Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Wardrobe Stories - Prom Dresses

For some reason, the last couple of weeks have seen an upsurge in debate about the prevalence of proms in the UK. 

The media's attention was completely captivated by the (true) story of two sixteen year olds - Emily Pounde and Hannah Jagger turning up to their school prom in barbie boxes. Since then, the topic has been tackled from multiple angles on radio, TV, print and online: economist reports on the amount spent on dresses; feminist fears over the messages being sent to girls (exam results eclipsed by the 'achievement' of being best-dressed); nationalists bemoaning the death of more British events like the humble school disco and the traditional ball.

Although it feels like another lifetime, it wasn't actually so long ago that I attended my own school 'prom' (only it wasn't called that back then). There were two, in fact: the leavers' party at sixteen marked the end of compulsory schooling, and the boat party at eighteen marked the end of secondary education for those of us who had stayed on for AS and A-Level exams. Listening to Jane Garvey on BBC Radio 4 asking interviewees about their experience of prom made me think of my own - and in particular, my outfit.

The ensemble I wore is pictured above and it's another 'found fashion' story. I bought the halterneck top for (from memory) around 5 euros from a bargain basket in Germany - I was away with the school on language exchange at the time. And the skirt is a wrap-round that I flipped inside out to reveal more of the yellow 'silk' and less of the green lace; I picked that up for 10 pounds from Camden Market in London. I wore H&M Indian slippers, I have no idea where the belt is from and I'm pretty sure I wore the same outfit to both parties. 

Turning up and feeling beautiful on a shoestring budget was addictive - it started the personal trend that continues to this day, and has included many a ball dress and wedding outfit sourced from charity and vintage shops. Incredibly, at almost 25 years old and having attended a university with some pretty spectacular balls and black-tie events, the only dress I've ever bought that cost over £100 was my wedding dress. None of the others have even come close.

I'm not outright opposed to spending lots of money on clothes. Actually, one of the things I'm thinking about frequently at the moment is how I can get past cheap, fast fashion and learn to pay for the full value of clothes: the work that goes into their production, the ethical lines that source materials responsibly. Even so, like most people who are well-off compared to the majority of the world, I'm still on a budget. If I had the financial freedom to, I think I would probably enjoy investing in a few designer pieces - I would relish the artistry, the back-story and history. 

But at the end of the day, just like it can't buy happiness, money can't buy style. The deciding factor in the 'best-dressed' equation is not what you wear, it's how you wear it. That was what my 'prom' taught me. If I could give one gift to girls getting ready for their American-style proms, it would be the grace to learn that lesson too.

Wardrobe Stories' are a string of posts helping me to appreciate the clothes and accessories I own in an atmosphere where it's easy to end up taking things for granted.

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