Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Stress of the Strapless Gown

A date for the Senior Prom – how utterly exciting! And especially unheard of, since I was only a lowly high school sophomore in 1963. It was a totally unexpected surprise because I had not started dating yet and had no prospects for a “boyfriend.”

At the end of the school day, all the kids hurried out of the school to their respective yellow buses. Back then, driving a car to school was a rare exception that required a written note from home and a special pass from the Principal, so virtually everyone rode the buses. I was a bit surprised when a boy named Denny paused by my seat and asked, “Is this seat taken?” My natural inclination was to reply with a smart-aleck “Does it look like it’s taken?” but fortunately I replied with a graciously mumbled “Gosh, no.”

So Denny sat down next to me. Being from a small town and attending the same church, we knew each other, of course, but I sensed that this trip was going to be a little out of the ordinary. It was unusual to think of a boy as anything other than a friend, so the concept of “boyfriend” had not been established in my personal vocabulary. My older sisters each had boyfriends, but no one in my circle of friends did.

We had an uninspired conversation about the weather and school events, followed by an awkwardly lengthy silence. I was unaccustomed to talking to boys as boys. As we approached the end of our ride, Denny suddenly blurted out “Wanna go to the Prom with me?” Trying to not take anything for granted, I quickly looked behind me, just to make sure that he wasn’t talking to someone else. Since there was no one else around, I naively replied “Who, me? Well, um, okay, I guess.” As he got up to get off the bus, he let out a sigh of relief and said “Okay. Good.” Such snappy repartee (or lack thereof) underscored our mutual inexperience and discomfort with the opposite sex.

As soon as the bus pulled up to stop at our farm house, I rushed out to find my mother and tell her the exciting news. “Hey, Mom, guess what? Somebody asked me to go to the Senior Prom!” I hollered excitedly. The Prom was only a week away, so we had to figure out in a hurry what to wear.

Mom grew up during the Depression, so she had become very resourceful and thrifty. Hand-me-down clothes were a fact of life in our family of seven children. However, a special occasion would merit something decidedly out of the ordinary. We generally had two options for clothes when money was tight: either sew something new from scratch or alter an existing piece. In the interest of time, we needed to do the latter.

One of my older sisters had been in a cousin’s wedding a few years before. She wore a long yellow gown of chiffon, satin and netting. It had already been remade several times for each of their Proms. By the third reincarnation (this time for me), it became a fashionable strapless vision of loveliness.

At the tender age of fifteen, I had not “blossomed” nearly as much as my well-endowed sisters. How on earth could I wear (and keep up) a strapless gown? Mom took me to one of the nicest dress shops in town, one that we typically did not frequent. She explained the situation to a snooty clerk that I needed to find a strapless bra that was small enough to fit my almost nonexistent bosom. The clerk practically snickered when I timidly stated my size as 30 AA, then she replied, “If she is old enough to go to Prom, then she is old enough to wear a real brassiere.” The smallest strapless bra they had was a 34 B (which of course was much too big), but we splurged and bought it anyway.

Now we had a real dilemma figuring out how to make the dress stay up properly. The answer was to sew the bodice of the dress directly to the strapless “long-line bra” with stiff stays on each side. I felt and probably looked like a real-live “Barbie Doll” with a small waist and hips, topped by a disproportionately larger-than-life-size bosom. I practiced walking and sitting gracefully in my stiff corset, but unfortunately I didn’t do it long enough.

By the time Denny arrived in his Sunday suit and necktie to pick me up, my younger brothers had teased me mercilessly. They undoubtedly were curious about my sudden transformation from tomboy to WOMAN, complete with the requisite enhanced bosom. Off I went to my very first Prom in my very first long gown on my very first date, feeling oh so grown up and sophisticated. In retrospect, I undoubtedly looked quite young and naïve, rather than mature and worldly.

The evening went quite well until we had been dancing for a while. The high school gymnasium had been transformed into a fairy wonderland with the aid of crepe paper streamers, tinsel and reflective balls. Music was supplied by a real, live band as opposed to the typical 45 RPM records. The band started out playing sedate, soothing waltzes for the first few numbers until more and more requests were made for a “fast” song to liven things up.

The 1960’s was the era of “outrageous” dances, such as the Twist, the Watusi and the Mashed Potato, but they were a staple at any social gathering. My date and I joined the festivities out on the dance floor, jumping and jiving to the pulsing beat of the music. Each dance number became progressively more and more frenetic and it was a relief when the band finally announced they were taking a break.

Returning to the sidelines, I looked down to discover that in the course of twisting and turning, my dress and bra were now positioned a full ninety degrees off center, with one breast behind my armpit.

“Oh, no!” I exclaimed softly. All of a sudden, I looked all too much like a Barbie Doll who had been contorted into an impossible position.

My only recourse was to take immediate action. As discretely as possible, I quickly grabbed the top of my dress with the bra attached and twisted it more or less back into place. It was lucky for me that I had inherited Mom’s pragmatic side and just dealt with the situation, instead of becoming mortified with embarrassment.

Fortunately, Denny didn’t seem to notice. Regardless, that first date turned out to be a real classic “three-in-one” event. It was the first, last and only date I ever had with that particular young man. And the only time in my life I ever dared to wear a strapless dress. No more Barbie disasters for me!


Karen said...

Oh, what a story.... so funny, so sweet and so so real!

Your mom is so wonderful, recognizing what you needed and coming up with a solution. I just loved her role in all this.

And thank you, Beth, for capturing so much from your memories! Love it all!

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

It still amazes me to think about all the things Mom taught me, without even realizing it at the time. I love that other people enjoy reading about them, too!

The Scrapbook People said...

What a riot...your story literally made me laugh out loud! Thanks for sharing!

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Thanks! It's much funnier now than it was those many years ago. But I think it's a great example of the types of stories people love to hear.