The Junior Prom was just a few weeks away, and I was 16. This year I could actually go. All I needed was a date.
Finally, one week before the dance a nice young man asked to take me to the prom. All the way home on the school bus (I lived on a farm in Oregon), I felt as excited as a kid waiting for Christmas. I ran the half mile from the bus stop to my home.
“Mom, you will not believe this. The most wonderful thing has happened.” The words burst out like firecrackers. “I’ve got a date for the Junior Prom!” I danced around the kitchen as my mother reacted with appropriate enthusiasm.
Then it hit me, and I said, “I’ve got a serious problem. I don’t have a thing to wear.” And I didn’t. I was one of nine children, and we didn’t have much money. I had a wonderful mother with many talents, but they did not include being able to take a piece of material and turn it into a beautiful prom dress. I knew I was asking for more than my share when I said, “Is there any way I could buy a formal?”
There wasn’t much opportunity to earn money with all the work I did helping out at home. The problem was presented to my dad, and my prayers had to have made the top ten list of Most Fervent.
“This is very important to you, isn’t it, sweetheart?” my dad said. And the tone of his voice made me feel another miracle was on its way. “We’ll find the money. You’ve got to have a formal.” I hugged him and proclaimed him to be the most wonderful father on earth.
The next day Mother and I went shopping. Do you know what the styles were in the 50s when I was 16? Strapless evening gowns. And President David O. McKay taught modesty then just as President Ezra Taft Benson does today. Some things never change. Styles do, but the need to be modest never does.
As I stood in the dress shop that day, I knew these strapless gowns were not modest. But that’s all there was. We went to another shop, and again only strapless evening gowns. We went to yet another shop and found the same story. As I looked down the rack in the last shop, my eye was pulled to a beautiful peach gown with rows and rows of the kind of ruffles I’d dreamed of. I said, “Oh, Mom, look! It’s so beautiful. Can I try it on? I know I can’t get it because it’s strapless, but it’s so pretty. Can I just try it on, you know, to see if I really look good in this color?”
“Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to just try it on,” Mom said. And with that I was off to the dressing room. Quickly I put it on, zipped it up, and looked in the mirror. It took my breath away. I had to have this dress. And besides it occurred to me that if strapless was all there was in the dress shops then guess what everyone at the dance would be wearing. All of a sudden I wanted to be “in.”
I walked out wearing the dress and said, “Mom, we have searched everywhere and there just isn’t anything, so I guess we’re just forced into this purchase.”
She smiled and said, “No we’re not. But it is beautiful, and it does come up quite high. Maybe we could get some material and add to the top to make it modest.”
Feeling slightly foiled, I thanked her profusely. We bought the dress and the material and headed for home.
The next day, before my mother had a chance to make the needed adjustments for my dress, the phone rang. My brother and his wife, 400 miles away in Provo, Utah, called to say they had just given birth to the very first grandchild in our family and they needed Mother’s help. She was so excited, she was on a bus in a matter of hours and forgot all about making the additions to my dress. And so did I, sort of.
The night of the prom arrived, and Mother was still gone. The thought of going to the prom in my gorgeous new strapless evening gown created a pulse rate I could actually see. About 15 minutes before my date was to arrive I was ready and walked out into the living room. There was my dad.
He took one look at me and said, incredulously, “Where did you get that dress?”
And I replied with feigned innocence, “Mother bought it for me.”
He was not convinced. “Mother would never buy you that dress without a plan. Now tell me the plan.”
“There was a plan, Daddy. Mom was going to add some material to the top, but she didn’t get a chance before she left. And, Daddy, I’m just sick about it, but I have to go this way.”
My dad was not persuaded. He firmly asked. “Where’s the material?” I could feel cardiac arrest coming on.
“Bring it to me, and a needle and thread and scissors, too. Quickly.” I went to get the items thinking, “I have never seen those big calloused hands sew anything but seeds.”
Daddy held up the material and looked it over, then laid it on the table and folded it until it was a band about six inches wide. He then took one end of it and began sewing it to one side of the top of my dress, using tiny little stitches, the kind you can’t pull out. Then he wrapped it around my shoulders, cut off the excess, and stitched the end firmly in place on the other side. He fanned the fabric out, and I was modest.
As I stood there I thought, “Tonight is the night I die.”
I went to my mirror to look at the damage. To my surprise it didn’t look too bad. A ruffle hid most of the stitches. Just then the doorbell rang, and there was my date.
That night, as we danced around the floor amidst all those bare shoulders, something happened. Nobody else knew it happened, but I knew because it happened inside of me. Suddenly I was filled with an overwhelming love for my dad. It surprised me. Somehow, throughout my whole being, I knew how much my dad loved me. He loved me enough to insist that I not go to a dance dressed immodestly. It felt good.
I don’t think anything bad would have happened to me that night if I had gone with bare shoulders, but I might have really enjoyed being “of the world.” After compromising in this area, I might have found it easier to do other things contrary to gospel teachings.
You don’t live in the era of the strapless evening gown as I did. Instead you live in the era of the gownless evening strap. But you’ll make it. I know you can because President Benson said, “It is not by chance that you have been reserved to come to earth in this last dispensation of the fulness of time. … You are ‘youth of the noble birthright’” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 81). And one way to exemplify that is to follow the prophet’s counsel to dress modestly.
Dress for Celebrating
The big event is just weeks away. You can hardly wait, but what to wear? For LDS girls, the problem is triple. Pretty party dresses these days are not only hard to find and expensive; they often seem only partly put together, not because they aren’t fully sewn, but because there’s not much to some of them. But with a little imagination and knowing where to look, you can find alternatives.
Of course, you could sew something—a dress that’s really terrific and not too tight for your figure or your budget. But what if you can’t and don’t have anyone willing to do it for you. Sewing a beautiful prom dress is certainly an option, but it’s not the only choice you have.
Something Borrowed or Rented
Check out your mother’s or grandmother’s closets. Hidden in the back you might find something interesting. Everyone tends to keep the really beautiful outfits from the past packed away somewhere. Those fashionable clothes they wore when they were young just might look terrific when updated with modern jewelry or a belt. Or stores that sell vintage clothing may have something that would look great on you. Formals and suitable bridesmaids’ dresses can sometimes be rented inexpensively.
If you have the time, ordering from catalogs can widen your options. Catalogs are chock-full of fun designs in a full range of prices, styles, and colors. If you ask, some catalog companies will allow you to order two or three sizes in the dress you want and return what doesn’t fit.
Wearing a garment from another culture can add a note of adventure. A kimono from the Orient might look great worn like a duster over flowing black pants and top. Or the large Japanese sash, or obi, in brocade can transform a simple skirt and top into a dress fit for a prom. Or wear a sari from India over a simple outfit.
Wear something a little different than the traditional formal. How about long, flowing white pants with a matching blouse or jacket.
Try a big beautiful scarf or a square of fantastic fabric draped over an otherwise basic dress.
Accessorize that same basic dress with long strands of faux pearls.
You do have the choice of enjoying yourself and looking great at a party or dance and still dressing modestly.