Saturday, 16 November 2013

Prom Dress

I have a cold, and my head feels like it is stuffed with cotton. I haven't been outdoors in over 36 hours, poor me. At 1:30 PM or so, I will swath myself in wool and meet Calvinist Cath for a coffee in town, but at the moment I am in no fit state for pontificating on the world, Single Life, enjoying every day as it comes--although I will say that the great thing about a bad cold is that it gives you a great excuse to lie in bed all day, sipping tea. And yesterday B.A. was away at a glamorous conference in York, so I could approximate the Single woman's experience of lying in bed all day with a cold. For example, I had to get up to make my own supper. Solidarity!

But I cannot go a whole Saturday without a blog post, so I thought it would be amusing if we all reminisced about our prom dresses, or our grad formal dress, or simply our most important non-wedding dress ever.

So as you know I was a teenager in the 1980s, keeping detailed diaries, and actually I looked up to see what I was doing when my Polish Pretend Son was born and, depending on the hour of his birth, I was either at the local boys' Catholic school Christmas dance, sleeping off my exhaustion from same, or writing all about it. History does not relate if I afterwards had a good read of seventeen magazine, which in the 1980s was still literate, but I might have for I was a huge seventeen magazine fan. I wish I could tell you that I was a seriously intellectual teenager, reading Joyce and writing my own version of Ulysseys, but that would be a big lie. Until the pro-life movement came along, I was all about Star Trek, seventeen magazine, my crush objects, Top 40 and Le Chateau. (That said, before I turned 19 I could read Alberto Moravia in the original Italian, and Jean Anouilh en francais. Credit where credit is due.)

Anyway, I have never forgotten a six page advert in seventeen magazine for Jessica McClintock prom dresses. I must have drooled over it a thousand times. And I also drooled over an advert for a lavender sweater-dress, worn by a flame-haired model. The flame-haired model had brown eyes, and the flame was probably dye, but I decided that lavender was the colour for red-heads like me. Now that I have had my colours done, I am pretty sure it isn't. Lavender is for green-eyed brunettes like my baby sister and makes me look ill. However, my ideal prom dress (or Formal dress, as Canadians didn't call our graduation dances "the prom" in the 1980s) was a lavender Jessica McClintock dress, WHICH I GOT because my mother and I went to the fabric store and bought a Jessica McClintock pattern. (See photo.)

I wonder if the Eavesdroppers are still reading. Do you think Eavesdroppers have any clue how really important this is?

My dear mother has three daughters and became rather an expert at formal dresses. If I had been brighter about clothes, I would have made my mother sew me stuff night and day instead of mooning around the cheap knock-offs at Le Chateau. But to give my teen self some credit, I did realize that the dresses my mother made were of a much, MUCH better quality than the prom dresses in the mall. So I set my mother to whipping up the lavender creation, which was of a lavender gauze with a white rose pattern over lavender taffeta, with a princess bodice, a full ankle-length skirt and a sort of bandeau around the shoulders, to make up for the lack of sleeves. (I think my mother put her foot down re: strapless although she relented on this issue by Daughter No. 3.)

The formal itself was not terrifically memorable except that my date and I went to a party at a crisis pregnancy centre beforehand, and this led to one of our male friends sulking. He had badly wanted me to ask him to my grad formal, even though he was not at all romantically inclined towards me, for the sheer compliment of it, plus the girls' school Formal glamour. He thought we had turned up at "The Way Inn" to taunt him, but honestly it was because we didn't want to miss the party. Also, going to any kind of "before party" was a big deal, and the Cool Kids had invited me to theirs, but I had seen Carrie and feared what had happened to her might befall me.

So really the high point of the Formal was, of course, the dress. I believe I even had satin shoes (flat) dyed to match. Aw.

Okay, your turn. Reminisce about a dress in the combox, please. And in case you are wondering, no, I do not at all regret having been a teenager in the 1980s. Yes, the haircuts were terrible, but the music was great and there was no twerking.


lauren said...

My favorite dress was for an Oxbridge college ball, so you have to picture quadrangles sparkling with lights and too much champagne. The dress was floor-length with a beautiful v in the back and a v (almost like a wrap) in the front, with shirring on the side and an a-line skirt. It was a deep red, and it was gorgeous. If I ever get married, I will take that dress to a seamstress and say "This in white, please!" It was lovely.

PolishTraveler said...

Oh dear, I do hope you feel better soon! Have you tried drinking tea from fresh ginger? (boil a few piece of peeled ginger root, add lemon juice and honey once it has cooled down a little). Does wonders for me!

Also, I am a huge fan of this soup (with cayenne pepper sprinkled on top), it's super easy to make and is magical and unclogging your sinuses!;

Back to the topic of the post... I am horrible at describing dresses and I can't find an image of my prom one online. But it was gorgeous and very princess-y (in a good, non-tacky way). It was a long, flowing from the waist navy blue dress with a square neckline, no sleeves. It had a flowery pattern on it. Matched with the right updo, a little bit of make-up and a beautiful linked antique necklace from my grandma, it was really quite the outfit. Of course it never worked the magic trick of convincing my reluctant prom date to fall in love with me but looking back I'm pretty sure he had SSA (which I was completely oblivious to) so oh well. It was still a fun night!

Southern Catholic Girl said...

When I was a senior in high school, I got my grandmother, a lovely seamstress, to make me a wine colored satin dress from a reproduction 1940s pattern. It was floor length and had a V neck and short sleeves and I wore it with black elbow-length gloves that had belonged to my great aunt in the 1950s. It hasn't fit me for years, but I can't quite get rid of it because it's just that beautiful!

Sophie Miriam said...

I was homeschooled, and chose not to go to the homeschoolers' prom, so my first formal dress was in college. It was black taffeta, floor length, with black lace sleeves and a turquoise ribbon sash. It was one of the first dresses I ever owned that fir me perfectly, as it was the first dress I sewed after learning how to fit. I struggled mightily with it, as I had broken my hand a week before.

Sheila said...

Funny, almost every formal dress I've ever worn has ended up embarrassing me! I seem to suffer from wishful thinking about what will look good on me, overestimation of my sewing skills, and of course social anxiety which makes it impossible for me to rock an out-of-style dress.

There was the dark green taffeta Goodwill dress that I wore for my graduation. It fit me like a glove, but it was from the eighties and just didn't fit in. And the lime green Grecian one that was the first dress I ever made myself. I was thinking of the color of fresh spring grass (it was a spring dance), but in the dance hall among all the pastel dresses everyone else was wearing, it looked simply neon. And the cut was unusual too ... three different people approached me to ask, "Is it homemade?" That was the dance where I'd desperately wanted to be asked by a certain person and wasn't. Oh, it was so awful.

Now I own a red formal gown with an empire waist and gauzy fluttery overskirt thing. It is gorgeous. I spent ACTUAL MONEY for it -- bought it off a college classmate -- and I see no reason ever to wear anything else to a formal occasion. I just wish I got invited to more of them.

Worst drawback of being sick and Single: having to walk to the pharmacy myself, with a fever, to buy antibiotics. Best advantage: snuggling up to watch cheesy movies in bed. Ordinarily I don't like watching movies alone, but I make an exception when I'm sick. So I get to pick movies that would interest no one but me.

Epiphany said...

My absolute favorite formal was a deep plum-colored, one-shoulder concoction I got at the local goodwill for ten dollars. Lavender is is not a good redhead color, but dark purple does wonders for us.

The evening itself turned out to be a little wretched, but it was one of the few dresses that truly made me look like a movie star.

Casey said...

I was a tomboy though highschool and well into college and would have rather died than be seen at a formal dance or wearing a prom dress. I caved in and wore a formal ensemble for my highschool graduation, however: a floor length, navy blue skirt with a sheer, tiered overlay and a navy, strappy blouse with silver embroidery and a matching bolero. I was rather slender, so the outfit didn't fit well, sadly. The shoes my mom bought me to match were fabulous though: navy, high heeled satin pumps, they might have been my first pair of heels, come to think of it. The fondest memory I have of the experience was that my dad bought me my first string of pearls to wear for the occasion.

Caelaeno said...

"That was the dance where I'd desperately wanted to be asked by a certain person and wasn't. Oh, it was so awful." And you're MARRIED! To someone you seem to LIKE! Sheila, this gives me hope.

Rose said...

I have a gorgeous blue velvet formal dress with a slight train that I bought on sale and have only had the chance to wear once because it is simply too fancy for anything I go to, but I'm still glad I bought it.

My mom used to make all of my dresses for holidays and special occasions, and some of my favorite memories are of going out with her to pick out patterns and fabric, choosing which buttons to use, helping pick just the right color of thread... When I made my first communion I didn't want to wear a white dress (it was at Christmas, and it was just going to be me, although I don't know how much that actually played into it). Instead I picked out one of the fanciest patterns ever and beautiful blue fabric. The dress had a matching belt and purse, both with fake flowers on them and I got to wear a pair of lace gloves. Oh, and there was petticoat too. That dress was awesome.

Ally said...

My favorite prom dress was a black lace dress - rather simple, barely A line, ankle length (yay no waiting for hemming!) it is still one of my favorites, and in fact if/when the time comes to get married I am holding out hope that someone makes a version of it in white... (As much for *looks furtively around for eavesdroppers* the ability to wear normal undergarments) back to the original dress though - I would still be wearing it to formal occasions 15 years later if I was still a size 2! (I actually do have clothes from that time period that fit still, but that has more to do with how loose I wore most things back then - too bad that wasn't also true of the dress)

TRS said...

Junior year, I wore the bridesmaid dress from my brothers wedding... Pink and wine in the same dress! Ugh! And it was from jcpenney! Senior year I wore a mint green, tea length number from The Vanity store.

"Yes, the haircuts were terrible, but the music was great and there was no twerking." Ah yes... I loved the 80s!

Athanasius lover said...

I never went to a formal dance in high school. My first ever formal dress was one I bought for a college formal and a wedding (I know some people think you shouldn't wear the same dress to more than one event, but it's much less expensive!).

It was a deep red floor-length Grecian dress. It had a beaded portion around the waist. It's sleeveless, but quite modest. It was the first dress I tried on while shopping at the mall and I fell in love with it.

I still have it, and I'm pretty sure it still fits in spite of my significant weight gain since last wearing it. I tried it on because I am wearing it to another wedding, but now that I am living alone and not in a college dorm with a roommate, I can't zip up the back by myself. When I realized that, I had a few days of feeling absolutely awful that I'm single and don't have anyone to zip up dresses for me or go to the wedding with me. I did eventually find someone else going to the wedding who will zip it up for me, so I hope it will fit when she does it!

I always feel so beautiful when I wear that dress. I am so glad my friend is getting married in the fall/winter because I finally have an excuse to wear it again!

Seraphic said...

Ah! I love dress stories!!! Isn't amazing that a great dress means so much? Ah.... And nobody should feel like this somehow trivialized womanhood, for I know Young Fogeys who discuss their tweeds (hats, sock garters, co-respondent shoes, straight razors) together with great seriousness.

Keep 'em coming, please!

Anonymous said...

Ah, this topic is both fascinating and painful (to me but I am sure to others as well) for many reasons.

I never got asked to a high school dance at all, although I have since learned that I wasn't alone in this. But I did go to a few just the same, and the one I remember best was one at which I wore a red rayon blouse, pin-tucked at the shoulders in 1940s style, a bow tie (I think), and black, pin-striped in red, Lauren Bacall-style pants... yes, pants. I loved those things and I wore them for years until they got too small. That was in 1979 - there was a growing rejection of the hippie-style, white cheesecloth or cotton gauze dresses that had dominated "grad" dresses for years by that time.


Jam said...

I went to prom alone (well, "with friends" but no one really cared if I was there or not, they all had dates and I wasn't invited to any of the before or after festivities). I had a sage green satiny dress with glittery (flocked?) vines all over it; princess seams and spaghetti straps, I think. (It would have been about 2003.) I put a LOT of thought into my "look". There was a white wrap with long fringe, silver strappy sandals, and a little silver evening bag. I had my hair done by a woman who spoke no English: she made it into a big curly ball on the back of my head and probably put a brand new hole in the ozone with the amount of hair spray she used. I had never worn any make up before, and my mom never wore it either, but still I made her take me to Walgreens and buy a big basket of slap. Looking back I think I MUST have had the shades all wrong, not to mention the application, and probably looked a fright. In fact I can't remember ever seeing photos from that night, although I do remember them being taken; if they've been deleted/destroyed/buried, it would be a mercy. Looking back, I'm struck by how solitary the whole thing was, not primarily because I had no date, but because I had no girlfriends involved. I picked my dress and planned my accessories and whatnot all alone; got ready alone; got dropped off and picked up by my parents immediately before and after. I thought what was odd was that I didn't have a date but now looking back the real problem was my lack of female friendships.

My college graduation dress was purple with orange embroidered flowers in a sort of garland around the skirt. It was from the sale rack at Anthropologie and I loved it. It arguably didn't fit across the chest and I had to wear a cardigan to disguise that fact, but since I mostly loved the floaty full skirt and the contrast of the orange embroidery, I didn't care one bit. I actually wore it to mass late this summer and it won a compliment from a young man, so it's still got some life to it, although it's looking a bit worn down.

Jam said...

I should say: I put a LOT of thought into my "look" -- given that I only ever wore boxy t-shirts with baggy jeans when I wasn't in my school uniform (worn with precise conformity with the dress code I could note), I took very seriously my opportunity to dress up like a princess.

Jackie said...

Seraphic, I hope you feel better soon! Drink lots and lots of hot liquids if you can. :-)

I am loving this post-- so many beautiful dresses! I never went to a prom in high school, but got to wear swanky frocks for various occasions over the years. My hands-down favorite was the "Madame X" dress that a mentor gave me after she had her baby:
(Not exactly like it, but it evoked Sargent, a kind admirer told me. I would get someone to help me put my hair up, like the painting, too.)

The Ice Princess dress, which looked like this but with straps: (Got at a 90% markdown after prom!)

Then the was the "wedding dress" --which, ha ha, I ended up wearing to all my friends' weddings, as I usually ended up playing the a lot of the music as a wedding present.

This was a swanky bridesmaid dress I found at a consignment shop, similar to Madame X, but in a deep plum color with a cowl neck. Ahhh! I still remember that I would wait until the wedding was done to start feasting, since it was cut sooo slim that there was basically no margin for error. ;P

One of my fave dresses of all time is the one from "Sabrina" worn by Audrey Hepburn:

Such a fun post! Get well soon, Seraphic!

Julia said...

Well, I guess the Eavesdroppers are long gone.

Neither of my high school formal dresses were super-special, but I do have a dress I like very much. It was made for my great-aunt when she turned 18 circa 1943. Before I wore for the first time, it had to be soaked a few times to get all the tobacco stains out. It's a pearly grey colour with silvery embroidery.

I liked my undergrad graduation dress too. It's an early 1960s cocktail dress made in Hong Kong, but since it fits 172cm-tall me, I guess it was made for a British woman. It's made of cream brocade and black lace. Even one of my male fellow graduates liked it!

My sister's year 11 formal dress was excellent - a genuine-article tea-length 1950s party dress. It's white with a pink-and-green leaf and flower design. She's lucky that a) I'll never be small enough to fit into it and b) I don't go to many occasions that warrant that type of dress, because otherwise I'd be tempted to pinch it.

Jonquille said...

My twelfth grade 'Grad' dress was pale lavender, with a dark purple flowering vine embroidered on the bias on the skirt. I have only worn it once since, but love it so much that it remains in my closet. Every so often I try it on to prove to myself that, should the occasion ever arise, I could still wear it!

Trying to be sensible said...

The first party dress I truly loved actually came after college--crisp,wine-red silk embroidered with white polka-dots, knee-length 1940's style wrap dress, with a very fitted bodice.... It was actually very low in the front, but I took extra fabric--I cut it from the inside of the generous placket down the front on the inside--and made a double ruffle that stood out from the edges of the dress where it crossed over in the front. It looked as if it were part of the design of the dress, and made it completely modest without drawing any attention. It was lovely.... Unfortunately, the time I first wore it, all the other girls were very much into contemporary fashion--shapeless rayon things, in the season's colors, you know--and my lovely retro dress stood out like a sore thumb, making me feel rather self-conscious and awkward. Isn't that the way of it!

Clara said...

My senior year prom dress was a black and pink strapless Jessica McClintock (over which I wore a matching shawl, of course). There was another girl at prom wearing the same dress, so boo. I spent FAR too much on the dress and on prom in general, but I definitely thought it was super important!

HOWEVER--the most significant dress in my life so far is my senior recital dress, which is midnight blue, with ruching and slinkiness in all the right places. It has sleeves and doesn't make me look like Boobzilla, and it made me look like a goddess. I paid full price for it and I have NO REGRETS, as I had already worn it three times by the time three months had passed, and if I stay the same size then I'll be wearing it again. As a classical vocalist, I'm in one of the few professions where I get to wear fancy dresses pretty often, but this one was definitely my favorite.