous skirt and bodice. Then came the elaborate floral trim, ribbon borders and delicate black lace. (All that lace is hand-cut; Leon tried using a lace hole puncher but it didn’t work.) The finished dress weighs about 20 pounds, and Leon added multiple accessories — a floral headpiece, earrings, a handbag, black shoes — all made, natch, from duct tape.
Leon, who’ll begin her senior year at Sunnyside High School this fall, hasn’t yet begun her college applications, but is considering the University of Washington, Seattle University and UCLA, among others. She plans to major in biology or chemistry, and ultimately hopes to go to medical school to study dermatology. No formal plans to study fashion design, but clearly she’s already got a gift for it.
“I’m very proud of it,” she said, of the dress that has inspired so many smiles. “It honestly turned out better than I could have ever expected.”