"My girlfriend always has that feeling that something's missing. She checks her pockets, checks her purse, counts her kids, but nothing's gone. She decided it was side effects from not going to her prom." – Iona, Pretty in PinkThis time of year always makes me nostalgic for … prom. Me? The girl who wore dark eye liner, pale makeup, and deep red lipstick while piping Smiths tunes into her CD Walkman during high school years? The high school newspaper nerd whose wardrobe was made up primarily of plaid, baggy shirts and jeans? The girl who had the “I’m much too cool for this” rolling-of-the-eyes down to a science and could recite the Canterbury Tales in ye olde English? Yes, me.
Looks like Disney will be releasing a movie this month called Prom. This week’s episode of Parenthood revolved around prom. And with horror I am looking at my future with four girls thinking: prom.
Women are completely silly when it comes to prom. As we grow older, prom (or “the prom” as I like to call it) takes on even more meaning. My mother, who once said to me that she would be extremely sad if any of her girls ever competed in a beauty pageant, even encouraged prom. She begged my oldest brother Doug to take a girl to prom. She promised to even pay for the whole thing. He didn’t give in to her pleadings.
“You need to take a nice girl. Not for you, but for her. Every girl should have the chance to go to prom,” she said trying to convince the Gooch.
“Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent,” Gooch would say in his best Dana Carvey impersonation of Dana Carvey’s impersonation of George H.W. Bush.
I’ve seen pictures of my mom at her prom. She was taller than her prom date and wore a quintessential 60s floor-length gown with white gloves. Her sun-kissed blonde hair was done up into a smoothed-over beehive. It made me completely understand why it is the Beach Boys wished they all could be California girls. Her high school had their dance at some posh place like the Beverly Hills Hotel. She was elegant and beautiful.
For a girl, the dress may be even more important than the actual dance. Other than a woman’s wedding dress, girls fantasize, rehash, regret, and forever talk about their prom dress. Where they bought it. Whether it was made. How much it cost. The dress they really wanted but couldn’t afford. The accessories they bought with the dress. The shoes.
Even now I see dresses in stores and think, “Oh man, that would be the PERFECT prom dress. Who do I know who is going to prom this year?”
I went to prom not once, not twice, but … oh yeah, just twice. The first year I went to prom with a guy from my LDS stake. He was good friends with my cousin Chet. Chet had arranged all of his friends to take all of my friends. We went four wheeling before the prom. It was one of the funnest dates of my life, honestly. We ate dinner at someone’s grandma’s house, because we lived in rural Idaho, and nice restaurants aren’t exactly easy to find in those parts.
On the Sunday following prom, my mom was the Stake Young Women’s leader and had to speak in my date’s ward. She mentioned in her talk that she’d bought new underwear for me to wear to the prom. I don’t know why that was pertinent to her talk, but I’m sure my mom found a way to apply that to the gospel. I’m sure my date had wished he’d stayed home from church that day, possibly forever.
For my first prom, I borrowed my oldest sister Amy’s prom dress, which I thought was absolutely beautiful…at the time. Looking back now, it was just way too pink. But Amy went to prom in 1989, the era of Pretty in Pink. Prom dresses were made in only the following shades: pink, red, black, and white.
I thought about borrowing my sister Kathy’s prom dress, but I didn’t want to risk losing my life if I got a stain on it. My sister Kathy’s prom dress was AMAZING—if you were a 15-year-old Latino girl celebrating your Quinceanera. I think the dress cost somewhere around $200, which was a mega-ultra, super-huge amount to pay for a prom dress in those days. (This is the sister who is two years older than me and who puppy-dog eyed my dad into letting her drive an older Porsche he had on his car lot every day to school.) I do think she bought her dress herself, so I’ll cut her some slack. It was all black with lots of lace, and went all the way to the floor, which wasn’t the norm for prom dresses in 1991. Most prom dresses back then barely reached the knees.
My Grandpa McEuen took her to get a makeover at Estee Lauder and told the sales lady, “Everything you put on her face, I’m buying.” Kathy treated that makeup like it was precious, precious gold. I didn’t dare even pretend like I was going to try it on. Have you met my sister Kathy? Then you know why. But she really did look beautiful. She even bought gloves and rhinestone jewelry from Claire’s to sparkle up the look (which in my 15-year-old mind, Claire’s was as good as Tiffany’s).
Her nickname on the high school volleyball team was Brutus the Blocker. I think she saw prom as her chance to show the guys at our school that she wasn’t a brute but a beautiful swan. She was breathtaking.
But where was I? So my senior year I had a boyfriend. And he asked me to prom. This was 1994, and rural Idaho had finally emerged into the thicket of the grunge era. The grunge era, as you recall, started when the Cameron Crowe movie Singles came out and ended with the dot com explosion.
I LOVED the grunge era! It could not have hit at a better time in my life. My family was going through their own personal Great Recession, along with millions of other families in America who were struggling with the recession of the early 90s. If you’ll recall, designers like Marc Jacobs actually fashioned clothes to look as though they came from thrift stores. Plaid and vintage was king!
I asked my mom if we could go to Salt Lake City to find my prom dress. She didn’t say it, but I could tell that I totally made my mom happy asking her to assist me in my search for a prom dress. I hate to shop, whereas my mom lives to shop. And to make the shopping experience even better, my mom invited Grandma McEuen along, who is an even crazier lover of the shopping than my mom. It was an experience I will cherish all my days.
We stopped first at the Crossroads Mall. I had seen a dress earlier that year in a store called Haroon’s that was absolutely perfect in every way. It looked like something Mia Farrow’s character would have worn in The Great Gatsby. It was a seafoam green dress with flowing ruffles.
But the price tag gave my heart a real jolt. Yes, it was perfect, but there was no way I would make my mom pay $230 for a prom dress. And frankly, I wasn’t going to spend my hard-earned Kmart cashier money on a dress that expensive either. Tuition for summer term of college was going to cost me $400, and I’d only managed to save $500. Wouldn’t be prudent.
After looking at the most perfect dress in the entire world and having it fall through my hands, every other dress we tried on at the mall looked lame by comparison. The perfect dress had an old timey look to it, so I suggested to my mom that maybe we could find a dress in a vintage store.
You would have thought I’d given my mom the moon. Her eyes became all sparkly, wet with tears. Her girl was becoming a woman right in front of her eyes. It wouldn’t be long before I’d be hitting the garage sales circuit with the rest of the McEuen women, and she knew it. A chip off the proverbial shoulder.
The first stop on our journey was a thrift store I had come to appreciate on my own excursions to Salt Lake City called Grunts and Postures. I’m not sure if it’s still there, but it was super cool when I was 18. I had my sister Mary try to distract my mom and grandma from seeing the mannequin legs that were wearing tights with the mother of all swear words printed on them. After looking around for a bit, we couldn’t find any prom-like dresses, so my mom stopped to ask the sales lady whether she knew of any vintage dress shops in SLC.
She directed us to a place called Jax. We left the store, but not without Grandma discovering the swear-word tights and becoming flustered, pursing her lips and shaking her head.
Jax had exactly what I was looking for. The sales lady and effeminate sales man had me try on a dozen dresses. Each time I’d come out of the dressing room, they made me feel so good by showering me with compliments, such as, “Oh, honey, that dress was made for you.” It was like having my own personal team of Tim Gunn and Stacy London, along with a beaming mother, cantankerous grandma, and bored-to-tears siblings.
I settled on a flirty, black 1940s cocktail dress that had rhinestones on the sleeves. The dress only cost $30, but I loved it as much as had I spent $200.
I wanted to sparkle up the dress even more, so my mom sewed a line of rhinestones around the middle of the dress.
And to top it off, my date had the great idea of us both going in high-top Chuck Taylors. He didn’t have to ask me twice.
It was a pretty magical night. We went with friends in my date’s grandma’s Cadillac. We ate dinner in Twin Falls, a town 50 miles from our high school, and then drove like mad to make it to the Senior Promenade on time. After taking pictures, the dance was over, but the group of us stayed after and danced to our own singing while the junior class officers cleaned up the aftermath.
Then we had an Easter egg hunt in the blustering Idaho wind, and then we went home. I promise, my young daughters who may be reading this one day, that my prom date drove me straight home. We did not stop and make-out!
Prom was a really great memory of innocence and fun, and I’d really love my girls to have that experience. I hope some future mom convinces her future son to take one of my girls--and treat them as respectfully as my dates treated me. And I hope my girls will ask me to accompany them to find the perfect prom dress. And I hope Grandma Christenson will still be around to come along for the fun.
This was the group from my first prom. My cousin Monica is on the far left with white gloves (sorry about the picture scuff). My cousin Chet is the fourth in the front row. He took my best friend Keri, who is the fourth in the second row. My date's name was Grant Hansen. Hi, Grant, if you happen to Google your name and stumble on this post. Thanks for taking me!
This picture doesn't do justice to my dress, but it does show off the Chucks. I didn't have the patience to dig through my pile of old pictures to find the actual dance photo. This was the photo I got because I won 2nd Runner-up to prom queen, should she and the first runner-up not be able to finish out their reign. Royalty at school dances is so ridiculous when you think about it. The sad part is that the queen pictured in this photo (the one at the top with the crown) actually did die in a swimming accident not even one month after we graduated.