Emily Stein captures the awkward innocence of teen proms in Black Tie

The blow-dries, the outfits, the crushed velvet backdrop: everything about this series is heartwarmingly nostalgic of an important transitional moment in teenagehood.

21 April 2020


Weeks of anticipation and hours of outfit selection and self-grooming lead up to one pivotal night in many a teenager’s life: the prom. It’s when young adults shed their normal fashion in favour of black tie, a metamorphosis that symbolises growing up, and yet they can often still look like kids playing dress-up. It’s this important moment and the visual tropes of the ceremony that photographer Emily Stein looked to capture in Black Tie, a series of portraits made with stylist Janine Eveson and Getty Creative art director Josie Gealer-Ng.

Emily wanted to depict this rite of passage, a landmark moment of adolescence, in a truthful and delightful way that will likely trigger floods of memories for anyone who’s been through a similar experience. Working with Janine, every visual aspect was “obsessively planned,” she says. “Most important to us was the sense of nostalgia that we wanted to portray.” Everything from the crushed velvet backdrop to the glamorous frocks, oversized earrings, ruffle shirts and uncomfortable shoes have been perfectly curated to piece together an honest recreation of reality. “Janine is a very talented stylist,” Emily says. “She worked extremely hard putting together every tiny detail of each outfit so they created a strong and truthful sense of character, while working with colour, shape and texture.”

Of equal importance is the poses: sincere to the point of being comedic, joyful and awkward in places, the subjects demonstrate just a touch of what it’s like to be a teenager. “When shooting we wanted the portraits to tell different stories within the teen experience of these coming of age ceremonies,” Emily explains. “Emotions are running high at this time in life: there are feelings of joy, elation, excitement, togetherness and freedom, there are also complex emotions of anxiety, self-consciousness, frustration, self-doubt and jealousy.”


Emily Stein, Janine Eveson and Josie Gealer-Ng: Black Tie

In the background are also bigger themes. Dressing in black tie takes the teenagers out of their normal attire, therefore transcending cultural, socioeconomic and social barriers. The sudden transition to adulthood also brings its responsibilities and freedoms. “In some societies, it is linked with the onset of sexual maturity,” Emily says. “With others, it is associated with religious responsibility, and in western cultures, it is more often than not connected to legal conventions.” Hence casting was a huge part of this project, as the team looked to ensure the subjects were eclectic and could tell the stories with a “strong sense of emotion”.

The project was something Emily and Janine had been thinking about for a while, and eventually proposed it to Josie, a senior art director at Getty Creative, which funds selected personal projects through creative and financial support. “It allows you to make something you really want and gives you the funds to pay for it… basically a dream for photographers and stylists,” Emily says. The trio worked with Emma Tierney on hair and Dash Kimura on makeup.

In the current circumstances, the series has taken on new meaning, she adds. “It has made us view this series a little differently, as we know teenagers’ final exams have been put on hold and their lives thrown into isolation. Teenagers may very well be finding self-isolation the hardest of any age group, away from their intense friendships, first loves and social connections. At a time when they want more control over their lives, they’ve suddenly got less – pushed back into the heart of their families, whether they like it or not.” Hopefully, those teens will get their moment in front of the crushed velvet; in the meantime, this series is here to remind us all of more exciting (and slightly cringeworthy) times.

GalleryEmily Stein, Janine Eveson and Josie Gealer-Ng: Black Tie

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Emily Stein, Janine Eveson and Josie Gealer-Ng: Black Tie

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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