Stuck on an idea

FHS graduate is a finalist in Duck Tape prom dress competition

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published July 1, 2015

 Rebecca Phoenix, left, and Emily Bellaver, right, pose at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum in dresses that Phoenix made using 25 rolls of Duck Tape for the Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest. If selected as a winner, the two would each receive a $10,000 scholarship.

Rebecca Phoenix, left, and Emily Bellaver, right, pose at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum in dresses that Phoenix made using 25 rolls of Duck Tape for the Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest. If selected as a winner, the two would each receive a $10,000 scholarship.

Photos provided by Nan Kerr-Mueller


FERNDALE — Rebecca Phoenix first heard of the Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest as a seventh-grader, but she almost instantly knew that she wanted to take part in it. She just had to wait five years.

For 15 years, Duck Tape has been sponsoring the competition, which encourages high school seniors to make prom attire using Duck Tape and then attend a high school prom. The public and judges vote for the finalists, and the winners receive $10,000 scholarships and $5,000 for their school.

So, as a senior this past year at Ferndale High School, Phoenix finally had the opportunity to put all her research and planning into motion. In June, Phoenix, with two dresses, was named as a finalist in the competition.

“I heard about the competition secondhand from a friend of the family, and I thought it was so interesting that I started planning,” Phoenix, who graduated from FHS this year, said. “I have sketchbooks covered in dress designs, and I had a Polly Pocket manikin I taped up dresses for. I started asking people in seventh grade to help me, and some said yes, but then when I told them we would have to wait five years, many of them forgot.”

Phoenix has always been one to dabble in many artistic endeavors, but nothing for a scholastic contest, she said. Sculpting white clay was her medium of choice throughout high school, and found art has become something of a hobby as of late, including using found shoelaces to make an actual shoe.

Phoenix’s mother, Jacki Smith, said that her daughter, even as a kid, was always being more creative with her toys than most children.

“She loves to take things and create something new out of it,” Smith said. “Ever since she was 5 years old or younger, she would take toys apart to get to the pieces, and she would take the parts and create something new out of them. The smaller the pieces, the better for her.”

While she has always been interested in unique art mediums, Phoenix said one of the main things that lured her to the Stuck at Prom contest was the scholarship money, as she has always worried about paying for college.

So, to provide the best Duck Tape dresses she could for the competition, Phoenix cut dress patterns and worked for nearly 250 hours at the Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts to put two dresses together using 25 rolls of tape.

Layering tape on top of tape, the first dress, Phoenix said, took from October for 2014 to the first week of January to make. The second dress took from January to the end of March to complete.

Phoenix recruited her friend, Emily Bellaver, to help her model the dresses, and the two were able to take photos for the competition at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

To make her and Bellaver’s dresses stick out in the competition, Phoenix designed the dresses to look like Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and “Starry Night Over the Rhone” paintings. Each dress weighs about 10 pounds and includes 1,000 flaps of Duck Tape.

“I really like Van Gogh, and I learned about him in every art class, and he has shown up in my favorite TV shows, so he just kind of circled around in my life,” Phoenix said. “I had to constantly take the dresses off the form and put them at the end of a long hallway, and walk to the other end and reference it against a picture on my phone.”

Phoenix said the hardest part of the process was just continuing to work, as putting flaps of tape over flaps became monotonous. Some days, she felt like she wouldn’t be able to finish them.

But Smith said she knew Phoenix would succeed after putting so much time into the dresses.

“We sat down many nights with different ideas she was playing with, and many people discouraged her from the ‘Starry Night’ idea, but she came back to it and I told her to do it,” she said. “My daughter is very stubborn and determined. She does not shoot low, and this is another example of her taking it as far as she can and really challenging herself.”

Phoenix hasn’t finalized her plans for post-secondary education, but as of now, she is looking at attending Oakland Community College for two years before transferring to Wayne State University and eventually going after a master’s degree to work in a museum one day.

With $10,000 from winning the competition, Phoenix said, it would give her that much more peace of mind about paying for her education.

“Winning would mean that I have a real shot at my education,” she said. “I really don’t want to take a gap year, because I know it is easier for things to stay in motion. I may have to still work 40 hours a week, but with this scholarship, I would know in the back of my mind I would be able to afford my tuition.”

For more information on the Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest, or to vote for Phoenix’s dresses, visit