While recent history indicates that things are far from ideal, there is no question that women have made significant progress in the last half century. With greater access to careers, politics and high-power positions, women can now be just as overworked and miserable as men.
I am especially encouraged by young women, who embrace empowerment like never before. And yet, as boldly feminist as they may be, just as they’re about to enter adulthood, these young women go to prom, and all of a sudden they are Scarlet O’Hara.
The problem is not so much the glittering gowns, the flowing trains, the plunging necklines, the tastefully bared midriffs, the assemblage of enough material to provide shelter for a mid-sized refugee camp. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with young women dressing up in elaborate outfits that make it difficult to perform everyday tasks, like bending. It’s the burden of the procedure that makes me wonder. It’s the prom dress oppression.
I am currently on my third daughter in search of a prom dress. It’s February. The prom is in June. I point this out, but Abby looks at me like I know nothing. It’s the usual look she gives me these days, but in this case she backs it up with fact: “This is the time you get your dress, Dad.” I can’t argue with that.
Tremendous thought and energy are going into this dress. This dress is fraught with significance. Lives are hanging in the balance with this dress. There have been two dress-shopping excursions already and more are planned. I will not be invited. Abby’s in a bit of a frenzy. I’m in a bit of a frenzy too, because I know the bill is coming.
Meanwhile, in an upstairs closet hang the two prom dresses worn by her older sisters. Once. Worn one single night each, and if I recall correctly, one of those nights ended up in a damp farmer’s field. (The field was damp, not the farmer, though you never know.)
I try to convince Abby that she doesn’t have to wear an elaborate, uber-formal dress to her prom, and not just because I’m cheap. I tell her it’s merely social convention, a weird ritual that compels young women to costume themselves in extravagant finery that is completely foreign to who they are. She can wear whatever she wants, I tell her. She can wear pants. Her response is another one of those looks.
It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that the boys in the equation are likely to spend a total of 10 minutes flipping through a tuxedo rental catalogue, point at a style and that will be that. They might even do it online. And it will likely be cheaper. The big challenge will be the tie, and chances are their dates have already told them to match the dress. “Something called ‘teal’…?” they’ll mutter.
Some might not even go that far. In my final year of high school, I played Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest, complete with morning suit – the cutaway, the waistcoat, ascot, the whole posh shebang. Pretty much the same as a tux, right? So, yes, I wore a theatre costume to prom. Hey, it was the eighties; no one looked good.
Of course, there was also the burden of buying the corsage (“Something called ‘fuchsia’…?”), although comparing corsage shopping to prom dress shopping is like complaining to a woman about what a drag it is being a man because you have to shave every day, something, incidentally, a man should never, ever say at certain times of the month.
Why do we have this ritual at all, this late-teen pageantry so unlike their natural wardrobe, i.e. no decent place to stash a cell phone? Why in particular does this rite of passage put such pressure on girls – emotionally, stylistically, financially? Why not something more gender equalized, like square dancing or skydiving?
Perhaps the prom dress is a way of telling young girls that, even now, there is great intricacy lying before them. This moment is fraught. Manhood may have its cummerbund-like complexities, to be sure, but in terms of what’s ahead for boys, manhood is essentially a rental. Womanhood, on the other hand, requires thought, creativity and the courage to wear strapless. It will be bright and stunning and possibly uncomfortable. The prom dress is the idea of female possibility, and when they make that entrance, oh how they’ll all gasp!
Just like I will when I see the bill.
I borrowed a dress for prom and like to think my daughter will do the same next year. Ha, just kidding! She’ll be a nightmare about it too. Good luck to you all.
My co-worker told me that she had a student at a trade school make her dress, but when she went to pick it up, the student told her she had spilled oil on the material! So my colleague went home, and her mother sewed her a dress THE NIGHT BEFORE PROM! So much madness.
As with One and Two, all you can do is admire the beauty of Abby when she appears in whichever dress she chooses, papa Ross.
Beautiful, yes, but I can never get over the “this isn’t normal” feeling.
Great post. This must be weird for you to go through, especially three times! It’s probably good I don’t have daughters, because I wouldn’t know how to go about this at all. Prom didn’t interest me when I was in high school. I went one year just to see what all the fuss was about and didn’t go my senior year. My boyfriend and I saved the money and went to a movie instead. I remember I bought my dress off the sales rack at JC Penney’s. Probably a major faux pas. 😄
In truth, this is easy for me, as I am generally excluded from the process, with good reason.
I like your style. (Get it?)
I think that a lot of this prom stuff (in the west we call it grad) is over the top. Some schools and parent associations are starting have spending caps! Yikes. There is A LOT of arguing. Kids who can’t afford it, kids whose only dress-ups will be grad and their weddings.
Thankfully, when my daughter graduated, the kids were going through a “business look” phase that lasted 4 or 5 years. No ridiculous gowns. Unfortunately however, you’re just going to have to suck this up, stick a pry bar in your wallet, take lots of photos and be a proud papa.
Yeah, I know. I’m glad the virtual hoop skirt phase of a few years back has faded. Couldn’t even fit through doorways with those things.
Is it not an option to tell your daughter that she can buy any dress she wants as long as she pays a half of the price? I mean, this is obviously important to her to her, so it would only be fair if she chips in, too. If she says no, tell her you’ll drive her to the prom while wearing one of her sister’s no-longer-needed prom dresses, just, you know, to get some use out of the dress you paid for.
Ha, good plan, both Part A and B. The problem is, I look absolutely stunning in a dress and I would show her up.
If you look stunning in a dress, that’s even better: a girl may shake off being embarrassed by dad in a dress in front of her friends. But a girl’s social reputation (at least the type of girl that starts looking for the prom dress in February) cannot survive being outshined by her middle-aged dad in a dress.
I’ve got nothing in the caboose but I make up for it in gams that don’t quit.
Are you sure that’s the Mermaid dress in your illustration? I’m thinking it’s last year’s Velvet Sea Anemone look. Why would you leave something like that in the closet, when it can easily be re-purposed. 1. Stuff with styroform shipping peanuts. 2. Close the top and staple to a 2’x2’ piece of plywood. 3. Invert, the plywood serves as a base. 4. Thread 12-gauge wire top to bottom 5. Attach socket, carry to your den, and enjoy your Anemone Lamp. If you don’t need any more rose-tinted lighting, you’ve still got a lifetime supply of Dusty Burgundy pot scrubbers there.
Our family has a tradition that ensures at least two uses out of fancy dress – – anytime a tux or morning suit is required, we ready a few cocktails and dress up to play miniature golf. (In winter, miniature curling – any well-waxed bar top will suffice.)
Prom dress rugby is actually a thing. For women and men.
Sounds colorful, like those Monty Python sketches where the Ladies Tea Society reenacts the Norman Conquest or whatever. You don’t have to wear heels, though, right?
This is also why I hesitate to buy a car from a rental company or coming off lease – -I’m not a destructive person, but when someone at prom suggested break dancing, they said “Hey, the suits are rented” and away we went.
like you, i survived three daughters, but it was close!
Hope for us all.
Time to create a Kick-Starter prom gown fund. “Go Dress Me.”
No doubt it exists. I do know that there are places you can donate your old prom dress so girls of lesser means can have something to where. What a world.
You’d never get me in a mermaid style dress. It isn’t essential functions like bending over you have to worry about….it is using the ladies room that can be quite a logisitical feat. These are the times when the guys have it easy.
My daughter is in college now so no more worry about prom dresses. I just have a son in high school to worry about who hasn’t shown any desire to go to a school dance.
Teenage son. Sure. Nothing to worry about…
Do you guys have Sweet 16 parties? You should see what goes on down here in NJ. It’s as bad ass your imagining. The girls have a court and a candle ceremony. This all might be merely social conventionice but everyone buys into it. It speaks to our base materialistic needs. The prom is a warm-up. Just wait until you shop for a wedding dress.
I’ll sometimes find my daughter and friends watching “Say Yes to the Dress,” and I’ll yell, “Say No the Ho!” It’s terrible, but there we are.
I loved reading this. Ran across this randomly, and enjoyed it so much. I couldn’t help thinking about my two young daughters, not yet in middle school… and the drama that awaits… 🙂 Thanks for the insight into the future!
You’re welcome. I have three daughters and none of them has been the same experience. Also a son, a whole other range of surprises. Good luck!
It’s moments (posts) like these that make me grateful I have a son. I’ll never have to find out what Teal is.
With my son, it’s been basketball shoes. Same price, less material.