By Aisha Sultan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Our baby sitter showed up at the door in the throes of a crisis.
It was the Bay of Dresses, and my closet was last chance at detente.
She carried in the “surprise” her mother had picked up for her at the mall the day before: a full-length fuchsia, flower-embossed silk dress with a high mandarin collar. It would have been the perfect dress if she were going as a geisha to a Halloween party, but it was less than ideal for her high school prom.
Sana, our 17-year-old sitter, and her mother had spent more than 20 hours at local malls trying to find a dress they could agree on.
“My mom wants me to dress like a nun or something,” she said.
Sana found a one-shoulder number and pleaded her case: “It’s not a big deal.”
Her mother was unmoved. “I’m sorry. I’m letting you go to the prom, but there are some rules and regulations that must be followed,” she said. Nothing strapless, off-shoulder, low-cut or too short. Basically, her mother refused to let her daughter out of the house dressed like jail bait.
They had originally found something they could agree on from a Mormon modest dress site online. It wasn’t until a week before the prom that they realized the dress would not arrive until four days after the dance. This is when the simmering feud erupted into full-blown warfare. Her mother ordered a second dress from the Mormon site that was guaranteed to arrive on time. It had many frilly layers and looked like something my 7-year-old would describe as too babyish for first grade. Even I could see it was unacceptable.
Then, her mother spent a day at the mall and brought home the traditional Chinese outfit.
Sana was skeptical. Highly skeptical.
Ask your friends what they think, her mother said.
She texted one of her friends and started describing the outfit.
“She started laughing so hard and couldn’t stop,” Sana told me.
I could see her point.
“I was desperate,” her mother said later.
I ran into the mother and daughter at a party and offered a silk off-white and black Calvin Klein dress that Sana could borrow. Her mother seemed ready to cry tears of joy. (Three dresses had been bought by this point, and prom was less than a week away). Sana, visibly relieved, asked how soon she could come over to try it on.
Certainly, it was flattering that a cool high schooler could fathom finding something worth wearing in my closet. Or maybe I’ve gotten old enough that my clothes officially can be considered retro. Regardless, that dress didn’t quite work.
But, we did find something in my closet that had potential.
I called her mother.
“We found something that fit her,” I said.
“You’re a size zero?” she asked.
“Of course not. It was a fantasy dress,” I said. Women know all about the fantasy clothes — the jeans we will wear once we finally get those six-pack abs, the dress we will rock once we lose 10 pounds. I bought this one in a moment of skinny, likely following a bout of stomach flu, which I quickly made up for in a weekend of carbs. It’s a jersey-knit, sleeveless red sheath with a boat neck collar. The hem hit below the knee, a classic tea-length. The cut was flawless but unforgiving. It magnified the slightest bulge.
I’d never worn it. For a while, it was an inspiration dress. Eventually, I realized the world’s strongest girdles couldn’t help me look the way I imagined I would wearing it. It got shoved way, way in the back of the closet.
Sana, however, is about the size of my pinky finger. It fit her like a glove.
It was too simple for prom, so I suggested we could find some way to embellish the neckline and waist. She was game.
We met at the St. Louis Galleria in the middle of a school day. I was worried about being arrested by a truancy officer.
“Don’t worry. I’m a senior,” she said. “And, I really need a dress.”
Even though her mother had granted permission, I still felt like I was contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
We found a jeweled bib necklace my seamstress could take apart and stitch to the neckline. We also discovered a simple lace and jeweled stretchy headband that could be fashioned into a thin high-waisted belt. But once Sana picked up the made-over dress and modeled it for her mother, it was cast into the inappropriate pile. She ended up wearing a black dress she already owned.
It was a fitting ending to the saga of four dresses and a prom.
Aisha Sultan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.