I stand with her in the dressing room like a servant or dresser or some ageing lady-in-waiting, removing the dresses from hangers and slipping them over her head, helping her step into the complicated ones, zipping up zippers, snapping up snaps, straightening a hem, standing back to appraise the effect in the mirror. Now and then I hold my breath, because what I behold before me is not a little girl with missing teeth dressed in a beloved alligator costume but a young woman almost grown, yet for one last summer, still only eighteen.
My daughter and I are shopping for the prom dress. I knew it would come to this. Frankly, I’m surprised not to hear Topol singing, “Sunrise, Sunset” outside the dressing room door. If only I could hold back time or at least not look too closely at its passing, but it’s too hard to do with a mother and daughter in a small room with a big mirror.
Once, when the world was young, my mother took me to shop for a prom dress. I believe I had in mind some psychedelic, flowing, flower-child dress—the theme of the prom was “The Age of Aquarius”—but when I tried, at her request, a more traditional design, high-collared with lace and ruffles, my mother beamed at me with that adoring look. “That’s the one,” she said.
Though I wanted to deny the frock’s rather old-fashioned charm, through my mother’s eyes I saw myself reflected, not as a rebellious mini-skirted teenager, but as a gentle girl, sweet and beautiful, young and fair, like a heroine out of Shakespeare. “Yes,” I answered.
To its credit the dress was decked with green Pop Art flowers, which at least brought it into the current century. We dyed long white gloves green to match those flowers and, to this day, I don’t know how we achieved the exact same shade of celadon. It was magic given to my mother and I was to be its fortunate beneficiary many times, in many ways.
My daughter and I have traveled through all the obvious stores in search of the perfect dress for her but the danger in the local circuit is that someone else will have the same dress. There is a helpful current practice, due to advanced technology, of young ladies posting photos of themselves in their chosen dress online to help avoid duplications. It is a notice put out to the prom girl tribe as if saying, “Back off sister, I own this one.”
Miranda seems to have the other girls’ dresses committed to memory announcing, as we cover and troll through every possible store, “Vicky has this dress and Marley wore this last year so I can’t get it and Indie is already wearing red.”
We venture further afield to a different mall. Yet it isn’t different. The layout of the stores may vary but it’s the same retailers. We try on a few dresses at the alternative universe, Macy’s.
Why are there so many black dresses? This is May. I want soft colors and light florals. There was but one that stood out, a straight, black, form-fitting long sheath with gold panels down the sides. Not at all what I had in mind but the thing fit my daughter to a tee. It was striking and formidable, a dress to be reckoned with.
For a moment, my head was turned. Then I realized what it was that was so effective. The dress was far too sophisticated for a teenager, especially for a prom, but my daughter’s youth was in such direct conflict with the gown that she softened it, giving its elegance an endearing ease, almost like a child playing dress-up.
Ah, I admit to being tempted and, though we passed, I am pleased, to have been granted that vision of blazing youth in all its glory.
The day wore on. We stop at bridal shop and were exposed to perhaps the ugliest dresses we had yet seen. They were probably bridesmaid dresses and Miranda explained their downright hideousness by commenting while shaking her head, “Maybe only the bride is supposed to look good.”
Somehow the unattractive dresses actually made me angry and we were lucky to escape before I took to pulling them off the hangers in disgust while calling out, “Horrible, dumb, dull, revolting, insulting! Who would wear this? And why would you charge two hundred dollars?” Security would have been called and headlines would read, “Woman runs amuck in bridal shop! Claiming to have been driven temporarily insane by ugly dresses!”
With the prom, just two weeks away, we press on trying the discounted Saks Fifth Avenue aka Saks 5th Off. At first I am intimidated by all the designer names but the prices are quite reasonable. Soon the array of styles and designs begin to make me dizzy as if riding a runaway carousel of fashion. Miranda appears in a gold Egyptian number, a flowing Greek Goddess gown and something that made her look more like a belly dancer. A few times we come close. Back and forth we go and I am ready to grab a dress from a woman who has piled up a whole shopping cart, hoarding the merchandise for herself. By this time, I am in desperate need of a margarita and ready to buy almost anything. “Oh, that looks nice. Let’s get it.”
We pass another rack. These are more casual dresses but made of silk. Yes, one fits. Although it looks rather like a beach dress, maybe with the right accessories it could work? I am not now thinking clearly. Somehow Miranda likes it and for only a hundred dollars we walk out with it.
Of course, the dress was returned a few days ago. We have taken the risk of ordering something online. It is pretty and modern and pink. Chances of it fitting are about fifty-fifty and the estimated delivery is the day before the prom. We may end up shopping at the last minute like a crazed Christmas Eve.
No matter, be the dress a gunnysack or Givenchy, I will see her with adoring eyes.
Prayer to The Goddess of Prom Dresses
Please grant them becoming color, to bring roses to their cheeks,
May the bust be fetching, their waists firm and sleek
Let the hem fall just so, as they step lightly on the ground
And don’t forget the rear view, with the right amount of round,
But mostly let them feel they are beautiful tonight
All our lovely daughters teach the torches to burn bright.