What I Should’ve Worn to Prom

The cliché of a “bad prom dress” is such a thing

05.09.17

My high school didn’t have an official prom. Instead, it was tradition for the senior class to organize an “anti-prom” of sorts, at which you were supposed to wear something absolutely ridiculous like a Halloween costume or an intentionally terrible gown. (What? We were angsty teens.) There were no limos, no corsages, no photos on stairwells — just a bunch of pimply youths lounging around a shabby student center with a dance floor the size of a large elevator and a makeshift DJ booth. The golden years, amirite?

Harling, Social Media Editor Prom 2010 "My high school didn't have a real prom so we had a 'fake prom that made fun of proms' instead, because we were first-class teen rebels. Looking ridiculous was the whole point of fake prom, so I wore my aunt's actual prom dress from 1986, which happened to be the perfect mashup of Little House on the Prairie and Toddlers & Tiaras."

I wore my aunt’s prom dress, which I’m sure was very chic in 1987, but in 2010 looked like a cross between Toddlers & Tiaras and a haunted version of Little House on the Prairie. It was perfectly atrocious.

The cliche of a “bad prom dress” is such a thing. It’s almost a rite of passage at this point, not to mention a source of instant future camaraderie. All you have to do is say the word prom and people will launch into a self-conscious tirade about how awkward they looked.

Why is the bad prom dress trope so universal, though? I have a theory. Prom dresses are bad for the same two reasons red carpet dresses typically fall flat: 1) the whole concept of “putting together an outfit” is thrown out the window in favor of allowing a single garment (usually a dress) to do all the talking and 2) flattery (which can be equated to sex appeal on these occasions) is prioritized over fun.

Given these revelations, I started thinking about what I would wear to prom if I were going now — in the vein of Leandra’s wedding do-over — and devised the following strategic approach:

If I was wearing a dress…

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I would pair it with a tweed jacket for a healthy dose of octogenarian chic, thereby diminishing the ingenue factor in favor of the wizened cool factor. I would turn up the fun volume with a wide range of quirky accessories, like a clutch that thinks it’s a piece of fruit and bracelets that give normcore the stink eye.

If I was wearing a skirt…

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I would make sure it was nice and noisy, something that swished with every step and twirl, making you smile with your teeth at the sound of it. My top would carry a megaphone of its own — an additional swingy layer on the mille-feuille masterpiece of my ensemble. My hair would be tied back with a silk scarf because I have people to see and dancing to do and can’t be bothered to tuck it behind my ears. Plus, I would want to show off my lily-pad earrings.

If I was wearing neither…

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And pantslessness was banned by the school board, I would channel Elton John in a white suit. I would embrace the deep-V of the blazer and wear nothing underneath because YOGTPO (You Only Go To Prom Once), and applying boob tape in the back of a stretch limo is an important character-building experience. I would pin not one but two flower brooches to my lapel in an ode to both corsages and Carrie Bradshaw, and I would make sure my shoes took full advantage of the opportunity to stand out underneath my snow-capped ankles.

Modeled by Nianga Niang, follow her on Instagram @nianganiang. Photos by Edith Young.

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