Death by Prom Dress

Death by Prom Dress

by Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

The six o’clock news was almost over when I heard the reporter talking about graduations and careers. Then I realized the focus of the piece was on prom dresses for the young ladies and the pursuit of

Where Bonnie's daughter would rather be

 the best prom dress ever made. A group of graduates, filled with the vitality of youth and the thrill of success, talked excitedly to the young reporter about the absolute necessity of finding the perfect dress for the prom dance. Of course they were excited, and filled with the bittersweet emotion of moving on, leaving their school mates that they had spent years with, and with whom they had developed strong friendships.

Now they would go their separate ways. One young woman expressed it so sincerely as she said, “I want prom night to be really special, because we may never all be together again.”

Yes, she was so right, and to have a special prom required having the special dress or the special tuxedo for the boys as they celebrated one of life’s milestones. Ah, yes, the perfect dress indeed! They were each searching everywhere for the elusive proper dress, as I had done years ago as well.

Many moons ago, in 1964, my prom dress for graduation night at Grand Falls Academy, in Grand Falls-Windsor, was a white chiffon knee-length creation with a trace of pastel yellow brocade on the bodice. Oh, it was divine, and so was the prom.

The search for that apparel took me all of 10 minutes, then the shoes were chosen, that was a good five minutes, and that was that. But I have been through this drill many times since, and the time is never that short it seems. Today proms are high fashion, glittering lights, limousines, and special dinners. The music and dancing goes well into the night and most proms have the after-prom party, and that often is a weekend event.

But one year, in the early ‘90s, the search for the prom dress for my sweet daughter came close to causing my demise. “Death by dress,” not a good epitaph, but it would be so true. My beloved daughter had a picture of the “most divine dress Mom” in her head, and was determined that it would be hers if she rubbed Aladdin’s lamp often enough. In this case I was the lamp.

My son had graduated four years before her and he casually rented a tuxedo, got dressed and off he went. All took place with the greatest of ease, but not so for this young lady.

Ask any mother of a graduating daughter how she is doing and her eyes glaze over as she becomes transformed in front of your eyes into a stressed, tired, overwhelmed, and distraught woman. There is no way to describe a mother’s dismay during the search for the perfect dress, it is something that has to be experienced first hand.

The Prom Dress

However, we go back to the graduation of my daughter, a girl that played rugby, was a member of the school band and cadets corp, rode a mountain bike, was on the downhill ski team for her school, and generally followed no gender guidelines. She had been known to escape from her bedroom window as quietly as she could to talk on the phone at three in the morning. Now she was in the market for a dress yet to be created. I was dragged, driven, pushed, pulled, pleaded to, and finally gave in just for the sake of finding mental stability again.

I let her buy the “divine dress” when she and a friend eventually decided that this black, strapless, sequined, short little dress that could be had for a mere 200 dollars, was found. By the time the dress was cut an inch shorter, 50 more dollars had been spent.

My cherished daughter was enthralled, and I was actually beginning to think peace was in the air. Never did I bring up the fact that my wedding dress only cost 85 dollars. That would just bring a remark suggesting that my wedding immediately followed the invention of the wheel, not in an obnoxious way, but her quick wit was well known.

So I said nothing. It was her time to celebrate her achievements so I would ride out the storm.

One of my friends who was experienced in the ways of graduating girls and their mind set, having been through the rigors of it all, came to visit one evening. She asked my daughter if she could see this special dress. So my daughter brought forth the zippered garment bag containing the invaluable dress. Then she stood there with a bicycle helmet stuck on her head, with soccer cleats on her feet as she gingerly unzipped the bag. My friend was allowed a glimpse as if the crown jewels were somewhere in the bag, and that was that.

We just shared glances of “whatever,” the look that mothers share in times like these, and settled back for a chat. We didn’t settle for long before Miss Rugby/Skier/Bicyclist walked by on her way to her game. It was then I had the moment of temporary insanity and asked her if she had yet chosen shoes to compliment the dress.

After that question, and its answer my life became a mindless blur, and I walked around with that dazed look that I see on other mother’s faces now.

“Oh, Mom, I forgot to tell you I guess, but I’m not buying shoes,” she announced, slurping saliva over the protective mouth guard sticking out of her mouth.

“What do you mean, no shoes?” I was foolish enough to ask.

“Well, I’m wearing sneakers, one black and one white,” she explained. “Melanie and I are buying two pairs just alike, she’s buying white and I’m buying black, and we’re gonna wear one of each color. We take the same size. Neat hey?”

My heart turned over, my palms filled with sweat, my friend stared straight ahead, and my daughter prepared to leave the house. This was too much, I could feel the rant coming and I couldn’t stop it.

The Shoes

“You have lost your mind young lady! Do you mean to tell me I paid 200 dollars, and 50 more for alterations, for a prom dress for you and you are wearing sneakers with it? I suppose you’ll carry

The Shoes

 a grocery bag as a purse will you? Why not get some face paint while you’re at it and top it off with some Halloween earrings. Indeed you will not wear sneakers, as a matter of fact you may not be allowed to wear sneakers at a prom!”

I was out of control by then!

Finally I could hear my friend laughing, my rebellious daughter left her crazy mother to play rugby and I was in a state of shock. She went out the door and I continued my rant. Friends are good in times like that, they listen, very often they empathize, and help you regain sanity. My friend, who knew my daughter so well, advised me to leave her alone, and she wouldn’t do that anyway. But I certainly knew my daughter better than anyone and I knew she would carry out this crazy plan, mainly because she was and is too much like me, and I admit it.

She would be all that more determined if she knew it was disturbing the normal stability of someone’s life and mind, so I promised myself not to mention it again, and I didn’t! I don’t know how I didn’t, but Divine Intervention was the key I think.

Prom night came, the girls were back and forth at each other’s homes all day, and by six o’clock they were ready to go to dinner, followed by the dance.

The sneakers were on, little beads strung on the laces, the hairdos were as stiff as steel wool, and the smiles were a joy to behold. They had hired a limousine, and when it arrived they all went running toward it, as laughter filled our neighborhood.

I never mentioned the sneakers, and I felt so very noble!

They all looked beautiful. I took many photos, and other moms came by to take photos as well, and we watched them head off to the prom doing it their own way. It is a sweet, fond, fuzzy memory now. They were so young, dressed as debutantes—that is until you got to their feet.

They all had dates, and they all had dinner, and they all arrived at the dance around 9pm. But not before they persuaded the driver to go through the take-out window at the golden arches. One of them had a cell phone and had called to describe their meal and how nice it all was, as laughter and giggles were heard in the background. I did the usual “Be careful, have a good time,” speech and they entered the school gym for their dance.

Ten o’clock our phone rang. It was my sequined, tulle, and bi-coloured footwear graduating daughter. “Mom, I’m sick of this now. Can you come and pick us up?” she whispered into the phone. Of course I would. And I did. They had only rented the limousine for four hours, after that the parents were the chauffeurs.

So the 250 dollar dress was worn for four hours, she had a new pair of sneakers that she wore doing her summer job of making cotton candy at the fair grounds, and she had a graduation diploma.

As for me I had gone into the overdraft!

Then the time came to leave for University in September. Another rite of passage, which is a whole other story! Now she has finished university, has a good job, a wonderful husband, and a darling six-year-old little girl, the love of her grandparents lives. She, as well as her brother, lives in Alberta now.

I never ever mentioned the sneakers or the craziness of buying an expensive dress and wearing it for four hours, coming home, changing into camping gear and leaving to go camping, returning covered in flanker holes and totally exhausted a few days later.

It is a tender memory now, and has caused many a good laugh between us, and the sound of her laugh makes it all seem worthwhile. And the best part of it all is that she has a delightful little daughter who is rebellious, wears what she wants, when she wants and she is only six years old. If her boots are on the wrong feet, she wants them to stay that way! If you brush her hair, she will immediately mess it up and memories of her mother at that age come to my mind.

I hope I live long enough to see what her mother has to say when her prom time comes. I really hope I am there, if only to finally get to tell her about the darned mismatched sneakers! But until then I have a word of advice to suffering “prom moms” and that is to “ride it out.” Let yourself have the joy of a warm, sweet memory to tell your grandchildren. Because I sure as heck am gonna tell mine!

Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe is a retired Registered Nurse living in Shoal Harbour, Newfoundland, passionate about photography, writing and her family. She has two grown children and one granddaughter, who all live too far away from her in Alberta. An anthology of short stories called Up Til Now is available through