A classic prom scene: Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer in the 80s movie "Pretty in Pink", All Over Press.
PROM DRESS REVISITED
Some things should stay in the dark. But some are still as magical as the day they first were worn. Mattie Kahn tells the story of when she wore her senior prom dress to a fancy party.
I wore a pale pink lace dress to the first wedding I ever attended. I was five. My mother and I had purchased it and a matching pair of satin flats especially for the occasion. The ensemble was frankly adorable. It made me look loveable and amenable and entirely unlike the kind of child that might have threatened World War III only days before its debut. It had taken us weeks to agree on an appropriate outfit. My mother — ever practical — had beseeched me to consider a season-less version of her own basic uniform. She held a series of A-line dresses against my torso and tried to demonstrate the merits of “something plain.” I had other plans. Given the choice, I would have liked to appear at the daytime ceremony in a taffeta ball gown. “Plain” did not seem like an aesthetic to which to aspire.
Eventually, she and I compromised on a blush-coloured number sourced from the racks of a local department store. My grandmother pronounced it “elegant” and my father deemed it “queenly” and even I declared it “so pretty!” It may not have been a ball gown, but it would do.
After the wedding, I twirled around and posed for pictures and channelled the Disney princesses of my childhood fantasies. When we returned home hours later, I removed the dress, draped it carefully across a tiny silk hanger, and stowed it in my closet. Then I swore I would never wear it again.
My mother begged me to “at least try it on!” But I refused. The dress belonged to a single moment. It stood for a perfect morning and a dreamy afternoon and to repeat it would only diminish its significance. I liked to look at it and think about it and occasionally run my chubby fingers across its silky bodice. I liked that I had worn it, but just once.
My prudent parents were not pleased. And yet despite their admonitions, I failed to outgrow this almost instinctual aversion to important outfits. I couldn’t help it. I was superstitious about clothing. I had disposed of the skirt I wore to bury my grandmother and donated the little black dress I had selected for a bad first date with a very bad first boyfriend. I balked at the women who professed a desire to wear their wedding dresses again. Had they no sentimentality? No sense of romance? No concern for posterity and national divorce rates?
I collected simple sweaters and anonymous blue jeans. I treasured the battered pair of Frye boots in which I liked to stomp around for weeks at a time. Still, some outfits were sacred. They were special. Hanging apart from the rest of my wardrobe, these few — the inaugural pink dress, a watercolour print skirt, a shimmering navy number purchased in celebration of my sixteenth birthday — made up a thread-and-fabric altar, and while I worshipped them all, I had favourites among them, and none quite so revered as my prom dress.
It was charcoal and moody and immensely flattering. My legs seemed a million miles long in it and my skin looked lustrous against its textured bodice. It rendered my date quite literally speechless. No sooner had I slipped it over my head than I resolved never to repeat it. Instead, I would preserve it and the deep, dark night of teenage revelry it had witnessed, forever.
That is until about five years later. I had been invited to a very fancy party and had broken the zipper on the impossibly chic dress I had planned to wear to it. It was my mother who suggested I “at least try it on!”
So, I did. I took a deep breath and shimmied into the black-and-white creation. I held my breath as she zipped it up. Something about it seemed frozen and fragile, but it had aged well. It reminded me why I had fallen for in the first place. It nipped in at the waist and made me stand up straighter. I flushed at the memory of the reaction it had prompted half a decade before. This time, I did not style my hair in big-barrel curls or pair it with sky-high platform pumps. Instead, I reached for black satin heels and a single platinum bangle and heavy, glamorous earrings. After all, I had aged too.
I was right. Clothing is magic. But it does not require a wardrobe — or a protective shroud — to work. The best of it requires only a little imagination. And perhaps a good tailor. The question now is what can mine do to a certain pale pink lace dress. I think I’m finally ready to wear it once more.
Mattie Kahn is a writer based in New York City. Her work has appeared on VanityFair.com, Refinery29, and the Man Repeller, among other platforms. She hopes this will be the year she cements a signature drink, resuscitates the semi-colon, and masters liquid eyeliner once and for all.