Shopping for a Prom Dress: The Odyssey Begins

Written on April 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm , by

Guest blogger Marian Merritt, member of Family Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board, on her “prom mom” experiences.

My nearly 18 year old daughter (I’ll call her “M”) is a high school senior and beginning to plan for the penultimate ritual of finishing high school: the prom. So apparently, that makes me a “prom mom”! And I’m feeling such a bittersweet rush of emotions about this. I suppose that’s normal. Unbidden, fog-laden memories of my own prom come whispering. The dress I selected, after hours spent in the over-lit dressing rooms of now-long-since-gone Los Angeles department stores like Robinson’s, Orbach’s and Bonwit-Teller. Scandia, the glamorous restaurant my prom party went to, is also no longer around.

You may be interested or even shocked to know that my daughter’s high school doesn’t actually allow or sanction the prom. My daughter’s school is a religious one and doesn’t approve of dances. As a result, this is the “MORP” (prom spelled backwards) and is put on by the students themselves, with parents as adult chaperones. The principal is fairly modern and hesitant to speak too harshly against the evening so he limits his concerns to the possibility of foolish and dangerous behavior like underage drinking and the unnecessary expenses for the families of his students. And the principal’s concerns are not unfounded; some of the parents I’ve spoken with are opposed to the prom because it can be so expensive. I’m much more sentimental and am looking forward to the affair even if we have to monitor the spending to not go overboard. I have every expectation that my daughter and her friends will simply have a good time in one last lovely party before they all scatter to colleges, gap year programs and other endeavors near and far.

My daughter’s class is very small and extremely close-knit and she has been dating a boy from another school for several months now. I’m happy for her that the prom will be a celebration of these long friendships and that she will get to go with someone she’s close to. The June event is still several months away but preparing for prom is a journey, a process, and there’s actually a lot to do to help her plan this wonderful evening.

So where are we in all this? M is still at square one, finding the perfect dress. Have you ever met a teen who said “yes” to the first prom dress they saw? If so, she’s not my daughter. So far, M’s been to malls near and far with her friends, looked online and in magazines, hoping to find that ideal combination of glamour and comfort in a dress that flatters her figure, hides her (perceived) flaws and comes in a price tag we can afford. She’s been emailing me links to websites, photos of her in store dressing rooms and showed me clippings of gowns. But so far, she hasn’t allowed me to go shopping with her. I know why. It’s because, as a busy working mom, I tend to make decisions quickly. I get impatient with shopping and after a few hours, my feet hurt. (Just reading that in print makes me feel old.)

Today, that changes. M has asked me to take a long lunch and go with her to a mall nearby for some dress shopping. And if that proves unfruitful, we have a trip back East in a week to look at some of her colleges. Maybe, during some of our downtime we can visit a few stores together. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to discover a little boutique in SoHo or a shop in Philadelphia with that unique, perfect, not-too-expensive dress? And to have that experience together? Not only because it will be such a pleasure to help her find this dream dress, but also because the chance to spend time with her is fleeting. She’s so busy, so consumed with decisions about college or perhaps a gap year program, with AP tests and softball practice, with community service hours and socializing, I’m grateful for our family dinners so at least we see her from time to time.

But if I let you in on a secret, the best part so far of being a prom mom is finding out that my big girl, my nearly-old-enough-to-vote daughter still wants my advice and maybe even my approval. M is concerned about spending too much on a dress she knows she’ll only wear once. She’s really so mature and so considerate, it’s one of those “you’re making me proud” moments that can sneak up on you.  And that make you feel like you’re doing something right after all.

Marian Merritt is a mother of three (two teens and a tween) and works for security company Norton by Symantec. You can read her internet safety blog at www.norton.com/askmarian. She serves on Family  Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board and has written the award-winning Norton Family Online Safety Guide, now in its third edition.