Should your streaked mascara match your shoes?
I dragged myself to prom, dressed up like a doll with a broken heart in hand instead of a clutch purse. The boy that I was convinced to be my soulmate had just broken up with me. As in, the day before.
I was absolutely devastated. My life was over. How could I even begin to think about manicures and hairspray? (In retrospect this meltdown is faintly humorous, considering just a few months later I came out as a loud and proud member of the queer community… but I didn’t know that then.) From start to finish, the “fun” day of preparation my mom and I had once been thrilled about melted into a puddle at my feet. Filled with the choking back of tears and the correcting of smudged-off makeup, hairstylists and photographers shook their head in pity. The only reason I can be seen smiling in any photos at all that day is because I had momentarily convinced myself (and him) that we were getting back together. Thanks to this clever emotional manipulation, my fake lashes and glittery pink blush stayed perfectly intact that night… until my dreams of romance were shattered the next day by his “I’m so over it” response.
Years after prom, most people regret their bridal-style dresses, their bedazzled shoes, their hilarious but trendy-at-the-time makeup and hair choices. I don’t have those feelings: I still admire my combination of turquoise and baby pink, my glittery silver shoes, my oversize bow-topped cocktail dress, and my matching heart-shaped glasses. I looked different from every other girl at my prom, and I’m proud my undeveloped self had the guts to do that. The only regret I have is that I let some teenage boy dim my sparkle. // Alyssa Garrison
Pretty in Pink and Blue and Teal and Sparkles
I couldn’t find a full-length photo of the dress I wore to prom; only this cropped, cut-up one, which shows most of my torso. Believe me when I say this dress was extremely out of character for me—it was floor-length, as multicoloured as a dream coat, and covered in beads and sequins with a hot pink halter top. I favour black, white, neutrals, and minimal designs overall; I’m not sure what came over me when I bought it.
Actually, no, I know exactly what came over me. As a teenager, I was obsessed with what other people did and thought. I never saw a cool girl in the hallway without wanting to do or wear whatever she was doing or wearing, which led to some pretty horrible outfits. I wore lace-up Parasuco jeans, glittery pink babydoll tees, Uggs—if a “cool girl” wore it you could bet I used all my minimum-wage paycheque to buy it. You can imagine my disappointment when the cool girls showed up to prom wearing matching short, pastel-coloured dresses.
I think we all eventually settle into the style we’re meant to have. For me, my prom dress was not the last time I bought something because I thought it would help me blend in, and it definitely is not the worst example, but there’s something about it in particular that makes me pause. Looking at this photo reminded me of how long it took for me to figure out what I liked, what I looked best in, which dresses for important occasions would make me happy. Anyway, I know better than to plan on forgetting. To quote everyone’s favourite writer, Joan Didion, “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends”—and I would add, demanding to know: who let them wear that dress outside the house. // Haley Mlotek
A night to remember, a night to forget
I’ve always loved proms. I had been planning mine, from my date (Landon, purple hair) to my dress (black and red, leather wristband), since I was 10. When I was in Grade 11, I decided I had waited long enough and hooked myself up with two tickets for myself and my beautiful best friend, Stas. I was a hippie in pastels those days, and my ensemble was a light pink sparkly dress and pastel green cardigan with fire engine-red hair. Stas came straight from his landscaping gig in a tan, a pair of bright blue pants, and a seventies vest, and we had an amazing time dancing the night away with our friends at what ended up being a dud of a prom. Still, I’m glad I went before senior year, because there was no pressure that this had to be a night to culminate our high school careers. We just enjoyed each other’s company and looked ridiculous.
My next prom was serious business. Because I was hung up on my body, I wore a flattering, pretty black dress and cool black headband, but when one of my best friends showed up wearing the poufy, yellow, vintage dress I wished I had worn, I immediately regretted my choice. Some of my other best friends got kicked out before even entering after being caught with alcohol, but the rest of us stayed to dance. The night was technically a success, though not particularly memorable. I had gotten my prom-mania out of my system the first time around. // Anna Cunningham
Wornlings that go to prom together, stay together
As are most things that Alexandra and I do in our lives, prom dress shopping was done together. I had a very simple plan—or so I thought—of finding the dress of my dreams online, going in-store, trying it on, and falling in love with it in person. But alas, trouble ensued when I spotted another dress. I decided that it was my prerogative to change my mind and switched one dress for another, only to immediately regret it. The trouble with buying one’s prom dress in March when prom isn’t until June is the plethora of gowns that can cause many a nervous breakdown and glittery perspiration in the meantime—kind of like a season of The Bachelorette (so I’ve heard). In the lead-up to prom, I ended up exchanging my dress a second time and going with my first pick. I know I ended up making the right choice. I think. // Stephanie Chunoo
I had a very distinct reference point for my prom look: Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch (subway grate not included). I wanted a breezy halter dress that went just past my knees in a demure midnight blue. What I got instead was a long, fuchsia-coloured gown with lace cut-outs. Pretty much the diametric opposite of what I initially planned, to no surprise, thanks to Steph. She picked the dress out and knew that I had to try it on. Despite thinking that it looked like a doily my grandmother uses under her flowerpots, I reluctantly tried it on and fell in love. It was a pure Say Yes to the Dress moment minus the fussy mother-in-laws and “jacking up.” It has become one of my most treasured items of clothing, and as cliché as it is, I’m glad I listened to Steph. // Alexandra Chronopoulos
For me, 2007 was the year of graduating high school, choosing universities, the year of figuring out what it is exactly you want to do with your life. But mostly it was the year of choosing that perfect prom outfit. Both my parents never went to their prom. Their crowd was a mixture of punks and hippies when they graduated, so they believed that prom was uncool and no fun. I, on the other hand, had been seduced by the prom experiences of the Gilmore Girls and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I just had to experience the dancing, the romance, and the dress.
Neither my prom dress nor my shoes were the most important item for me to feature. What I wanted was to have an amazing hat. Hats were my favorite piece of clothing in high school. I would wear bowler hats, fascinators, and occasionally even a teacup on my head. I knew that I needed to have the best hat imaginable, so I took inspiration from my favorite artist at the time, Jeff Koons. I had been in love with his balloon dog sculptures and wanted to recreate that on my head. I researched how to make a balloon dog, I followed all the steps, and voila. I was so pleased with myself for learning this trick.
I decided I wanted it to last well after prom was over so I covered it in paper maché. After it dried I bought cheap CDs from the dollar store and cut them into small squares. I glued them onto the paper maché dog, transforming it into a disco dog. After everything dried, I glued it to a headband, put on my pink dress, and to bring the whole outfit together I wrapped a string of faux pearls around a pair of safety scissors and wore them around my neck. The process of preparing for the prom felt like the most important part of the whole event, and I will always look back on it and smile because I had so much fun and have no regrets. // Eliza Trent-Rennick
Girls with the most cake
I wasn’t even sure that I was even going to go to my prom until about the month before. I was very much not into doing established high school events. But all of my friends were going, and I eventually gave in. I went to The Big City with my best friend and my step-mom, and we just trolled the mall for HOURS trying to find something that a) fit me and b) wasn’t terrifying. Everything was very floofy and pink and sequined… and not me at all. I wound up at this old lady store (name since forgotten) and found a slinky black gown on the sale shelf. It had black beading on the neckline and straps, and culminated in a mini train. I added jewelry the colour of blood, because rebel. It was also my first experience with foundation garments, which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was definitely not the best-dressed person there, though—my friend Sarah made an entire gown out of duct tape, turned it red with permanent marker, and made a bag to match. She looked incredible.
In the end, the whole thing was pretty much not a big deal for me. I worked most of the day, then I think I got a haircut, and as you can see, I did not bother to get it styled or anything. I just went home and got dressed and then met my friends. It turned out that my level of effort was the exact right level of effort to put in, because the event itself was TERRIBLE. My friends and I cut out early, bought cake, and hung out down at the lake until like 4:00 a.m.—altogether a much better use of our time, and definitely a much better memory. // Megan Patterson
Geek to chic in one fell swoop
The dress I wore to my high school prom was uncharacteristically feminine. It was all layers of soft tulle and sweet ribbons, which transformed me from an awkward mathlete metalhead into a ballerina fairy princess. When I look back at the photos, it is painfully obvious to me that this dress did not fit, especially in the area where breasts are supposed to be. I had to secure the strapless bodice to my skin with double sided tape, which left nasty marks on my back. My fantastic mother ensured the dress was perfectly accessorized, but I didn’t think being perfectly accessorized was cool, so I smuggled a beat-up, vintage black purse out the door to replace the pink satin one she had bought me. I also brought to prom my nasty habit of never wearing shoes ever and carried my silvery-pink heels around for most of the night. // Brianne Burnell
Make way for Prince Ali
Prom was not a big deal for me. High school was something to survive and move past, not an era to commemorate. I broke up with the first guy I ever dated a month before, so I didn’t even get to invite him and make a gay rights stand against my school’s homophobic bullies.
If I had had the sartorial bravery I have now I would have worn something crazy, like a fuchsia Nehru jacket or something. (Who am I kidding? I would have difficulty wearing that now.) Instead, I rented a tux. Looking back, I’m jealous of my girlfriends who bought prom dresses—when you rent a garment, especially something as standard as a tuxedo, you feel an unavoidable distance towards it. At least I knew how to wear it. The friend I took to try it on pointed out many guys there that didn’t remember to tuck in the shirt.
The best part of prom was the getting ready. My friends and I got all into it, posing for pictures with our moms and singing along to the car radio as we picked people up. The actual event was a dull letdown. Nothing happened. The DJ played ‘A Whole New World’ from Aladdin. We stared blankly. We had played dress up, but our formal clothes couldn’t make the night significant. // Max Mosher
Cinderella’s mice need not apply
At the beginning of my final year of high school, my mom and I stumbled upon a clearance of shimmery, floor-length skirts at a bridal shop in the mall. After much debate between the many colours, I set my heart upon the wine coloured one and began my matching mission. I dedicated my lunch hour every Tuesday and Thursday (since every other one was spent in choir rehearsals) to sewing in the home ec room alone and managed to produce an entirely wine-coloured outfit consisting of an ankle-length, heavy wool coat, which I wore for only a split-second from the house to the limo, a velvet corset, and a matching clutch that I made by covering a small cardboard box with leftover fabric and beads. To top it all off, I got my sister to put Manic Panic “rose” coloured streaks in my hair and painted all of my nails the same colour. Looking back at the photos a decade later, I can still feel the uncomfortable prickle of the unruly strings of upholstery bead trim that I lined my corset top with. // Angela Leung
Queen for a day
During the time of my prom, I was at the height of my eating disorder. Less than 96 pounds of flesh hung on my 5’5 frame, and I was constantly starving. While many girls at my school had bought dresses a year ahead, I only went shopping with my mom the month before.
We went to a few stores in the mall. Nothing pleased me.
Then I saw it—the tan dress, so light it was almost made of air, a back wrapped in thin lace, with matching capped sleeves and some lace trim at the bottom. They didn’t have size zero, which was my default size by then (the goal, finally accomplished). So instead I climbed into a slightly baggy size two, which hung a little off my hips. At the time, the dress was perfect: it covered my chest, my hips. I wasn’t comfortable exposing too much skin, but I didn’t want a floor-length gown either. It was $400. My mother bought it, the size two which ate at me all the way home, and I wore it with nude heels the day of my prom. Perhaps I was a little too pale—I was coming from a day of work, so I hadn’t gotten my hair or makeup done—perhaps the dress blended in too much. But I felt good. For the first time in a while, I felt good.
I even ate that day. // Sofie Mikhaylova
Feel like your prom experience needs a makeover? Join us this Saturday at WORN’s very own Secondhand Prom and make some new memories!