The First Prom Dress

Today, my 16-year-old daughter bought her first prom dress. Although I thought I was the one to take her shopping, her father took her.

The two of them found a gorgeous, yet simple, floor-length, sleeveless, black dress as well as a pair of patented leather pumps with a reasonable heel height. They bought this outfit at a local consignment shop for a sum total of $56.00 in under thirty minutes.


The price was right. The outlay of time perfect. There was no agonizing, no multiple stops, no need for a second mortgage.

An all-around painless experience.

prom dress

As is my wont, I thought back to what went into the purchase of my first prom dress. Not only was it the polar opposite of my daughter’s, it also was accompanied by a lot of baggage.

You see, as a teen–and even a pre-teen–I spent countless hours, lying on my bedroom floor, looking through magazines like Seventeen and Young Miss. These publications put out various advice for girls (most of which was unrealistic), ranging from how to make good friendships, how to achieve a flawless complexion, and how to handle all things romantic. I don’t recall much of what these magazines were trying to teach me about my changing body and broadening mind. What I do recall, with precise clarity, were the images of girls, all of whom were usually blonde, generally tan, and always thin.

When the “prom editions” came out, I scoured the pages looking for something that would guarantee prom night’s perfection. Despite being blonde, I really had no other physical similarity to the girls on the glossy pages. Invariably, my heart would sink in the thought that I’d never look as the models did in the photos. And when I went to several dress shops with my mother, my fears were confirmed. Seventeen and Young Miss made me feel inadequate, unworthy, and inferior to not only those “model girls” but also to my peers, who, though they weren’t all blonde, tan, and thin, they were somehow simply better “prom material” than I was.

Though I didn’t pointedly ask, I am confident that my daughter didn’t go into prom dress shopping with the same baggage I did thirty-two years ago. In part, I suspect this lack of baggage is due to my never having gotten her a subscription to any “girl’s magazine.” (Her only subscription nowadays is to Ms., which is decidedly not stereotypical “girls magazine.”)

Moreover, instead of spending hours upon hours reading girl’s magazines, she has spent her time on social media where she has a record of her life through posts, snaps, and pics. In each and every image she has ever chosen to share, she looks happy, silly, or beautiful, even if pushing what I might perceive as appropriate boundaries in the display of her body language or choice of clothing. I’m grateful that the enormity of creating a “public/social self” has allowed her to set her own parameters and challenge the definition of what we culturally see as normative for girls, i.e., the flawless presentation of something aesthetically beautiful.


A true score.

To me, she would look beautiful in a burlap sack, tied at the waist with a braided hemp rope, and plastic flip-flops.

Maybe that’s why she asked her father to taking her shopping?

One thought on “The First Prom Dress

  1. Wonderful! I was like you and I was addicted to magazines as a teen – so much so that I went into the magazine industry straight out of college. I really hope things are different now!


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