[Warning: This post is not very sewing-related.]
There’s been a bit of chit-chat lately on some of my favorite sewing blogs about prom fashion. It’s making me nostalgic for my own prom. Well, to be perfectly honest, it’s not making me nostalgic for my prom at all, just for my prom dress. Why? Quite simply because my prom dress was SUPER SUPER AWESOME. I suspect that there will never be a moment in my life when I look back on that dress and ask, “What was I thinking?”
Without further ado, here is the Selfish Seamstress at 16. (Okay, the Selfish Seamstress pretending to be herself at 16.)
I know, right?? (Incidentally, for any readers who may actually be going to prom and looking for ideas, I do NOT condone the wearing of an ecru dress with silver evening sandals. It just happens that at the moment all I have in my evening shoe wardrobe is silver or black and I needed something for the photos. Find a pair of white satin slingbacks or d’orsay heels, brew a cup of very strong tea, and paint the tea on until you have the perfect vintage ecru shade.)
So about this dress. I’m going to guess it’s from the mid- to late-1950’s. Ecru organza (why is it so hard to find lovely, matte, finely woven organza these days? Why does organza often look so cheap and shiny and Halloween costume-y now?) Variegated green embroidery, ruched bodice upper, two toned green bow with long, long tails. Underneath it has a built in netting crinoline and taffeta underskirt, under which I have slipped two additional crinolines, and under which I’m sure as a sixteen-year old, I stuffed many many more. (To be honest, I would have done so today, if my vast petticoat collection were more easily accessible. And while we’re being honest, I should mention that I probably have about two dozen more magnificent, massive 1950s prom dresses in my closet which is more cotton candy clothing than any adult woman in her right mind should have.)
I didn’t buy the dress for prom, but simply because I adored it on sight. And of course once the prom came around a year or two later, there was no question that I was going to wear it. I bought it sometime in the early 90s, probably just a couple of years before the cool kids were shopping for “vintage,” and this stuff would have just been called “used.” I say that not to brag about having been ahead of the trend (because I was not one of the cool kids by any stretch) but to point out that holy jeebus, it was CHEAP. Nobody wanted this stuff back then. I remember getting it from a Goodwill store in Lancaster, PA while I was at summer school (nerd alert!) and it cost $9.50. It was hanging on a wall with a whole lot of other gorgeous frothy 1950s concoctions and I didn’t have enough money on me at the time so I had to borrow a few dollars from my friend Margo. (It’s a good thing I didn’t have, say, $40 on me or I’m sure I’d have bought the whole lot of gowns.) For my younger readers, no, $9.50 wasn’t “a lot of money back in those days.” It was still doodlysquat for a dress. I brought it home and my mother exclaimed, “Eeee!” (That’s the sound she makes when she’s unpleasantly shocked), “Eeee! Why did you bring home that old dress??” She promptly took it to the dry cleaners for me and then chastized me as it cost $13 to get it cleaned. Still, not bad for $22.50, right? I bought a length of ecru chiffon, hemmed the edges and wore it as a wrap. Here are some details of the embroidery and the magnificent, magnificent bow:
There’s also a fairytale prom ending for my fairytale prom dress. As mentioned, I wore it to the prom as a high school junior a year or so after buying it. (My prom dress senior year was also a 1950’s delight- a crazy meringue of deep salmon lace and black netting tiers, but my ecru and green will always be my favorite.) At the time in my school, the demure 80’s prom aesthetic of pink ruffly taffeta and flared skirts was out and everyone wanted a simple white, black, or red column dress. Girls wanted to look like grown-ups, not 16-year olds and they wanted evening dresses, not prom gowns. I showed up in my $9.50 dress like the crazy lady who walked in off the street. As it turned out, there were photographers there from the now-defunct YM magazine, taking pictures for their features on prom, and guess who ended up with her picture in TWO issues? Not one of the girls in the grown-up $300 black column dresses. Sort of like a John Hughes movie in which the nerdy outcast ends up on top, except that I didn’t get kissed by Andrew McCarthy.
I did buy issues of the magazine, but I suspect they are in a box in my parents’ garage so I can’t share them here. They were March 1994 and I think the 1993 special issue on prom? If you saved yours, have a look through it and you can see the Selfish Seamstress for real at 16. And maybe even her hot date.