It all begins with the dress. Prom is a wedding, a wedding for high school girls where every girl is a blushing bride, minus the lifetime commitment of monogamy, the cultural pressure to wear demure white, and with a surprisingly higher likelihood of losing one’s virginity.
My dress was borrowed. It was black taffeta with enormous puffy off-the-shoulder sleeves that I continually had to keep pulling up throughout the night. It was tight and knee length with a deep sweetheart neckline that revealed more cleavage that I ever had shown in my young life. I felt hot in that dress. I ignored the fact that I had borrowed it from my mother’s 25 year old administrative assistant co-worker, who had a fluffy bleached perm and bangs like a forehead surfboard. Because, damn, that dress made me feel powerful and sexy. I remember thinking this was the most beautiful I would ever look in my entire life.
And sexy, really? This feeling was new to me. Tall, curvy, plus size girls simply had shitty fashion options in the early 1990’s and that always coordinated well with shaky self-esteem. My jeans were perpetually high water, my formal wear options matronly, and feeling hot was a foreign concept. Feeling dumpy sure, feeling gawky, yes, but hot? This must be how tiny, blonde, stick figure girls felt. And wow, it was kind of awesome. Though the dress and even the black lace pointy toed pumps were borrowed, that cool May night in 1992, I made that dress mine.
I accessorized with the most enormous fake crystal and pearl earrings I could find at The Icing, they almost touched my shoulders. I had my hair all done up at the salon by a stylist named Roman, who recommended a loose updo with curled tendrils, because this was 1992. If we weren’t crimping my straight hair, we most certainly would attack it with a curling iron. He also regaled me with a racy story about his prom night back in the early 1960’s, evidently the first and only time Roman was intimate with a lady. My mom did my makeup. She was selling Beauti-Control cosmetics at the time, a line of products somehow based on a wacky seasonal color concept (I was evidently a Winter and shouldn’t wear the color orange.) Mom expertly applied the popular mix of heavy black eyeliner, top and bottom, thick layers of black spider leg mascara, and a Monet worthy blending of purple and grey eye shadow so layered that I could barely open my eyes. And the red lips, I had to have lacquered red lips. She even loaned me her diamond pendant. Yeah, I felt hot.
My date for the night, my first serious boyfriend, picked me up in his mother’s red convertible; presented the dainty orchid wristlet I coveted, while wearing a carefully selected matching cummerbund and bowtie. He was a perfect gentleman, gave the flattering compliments, and seemed to also recognize the rare hotness that had somehow manifested with this magic dress. He kept beaming at me and putting his hand on the small of my back. We posed for pictures at no less than three parent’s houses; grandparents, video cameras, and younger and older siblings, all watching, teasing, goading us on to the dance, and making us kiss and cheese for the cameras.
When we were finally released we headed over to the generic suburban hotel ballroom where the dinner and dance were being held. The food was as forgettable as hotel banquet food usually is, the music was a heady mix of Color Me Badd, Vanessa Williams, Garth Brooks, Boyz to Men, Mr. Big, cheesy ballads and “I Want to Sex You Up” lyrics certain to inflame the already potent hormonal sexual energy enveloping the dance floor. We danced and danced, chatted with friends, spent the requisite few hours at the dance showing off our young love and our finery and my rare newfound confidence. Then somehow it was time for after prom.
Oh, after prom! Those dangerous late night hours where regular curfews and parental controls are inconceivably slackened. Our after prom plans included heading back to my boyfriend’s house. We were too young to get a hotel room, and entirely too nervous. Neither one of us were really the after-party type of people. And his parent’s had a hot tub, and at sixteen that sounds romantic. And it is romantic I guess, until you get to your boyfriend’s house and realize that you are firmly locked into your first medieval long line strapless bra physically unable to get yourself out of it. Yes, his mother had to help me unhook the 10,000 tiny closures up the back of my bra. Did I mention his parent’s were home and that after his mother so kindly freed me from my confining underwear, they discreetly disappeared upstairs?
Power dress swapped out for swimsuit, and embarrassment finally fading, we got in the hot tub and proceeded into the naughty after-prom activities. The steam from the hot tub began to wilt my hair, tendrils and loose curls stuck to the sides of my cheeks, that same steam sent rivulets of mascara down my flushed face. Things got intense, decisions needed to be made: to become an easy prom night cliché or resist that folly? I pulled back to breathe and think for a second, we had been dating a few months, I think I loved him, but the magic hotness created by the dress was more than I could handle.
My head was spinning and I was still 35%… 25%… 15%…10% certain I didn’t want to lose my virginity on prom night. I whispered my concerns: his parent’s window looked right down on the back deck where the hot tub sat in full view, it felt so risky and stupid, we didn’t have any protection, but the steam and the hormones and the glass of pink champagne I had snuck were clouding my brain. They must have clouded my boyfriend’s brain as well, because as I began to lose my willpower, he leaned in – unaware that I was about to cave – and working to convince me as even nice guys will, he murmured in my damp ear, “But the chlorine will kill all the sperm.” And the mood was broken. I laughed loudly and right in his face. He looked embarrassed and stammered that he’d heard that somewhere before. But we both knew the night was over. We got dried off and dressed; he drove me home in his mom’s sweet red convertible, with the top down.
The cool Midwestern spring breeze blew through what was left of my chic updo, and cooled my warm face and I felt happy. I had felt the power of the hotness and I liked it. But the power wasn’t in that borrowed dress, it was in me. I kissed him goodnight at the door and I kept my virginity tightly in check, at least until a month later when his parents were out to dinner.