$927: A Prom Reflection

Whatever they looked like, I’m sure my bag and shoes were silly and I clearly never wore/used either one of them again.
Publish date:
May 21, 2013
money, prom, The Jane Dough, expensive

Dress: $700

I had wanted to purchase an unconventional prom dress. So it was written in my third grade diary journal notebook that borrowed heavily from the Amelia’s Notebook series; so I thought it should be. I had told everyone (read: everyone who pretended to care) (read: my sister, my mother, and my Livejournal friends) that I was looking for a dress that would say “Hey, I’m, like, totally maintaining an ironic distance from this whole ‘prom’ thing. I mean, I like Neutral Milk Hotel, okay?” or, alternatively, “Sorry I’m not sorry.” I wanted to be Andie Walsh from Pretty in Pink. I was trying to look like I wasn’t trying. (The story of my teenaged life.)

The search for my funky sassy alterna “different” prom dress was plagued with mishaps and missteps. I remember spending an entire afternoon stumbling through Flushing, Queens, trying to read the MapQuest directions that I had printed out earlier that morning despite the fact that the ink was beginning to run and smudge across the page due to the drizzling rain that was proving to be more consistent than my own sense of hope. My hair was beginning to frizz, my mother was wearing a metallic bucket hat, and I had no idea how to find the next prom pageant warehouse that was on my list. So obviously I started to cry. I cried and inexplicably blamed my mother for everything and I shouted “fine, let’s go home — LET’S GO HOME,” with the same intonation and emotion as one would shout “you don’t love me.”

A few weeks before prom — probably too few weeks for my own sanity — I accompanied a friend to her prom dress fitting. I was hungover from some party that I had probably fought my mom to go to but don’t even remember now. (I’m sure there were jelly shots…a Long Island youth includes a lot of jelly shots.) The store where my friend had brought her dress and was now getting fitted was tiny and strangely perched on the side of a main highway. The lights were soft, which was great since my head was aching. I remember it smelling like orchids but that could just be the nostalgia and too many marathons of Say Yes to the Dress talking.

It’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy of prom when you are surrounded by women of an indeterminate age who are all complimenting your complexion and your friend emerges from a dressing room, strapped and tied and cleavaged like some anime goddess and racks and racks of frothy dresses are twinkling like you are trapped in a Labyrinth ballroom dream. In a matter of minutes I was standing half-naked in a dressing room, looking at an armful of dresses that I hadn’t even picked out. One of the Dorian Gray women bustled in and out of my dressing room with a sense of confidence and dismissiveness that I found comforting. (Although I vividly remember being embarrassed because I was wearing ugly, slouchy underwear.) I put on a dress that was more glamorous than anything I had previously pictured for myself, more Blane than Andie. Everyone oohed and aahed for just the right amount of time. I looked at this rhinestone-and-bead-covered version of myself in the store’s full-length mirror and the reflection was so disjunctive, the whole experience so unfamiliar, that I bought the dress. I bought the high glamour, heavily beaded, floor-length, $700 dress.

Because my prom dress purchase was so out of budget, I couldn’t afford to pay for alterations. Luckily, my French seamstress grandmother was staying at my house that summer. Every morning that I was roused by my grandmother’s stern hand and made to stand in my house’s cluttered porch, wearing my prom dress and makeup from the previous night, feeling pools of sweat form around the dress’ heavy rhinestone band, my grandmother tugging and pinning and shaking her head and cursing in French, listening to the indignant sounds of her breath and beads bouncing off the carpet floor, I had to remind myself that the end result would be worth it, that PROM was worth it. I’m sure it was but I will say that even now I feel pinpricks of sweat begin to form whenever I hear French.

Shoes/Bag: ? ~40?

I don’t even remember what my shoes or my bag looked like nevermind where I got them from or how much they cost. I’ve scoured through countless Facebook photo albums as research and, evidently, I surreptitiously kept my bag-clutching hand behind my back for THE ENTIRETY OF PROM. My dress was floor-length so the shoes were bound to be a lost cause, but really? Not one photo features my purse, not even a corner of it, not even as an ill-placed blur blocking someone’s face?! In a way, that tells you something about prom: 90 percent of the things you spend fret about, tear pictures out of magazines for, labor to coordinate, and blow money on don’t even make it into your photos or your memories.

Whatever they looked like, I’m sure my bag and shoes were silly and I clearly never wore/used either one of them again.

Earrings: $25

I bought them from a mall kiosk two days before prom. I’m sure most girls would rather, like, diethan buy something intended for their special night from a tiny stylized hut sandwiched between an incense vendor and that place where you can customize your own airbrush-painted trucker hat but it was TWO DAYS BEFORE PROM. I didn’t have the time or the energy to seek out something higher brow. I had never spent more than $7 on earrings before but these were the perfect combination of the words “danging”, “rhinestones”, “chandelier”, and “tear drop.” While I was purchasing the earrings, my mom kept looking at me and raising her eyebrows and smiling. She was trying to tell me to haggle but she looked like a Furby whose batteries were dying. I didn’t haggle. I think my mother, a shamelessly frugal shopper, partially disowned me that day.

Nails: $12

It was unbearably hot. The night before, my best friend and I had made plans to go to a nail salon that was across the street from our high school but that was when it was still normal degrees outside and my skin didn’t feel like it was sliding off my bones. I wanted to call my friend and beg for a raincheck but prom was the next day; THERE WAS NO TIME FOR RAINCHECKS. I walked to the nail salon and got hot tar all over my Old Navy lip flops. #TheAughts!

The nail salon’s air conditioner made loud sputtering sounds but it didn’t work. If anything, the misty air that it emitted every three minutes just made everything seem closer. Muggier. I left an imprint of back sweat on the couch I was told to wait on and I knew that the nail technician noticed when she came to fetch me and I was incredibly self-conscious. While the woman smiled smugly at my cuticles and made clacking noises with her tongue, I looked outside the front window and watched as some kids from my school bummed cigarettes and lethargically attempted kickflips across the street. I knew these kids because they never went to class but instead occupied that very same street corner and bummed cigarettes and lethargically attempted kickflips all day. The corner they stood on was also home to a tiny brick pizzeria called Elegante’s. The pizza wasn’t particularly good but it was easy to score a free soda. These kids were known as Elegante kids.

When the nail technician sat me down in front of a a UV nail dryer, she said “you too hot.” It was more of a statement than a question. She kept nodding at me so I smiled and tried to not smudge my nails.

Makeup: $70

Previous to my prom, I had never worn a lot of makeup, barring my brief flirtation with “scene-dom” and blue eyeshadow in 2004. The first time I had attempted to wear eyeliner was a scarring experience: I was thirteen and didn’t attempt to differentiate between my waterline and my lash line; I had treated my NYC Waterproof Eyeliner like it was a dried-out marker, pushing down and rubbing until my eyes watered, and was called “goth Colette” (insults aren’t exceptionally inventive in middle school) for nine whole periods of class. So, by the time prom had arrived, I was woefully ignorant of any beauty regiments or treatments outside of washing my face twice a day and applying mascara while on my way to school.

I wanted to "do” prom correctly, at least in terms of participating in the feminine ritual of dressing up and “putting on my face.” I wanted to perform my gender to its upmost; I wanted to prove my bona fides. I wanted to look like I was every woman and that it was all in me. Suffice it to say, I spent $70 on makeup at a local CVS. Creams, toners, primers, foundations, eyeshadows to highlight, eyeshadows to contour, eyeshadows to shadow my eyes with — I bought it all and yet I only ended up using two colors of eyeshadow and the same exhausted tube of mascara I had been using all year. You see, I eventually got sick of pausing and replaying Youtube tutorials and anxiously vacillating between the computer screen and a mirror. My father got sick of skirting around me as he tried to make his way to the kitchen/bathroom, as I had installed myself in my sparkly glamorous prom dress on the dining room floor. (The family computer was in the dining room.) My mother got sick of me discarding Q-tips and balled-up tissues by the truck-full.

I lost $70 worth of makeup later that night when my bag popped open during a particularly rousing grindtrain to Kevin Lyttle’s “Turn Me On.” All the creams, toners, primers, foundations, eyeshadows to highlight, eyeshadows to contour, and eyeshadows to shadow my eyes with scattered across the party bus floor and I was too dizzy from shots of syrupy vodka to notice.

Hair: $80

I went to get my hair done with the same girl who inadvertently brought me to buy my prom dress. She was much better at this type of stuff than I was: she grew up with two older sisters and a single mother. Surrounded by women who comfortably and fearlessly talked about being women, she knew things about tampons, tanning, boys, and how to tape your boobs up that I still haven’t figured out.

I forgot my pictures of hairstyles at home so instead I uselessly babbled about curls and “the tone” of my dress until the stylist wrapped a smock around my neck, told me I was getting something “a little up and a little down,” and drowned out my questions with a hairdryer. My hair did indeed end up being a little up and a little down. Unfortunately, my blowout lasted all of two hours — there are some things that just can’t survive ponnin’ de floor.

Reprinted with permission from The Jane Dough.