Rethinking The Prom Dress

When my prom date found God in 2010, he lay my pint-sized ass down with a curt text message that read something like, “I’m so sorry to do this, but I hear so and so is looking for a date. Maybe you should go with him.” 

I had been nearing the end of my senior year at an Orthodox Jewish Private school, four years of which I’d spent wearing nothing but floor-length skirts. To most of the girls in my graduating class, Prom symbolized more than just a night of experimenting with the limits of your virgin bladder, drinking from test tubes and innocuously grinding to the latest Black Eyed Peas hit. Prom meant ditching our tired school “uniforms” in favor of outfits better attuned to our individual preferences.

Because my high school was fairly religious, “Prom” was a covert operation handled by a top secret group of students bold enough to put their graduation ticket on the line to plan the event, which would take place at a discrete location that our teachers would never be able to uncover. It was all very C.I.A. It was all very exciting.

Despite my date having had abandoned me for the bible (in the spirit of which – I forgive you) my hunt for the perfect dress (?) raged on. The year was 2010, and the sweetheart neckline was the season’s fashion exploit. The style did nothing for my chest, which disappeared into the abyss of the underwired cavity of one specific lilac Topshop number I can recall trying on.

The BCBG gowns were too colorful and embroidered for my taste. They swallowed my 5’1 frame completely. My mother offered up an old navy Herve Leger bodycon number. It had cap sleeves and small glimmer of promise, but the straightjacket feature made me feel self conscious about my body. And I couldn’t shake the looming struggle that would be hiking it up to pee.

The perfect Prom dress would spell edgy, pretty in an “I woke up like this” (I know, I know) sort of way and include just the slightest bit of irony. I entertained the thought of wearing Chuck Taylors and because I was now dateless, I too seriously considered donning black cigarette pants and a blazer. With tousled bed hair, the outfit would retain some semblance of sex appeal (which my contemporaries and I seemed to be blindly chasing) and nonchalance.

But when one of my guy friends found himself proportionately dumped and we found ourselves going to prom together, I felt an assuming obligation to look “pretty” — conventional, if you will.

I eventually settled on a white ankle length dress by Max Azria, which my mother was quick to point out looked a bit like a twin-sized bed sheet. It was virtually shapeless, void of any sauce save for a modest slit that ran up to my knee.

The night of prom, I did what I thought I’d do and harmlessly grinded (ground?) to the latest Black Eyed Peas hit. There I was, chest pumping and sweaty, thankful for the liberty provided by tent of a dress. But one thing kept coming up over and over again in my mind. Sometimes, I still think about it: my prom date would have been far more impressed by my dance moves had I been wearing cigarette pants and Chuck Taylors.

I think you know what that means.

Image via Teen Vogue, shot by Ethan James Green

  • GapToothedGirl

    Chuck Taylors for a prom?? You were yet a fashion-pro! Love it!!

    xox, Gap.

  • watcha waiting 4

    Great Article! Brings back A lot Of memorys, U should Have went with the Taylors for street Cred. I wonder If guys put this much (or any at all) thought into their prom Outfits

    • Esther

      We had a few fitted white tuxes and a red pant suit thrown into the mix… I’d venture to say, yes.

  • Ray, L

    Orthodox Jewish Girl+black eyed peas+ Drinking + Grinding = Oy Vah! and the best part is your Mom Dressing you up for the Part

  • Jim

    Fun article! Your not alone, by the way. Dozens of people in my class claimed to have found God during their senior year (only to have suddenly lost Him during university), leaving their dates stranded. But I admire how you went about it!

  • JS

    This definitely has me feeling nostalgic of prom days..Wondering what one of those long central park skirt uniforms would have looked like as a maxi dress with chuck taylors – orthodox gone hipster?

  • Shira Y

    Haha, great post! Too bad you didn’t attach a photograph 😉

  • Sylvia

    This is the potato sack that my gorgeous petite daughter chose to wear for prom ( and mind you, she bought it 3 sizes bigger than her normal size) I don’t know what Chuck Taylor’s are but they definitely couldn’t have hurt

  • Kate_Slate

    Hasidic Hipsters!! It looks like you could have missed this annual rite of passage and been nun the worse for wear…. Great post though….

  • Julia

    I feel kind of super young, but I actually just posted about my prom!! I loved my dress because it fit me perfectly (both my body and my personality). But what I love most about it was how unstereotypical prom it was. I felt like a princess!

  • Restless Blonde

    Great article 🙂 When I look at my pictures from the first prom, I am happy with myself back then. Maybe I wouldn’t dress like that today, but for those times my dress and looks were quite good 🙂 Hugs!

  • Chelsea

    If you’re ~25, weren’t you a senior in 2006?

    • Esther

      I’m 22:) – article was written by Esther

  • Arielle McManus

    My prom is in a month, and I considered wearing a black mid-lenth tibi skirt and white, sleeveless cropped top along with fuchsia heeled sandals, but I thought I’d go conventional too, and so I’m wearing a sweetheart neckline, strapless, silk chiffon, blush colored, floor length gown that’s ruched on the chest (but I kept the fuchsia sandals 😉

  • raquel

    My prom is coming up soon and aside from being dateless, I absolutely no ides what im going to wear but thanks to this article I feel confident and empowered regardless hopefully I’ll have the same luck and reel myself a date soon!

  • Tatiana

    Fabulous article!! Only thing … Had to look up what’s Chuck Taylor’s !! Guess I missed the boat on that one lol !!