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The Symbology of the Prom Dress

July 21, 2011

I wore a home-made dress to senior prom.  Yes, I was one of those girls.

I didn’t wear a home-made prom dress due to any sort of principled stand against consumerism.  To the contrary, I enjoyed going out with my girlfriends to malls, and wriggling into posh satiny dresses that swept the floor and minimized hips and promised ‘loft’ to areas that needed it.  If I had found a dress that wowed me there, I might have asked for daddy’s credit card.  Because, no, my family wasn’t poor.  That wasn’t the reason either.

I guess the dress I wore to prom wasn’t really ‘home-made’ anyway.  Well, at least not my home.  I couldn’t sew from a pattern if my life depended on it.  One of my best friends at the time, Karen, she’s the one that made it.  She was a tiny Malaysian girl from a traditional family, though she herself was anything but.  She chain-smoked pencils (too practical to actually ruin her health) and snuck out to see her Jewish boyfriend on warm spring nights, and wore provocative nurse outfits to class and was deliciously fucked-up in an almost movie-star way that I found completely seductive.  She liked to sew, and told me once that she would make me the most magnificent dress, if I’d buy her fabric.

I bought her fabric.  She took my measurements, asked me to buy bead fringes and made me promise: if she made it, if it fit, I had to wear it to prom.  No matter what.  I agreed.  We shook on it.

When she revealed the dress to me in all its glory a few days before prom, I could see why she was so diligent in extracting my promise.

The dress looked like it was the daring offspring of a sari and a gypsy’s traveling dress.  The shimmery purple silk had been fashioned into two pieces, a top and a bottom.  It appeared that my midriff was to remain bare.  The top was fringed with dark blue beads along the bottom, and had a huge crystal that hung right above my belly button.  Attached to the sleeveless top were long blue velvet swoops of fabric, which followed my arms and were ultimately attached to me via a ribbon around the ring fingers of each hand.  The bottom part, the skirt, had slits up to my upper thigh.  “To allow mobility,” Karen claimed, but with each step I took an alarming amount of flesh peeked out.  Around my waist, a blue velvet triangle (complete with beads) was tied, a saucy sideways apron to unify the two parts.

I was a sight.

Karen was unnaturally quiet for a moment as I looked at myself in the mirror.  “Will you wear it?” she asked finally.  Not, ‘do you like it?’  No.  That wouldn’t be Karen.

I looked at myself again.  I typically dressed conservatively.  Often in boy clothes, truth be told, with loose fitting dress shirts, or vests and corduroy pants.  I didn’t really wear dresses.  I certainly didn’t ever show my stomach, unless on a beach.  And my teachers would be there, at prom.  It would be one of the last interactions they had with me before I went to college.  There was so much exposed skin.

I smiled at her and twirled.  “Of course!”  She laughed and told me that I looked damn fine.

So I went to the prom, half gypsy clothed, dressed Fay.   I didn’t go with someone special; I went with my friends.   I didn’t explain my outfit; I flaunted it, I owned it, I danced.  Prom wasn’t the crowning achievement of my young life, the way it often is depicted in Hollywood movies regarding high school, with inevitably beautiful actors in their 20s portraying 16 year olds.

And the home-made dress?  It’s still in my closet at my mother’s house.  Still shiny, still provocative.  It has outlasted my friendship with Karen, most of my once treasured and now trashed high school papers, and my second (in college this time!) prom, for which I wore a normal dress and brought my best male friend along as a date, standard American style.

But it’s nice to know I have it.  And you know what?  Some days, it still fits.

My mother took the photos and gave me her blessing. She knew I was a little strange.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Will permalink
    July 22, 2011 11:18 PM

    Awesome 🙂

  2. Diana Camosy permalink
    July 23, 2011 8:13 AM

    Yes indeed.

  3. August 1, 2011 12:44 PM

    Awesome dress. You are a little strange, but sometimes it pays off 🙂


  1. 9. Roadtrip to somewhere, 11. Go somewhere in old prom dresses, 14. Play poker, 39. Send snail mail to a far-away friend, 49. Chalk the entire drive way, 60. Eat corn on the cob, 75. Watch every episode of a TV show, 77. Visit the Historical Society, 78.

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