In 1984, I was a senior in high school, and prom was looming on the horizon. Yes, I was planning to go to college (at least until my mom suggested in frustration that I stay home, marry Terry, and have babies, but that is a story for another day), and I was working hard in school. But, prom was prom.
I am one of those people who now shakes her head, and makes tsk noises when the cost of prom dresses and transportation becomes part of the conversation. I am admittedly judgmental about the trappings of such an outmoded, clearly patriarchal establishment; and yet when it was my turn, and when I was 17, I bought wholesale into the rhetoric and hoopla.
With chagrin, I admit that I attended three proms my senior year; however, in an act of thriftiness, I did wear the same dress to all three proms. Why not make the most of the outrageous cost of the dress?
I do remember shopping for the coveted prom dress with my mom at J. C. Penny in Ford City Shopping Mall. My mom and I scoured the racks. She was the one who selected the black taffeta dress with the pink rosette trim. When I think of it now, it seems ridiculous. How on earth could such a thing be attractive?
I remember trying on some dresses — rejecting the entirely pink dresses — and finally settling on this one. It seemed a victory; the dress was something my mom and I agreed upon, a rarity in the days leading to my high school graduation. It was also on sale! I remember that some girlfriends bought prom dresses at bridal shops, and they paid much more dearly than I for the swath of taffeta adorning their frames.
The prom dress, for me, symbolizes the contradictions of youth. I was fiercely independent as a high school student, obnoxious in my rebellion, certain of my righteousness–a firm believer in ERA, a fighter for women’s rights. Yet, in this moment of narrowly defined entrance into womanhood, I was like crusader, galloping to my certain doom, assured in my heart of the adventure that lay ahead. I participated in the activities of prom as if they were normal. I acquiesced to the rituals of teenage romantic notions.
I am not blaming myself, nor my mother, but rather am reminded of the story and meaning behind my dress. The connection to my mom, in those hours of searching, brought us into a union that was not easily achieved for most of my senior year. We were on the same page for once. We wanted a bargain, a dress that could withstand a few wearings, something lasting, something that we would remember.
Too bad I no longer have the dress — it would be vintage by now.