The Horrors of Prom Dress Shopping



We enter now, a null period of the year. The days before spring and summer where the temperature hovers at the precipice of being comfortable but never quite gets there. Where months pass without a break. Where the ground turns to swampy mush. These are dark days and bad times. 


There is one particular catastrophic event I think of often. It looms large in my mind’s eye and casts a sinister shadow over my other thoughts. It’s disastrous, messy, heartbreaking, sweaty, costly, and honestly probably not worth it when you really think about it—that’s right baby—I’m talking about Prom!


In my life, I have experienced more pressure from the surrounding student body to start prepping for Prom than to drink alcohol or do any kinds of drugs. (They never warn you about this peer pressure in Advisory lectures). Initially, I thought to myself: “Prom is in May, I have three whole months to get my affairs in order” and resolved to do my dress seeking in April. Everything seemed calm and settled from there.


No one outright told me to start prepping—it was more of a creeping, urging, mounting tension. My fatal error was listening to my friends talk about prom dresses. My mistake was following the Harriton prom dress account on Instagram. My downfall was eavesdropping on someone talking about prom dress shopping in a free I had while I was pretending to be asleep. Such were the follies that planted a seed of doubt in my mind. “Maybe I should look for a dress now. April is a little late, isn’t it?” Thus, the seed grew roots and spread poisonous branches of anxiety throughout my conscience. 


Suddenly, I had to find a dress for prom or I was going to die.


So on Sunday, I summoned my courage and rallied the troops. I donned my sturdiest grieves, my hazmat armor, my WWII era gasmask; I said my prayers, made confession, planned my funeral, and finalized my will. And I went to the mall to find my dress. 


I felt fear and grave determination in my heart, in the same way the soldiers marching on the beaches of Normandy must’ve felt, because I knew I would either exit the mall with a dress or with crippling body image issues. I also felt fear because my mom was coming with me (but that’s just an issue unto itself; how could I not go dress shopping with my mom).


The mall opens at noon on Sundays. I entered the automatic sliding doors at one. By then the trenches were already in disarray. Dresses litter the floor, hangers are criss-crossed and tangled into gordian’s knots, and tags from every price range flutter around like moths to hazy lamps. (A moment of silence for our brave warriors working in retail). 


It’s the badlands and it’s the jungle. 


It’s the birth of the universe in multicolored fabrics, and the heat death of every wallet, all at once.


A quick aside. For some reason, walking into a store to look for a dress is the most embarrassing thing yet I have no idea why. I don’t know if this is a common problem, but the awkward little walk you do in through the door at first and then the awkward little glances at the clothes around you is humiliating. Then the embarrassment when the people working in the store ask if you need any help and you have to be like “No thanks, I’m just looking” is horrible. I just need this to be acknowledged.


There are people my age everywhere in the racks. We riffle through dresses with the same rabid, frenzied desperation that raccoons have when they’re digging through trash cans at night. In my arms are five dresses that I am trying to hold so they don’t touch the ground. I am failing miserably since I am barely 5’3 on a good day. Parents are also enlisted to scour the racks. At the dressing room entrances, you see exhausted dads slumped over on benches piled high with bags. In the actual rooms are mothers cinching fabric and doling out out-of-pocket commentary.


For every one dress I like, there are three more I’ve abandoned. There’s always something off about the dresses: something ruched weird, random straps, too much glitter, too little glitter, too long, too short, weird color, bad fabric, itchy seams. I understand there are people starving in the world, but also, this is a special kind of upper middle class torture. I digress, of all the faults that dresses can have, there is one offense which made me realize that there is no god, and then that there actually is a god, he just hates me specifically. This offense is that there is never, never, NEVER a dress in the size I need. If I see another dress I like in a size that’s not mine, I am going to start biting people like a feral dog, is something I distinctly recall thinking. 


From the mounds of special occasions dresses, I emerge, like Venus from the sea. Except, unlike Venus, I am not blessed with dominion over love and beauty, I only have an Auntie Anne’s pretzel. From my arm hangs a single bag with a single dress, one out of the millions I have tried on. My psyche has been eviscerated by a dress that has so many straps it was impossible to discern between what was cosmetic and what was meant to preserve my modesty. My self conceptualization of my body is destroyed—I no longer know whether I am a size 0 or a Medium or whether or not those two are comparable in any way. 

I’m wearing my prom dress once in a dark venue for eight hours tops, yet I have lost years of my life over it. Prom and the hype surrounding it is a ridiculous concept, and this is a ridiculous way to live.