Emily O'Gara and Ethan Weber
courtesy of ShurTech

This Teen Made Her Prom Dress Completely Out of Duct Tape—and Won $10,000

May 09, 2018

Teens splash out hundreds of dollars on their prom outfits each year, but only a handful can claim that their looks earned them $10,000.

Emily O’Gara can.

The Lincoln, Neb., resident dropped roughly $58 on her dress, heels, and polyhedral handbag. Her biggest expense? Duct tape.

Even better, the 20 rolls she used to construct her elaborate black-and-white geometric-pattern dress—bordered at the hem by a colorful floral garden—won O'Gara, now 19, a $10,000 college scholarship. (Also part of the work: helping to construct a matching tux, with geometric lapels and gold waistcoat, for O'Gara's competition partner, Ethan Weber.)

Emily O'Gara and Ethan Weber
courtesy of ShurTech

For the past 17 years, the company that makes Duck Tape has handed out hefty prizes to inventive high school students who construct stunning formal wear out of its signature product.

Winning is almost as challenging as wielding your X-Acto knife correctly—or, for that matter, walking around in what can be a heavy, sticky creation. The contest draws a few dozen entries across the U.S. and Canada; judges select the finalists, but then the public votes for its favorites. (You can already check out some of the submissions coming in for the 2018 contest.)

O’Gara says she thinks her design's wearability gave her an edge with voters. “What I think helped me was designing a dress that looked like a real dress. So many of the comments we got said things like, ‘Can’t believe that is made out of duct tape’ or ‘I’d wear that dress,’” says O’Gara. “You can go super crazy with it but you also have to remember to appeal to the people who are voting for you.”

Details of Emily O'Gara and Ethan Weber's prom ensemble
courtesy of ShurTech

Her inspirations were both natural and architectural. “I love floral patterns and colorful flowers," she says of the hemline design. The black-and-white hexagons on the bodice and skirt, meanwhile, reference a Marcel Breuer-designed building at the College of Saint Benedict and St. John's University, which she now attends. "At St. John's, the Abbey Church has ... a hexagonal pattern that is quite similar to the pattern on my dress. So my dress was a combination of my love for flowers and a nod to my future.”

O’Gara says she started honing her duct tape skills in elementary school, trying her hand at a duct tape purse and some wallets. She first heard of the Duck Tape contest, in fact, in a book about all the different things you can make out of the material. “I remember reading about it and saying to myself, I want to do that someday,” she says. “But I forgot about it and then saw a news story about the contest when I was in my junior year and it all came back to me.”

O’Gara spent four weeks last spring working on the dress with the help of her mother and sisters, then teamed up with Weber to create his suit and shoes, scrambling to complete them in time for prom.

Emily O'Gara and Ethan Weber
courtesy of ShurTech

“It was 12 hours of constant and crazy work,” recalls O’Gara. “I don’t recommend that. It was insane, so you definitely want to plan your time.”

The work was well worth it, O'Gara says. Her scholarship completely covered tuition for her first semester (as well as a big chunk of her second semester’s tuition) at the College of St. Benedict, a private liberal arts women’s college in St. Joseph, Minn., where she is currently majoring in Hispanic Studies.

While O'Gara and Weber took home a pair of $10,000 scholarships last year as a winning couple, this year's rules have changed. The two 2018 winners—one for a dress, the other for a tux—will both get $10,000 scholarships, but they don't need to attend prom as a couple.

If you want to enter the 2018 contest, submit a photo of your look before June 1 here: www.stuckatprom.com. Just know that, if you win, you’ll have to surrender your creation to the company, which shows them off at its headquarters and for other corporate events.