Year ten formals are a dress rehearsal for year twelve formals, I think we can all agree on that.
The year ten formal (or 'prom' for my #murica friends) is a time for girls to wear dresses that will later be shown at their 21st party, in the “remember-that-one-time-you-actually-wore-this” category (yes, there’s a whole category for that). It’s a time when your friends put in $10.50 each, so you can hire a limousine that looks like it came straight from Austin Powers. It’s a time when boys give girls floral corsages, and the girls actually wear them. It’s a time to awkwardly dance with your date, while avoiding all eye contact, but managing to step on their toes every three steps.It’s the first time you see your teacher’s dance, and the first time you wish you never had to see your teachers dance.
I remember my year ten formal, and to my delight/horror, it included all of the above experiences. My most vivid formal memory? My dress. It was exceptional, in the worst possible way, and yes, it was shown at my 21st.
It is difficult for me to convey in words just how spectacular this dress was, but for you, I will try (you’re welcome). Imagine a dressmaker taking Bindi Irwin, 1995 (the entire year of fashion), a family of leopards and Nikki Webster (Strawberry Kisses era) and putting them into one magical dress. That was my year ten formal dress.
Let’s just say it didn’t exactly compliment my awkward, teenage figure. The dress finished at my shins (flattering, I know) in a handkerchief style, like leopards had actually attacked me.
I looked like Jane of the Jungle, without my Tarzan, or any hand-eye coordination.
Go with the leopard print, she said. Everyone will love it, she said.
Three weeks prior to my formal, my sister and I were standing in the fitting-room of a major department store in the city; she had taken me out to play the role of “big sister” in search for the dress that would ensure my popularity in senior school. The pressure was on. It had to be perfect. It had to be brave but beautiful. I was stressing and had even had nightmares of turning up in the same dress as another classmate (hopefully a girl)… aka, social suicide.
I had tried on countless dresses and found nothing in the category of brave or beautiful… until these two dresses. They were now hanging up in front of us. The first option was a beautiful, electric blue dress that was very classic, very pretty, very boring. The second choice? One big, bold, brave statement of leopard print.
My sister clearly loved the leopard print dress, and went into sales-pitch mode:
“If you don’t want to be brave, go with the blue one. It’s pretty, I guess, but no one will remember you…”
I want to be brave! I want to be remembered!
“…Go with the leopard print dress, and no one will forget you…”
I don’t want to be forgotten!
“…The blue is safe, the leopard print is a statement.”
I love statements!
I picked up the brave dress (also known as “Jane of the Jungle”) and walked out of the change-room like I had just received the Nobel Peace Prize for bravest year ten girl, ever to live. That’s a valid category, right?
My poor date, Blake. All the boys had asked their dates what colour their dresses were so they could buy her a matching corsage as a gift. When it got to my turn it was clear Blake immediately regretted asking me to formal. The other guys got “pink” or “blue” or “red.” Not Blake. He made his mum go searching florists around the city just to find a corsage that matched the description, “leopard print.” The result? Orange. Crazy hair, crazy dress, and orange flowers stuck on my wrist. I was definitely a sight to be… uhh… Remembered.
The formal came and went. But it will never be forgotten.
It took about two years for me to be able to look back, to realize and to admit how crazy I looked. But once I realized, I regretted.
In my search to be brave, I forgot how to be beautiful.
To this day I still get tagged in social media posts and receive texts from my friends whenever they see leopard print anything. For so long I didn’t wear leopard print, it was too traumatic. It was only a little while ago I plucked up the courage to admit it, to use the L word.
I actually love leopard print.
These days I wear it all the time, in moderation of course. But hey, year ten formals are a dress rehearsal. I learned my lesson and stuck to classic instead of brave at my year twelve formal.
So what did I learn? Opinions are great, but ultimately we are the ones who wear our decisions. Be careful who you listen to.
Disclaimer: As a response to this blog, my sister would like to be put on the record as saying, “the leopard print dress was awesome, the rest of Elyse’s class wasn’t cool enough to get it yet.”