Prom season is upon us, a time when neighbors pose their formally dressed sons and daughters next to blooming magnolia trees and thick green bushes. Photos capture glowing smiles and young love.
I remember posing in my own driveway by the bright pink rhododendrons. I, too, was filled with teenage love for my date and felt a rush of excitement that we were privileged to go on this fancy and expensive date together, with an entire group of our closest friends.
I wore a long black gown that fell to my ankles. It had a thick black halter strap with a wider scoop neck that didn’t show any cleavage, and a slit up to the mid-calf. When I look back at photos, most of my girlfriends dressed similarly. There were some spaghetti straps. Lengths varied from floor-length to just above the knee. Most dresses fit snug but not tight.
Fast-forward almost twenty years and things have certainly changed. In 2012, it seems that sexy is best. Apparently, David’s Bridal, a store known mostly for selling wedding gowns, also sells prom dresses with one section labeled as “Sexy.”
The Wall Street Journal published an article recently about schools around the country that are now resorting to pre-prom Power Point lectures on appropriate formal wear for girls that evening. Parents, teachers and administrators in various states were concerned when girls showed up at school dances in skirts well above the knee (imagine Britney Spears or Lady Gaga, underwear or no underwear fully visible with one small bend of the torso).
Or the latest rage, perhaps taken from the ballroom dance style in shows like Dancing With the Stars - “cut outs.” High school girls were arriving at dances in dresses to reveal their midriffs or waists - armpit to hip bone - that appeared to have fabric mysteriously missing.
In professional competitive dance, it is useful to see the body closely to fairly judge the skill level, however I never need to see an open back dipping down so low that it shares a plumber’s common problem, or a low-rise pant broadcasting a pubic bone. Why do women and teenage girls need to make such a show of their skin? What happened to smart and sophisticated?
I am far from a puritan and admit that I dress to flatter my body. My favorite formal attire right now is another halter top dress (love those even twenty years later) I wore to a fundraiser just a few weeks ago. The bright green fabric suits my coloring. The loose chiffon flows to my knees and has a small “key hole” in the back, up by my shoulder blades. I certainly feel smart and sophisticated in the dress.
And okay, okay - I think I look good in it, too. Attracting attention, however, is no longer on my agenda. Neither is portraying myself as a sexual object.
So, what gives? Celebrity culture definitely seems to be inspiring the latest trends. I remember seeing Jennifer Lopez walk some red carpet in a supposed V neck dress. The V dipped down past her belly button, unveiling three quarters of her breasts and most of her bare torso.
And the dance shows, too, not just DWTS - So You Think You Can Dance is guilty of “costuming” women in only a bra and underwear. For what point? I danced and choreographed professionally and never thought I needed to be half-naked for an audience member to learn something from my art.
Today I feel almost apologetic to women like Betty Friedan who, in the 1960’s, encouraged women to actually enjoy and engage in the act of sex. She insisted that women should feel free to express themselves sexually as men do.
Now I feel like shouting to the heavens “Sorry, Betty! We took it too far! We misunderstood! We’ll pull it back, I promise!”
Enjoyment of sex and freedom of sexual expression have little to do with what we wear. When will we stop dressing girls like strippers and prostitutes? I can’t wait until the trend ends.