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My Big ’80s Pink Prom Dress: A Love Story

At the ripe young age of 17, I fell in love. With a dress.

While shopping for the prom, this pink sateen confection wooed me in the couture department at Saks Fifth Avenue in suburban Philadelphia. I can’t remember the designer, but in my mind’s eye — which may not be accurate due to my affinity for revisionist history — it was of a Christian Lacroix poof vintage

Everything about the dress said “Big ‘80s” sophistication: the above-the-knee length, the strapless, heart-shaped neckline, the shimmery fabric that unfolded in soft layers like petals on a plump rose. Plus, it was pink, my favorite color — and the only color I could imagine myself wearing to the prom.

“The Dress.” I had to have it. There was just one problem: My single mom couldn’t afford it the $350 price tag.

I was never much of a “girly girl,” but I always loved iterations of pink. It might be because someone once told me that it complimented my complexion. But I also think pink is a happy color. (Plus, it’s said to have a calming effect.)

[pullquote]“The Dress.” I had to have it. There was just one problem: My single mom couldn’t afford it the $350 price tag.[/pullquote]

Long before pink was adopted as the signature shade for breast cancer research, I colored my world pink. Some pinkalicious highlights of my childhood: ballerina slippers and tutus; candy-pink striped wallpaper in my bedroom; an endless supply of Pepto-Bismol-pink polo shirts; a delicious salmon cashmere cable sweater worn in an official middle school photo; a pink neon tee shirt featuring a giant U2 logo, which I was wearing when Bono pulled me up on stage at a concert in high school; a completely impractical pale pink linen coat I favored in college (it wrinkled as soon as you looked at it).

Pink still makes me jubilant today — I’m wearing it on my nails as I type this, in fact. (It’s Essie’s Pink Glove Service.) And if you ever want to win me over, just send me a bouquet of pink peonies and you’re in.

But back to “The Dress.” I had to have it. There was just one problem: My single mom couldn’t afford it the $350 price tag.

I obsessed over for this dress for an entire week, and then dragged my grandmother to the store to see it. Nanny Betty, as she was called, was a refined(ish) woman, who also favored pink — her apartment was decorated with items like pink shag rugs, a pink velvety chaise lounge and a fuchsia satin chair. Her expensive taste collided with an uncanny ability to stain everything she wore.

Nanny Betty favored labels — sparkly Judith Leiber pocketbooks, ethereal pink Lucie Ann nightgowns and buttery Ferragamo shoes. So I thought I might be able to convince her to bankroll my dream prom dress, especially once she saw me glowing in it.

But even my grandmother, a woman who rarely said “no” to her “Laurala”, wouldn’t pay for it.

I begged. I pleaded. I cried.

I failed.

In the seminal movie of my generation, Pretty in Pink, Andie cobbles together her dream dress by craftily combining a pink hand-me-down prom dress from her quirky boss and a thrift shop dress from her dad, which he bought because he couldn’t afford anything full-price. Even today, I think I would have looked fabulous in Andie’s sleeveless creation.


(Photo Courtesy: Lauren Young)

I, on the other hand, ended up with another pink dress — a lacey, poofy one that was purchased at a preppy bridesmaid store.

I don’t remember much from the actual prom night. After 12 years of living in the same suburban town and attending school with the same group of kids, I was ready to move on. With the summer between high school and college looming, my boyfriend I had already broken up. But we still went to the prom together. I know that we had a good enough time.

And yet, when I think about prom night — or look at the official prom photo — my first thought is how much I hate the imposter dress. It’s B-team. It’s heinous. It’s tacky.

Years later, I still think about “The Dress.”

Would it have survived the decades? It certainly wouldn’t fit me now. I’d like to believe it would be hanging in my parent’s cedar closet, wrapped in a dry cleaning bag. It would almost certainly smell like camphor and wood, but it would radiate the joy of youth.

Filed under: Throwback


Lauren Young

Lauren Young is the Wealth editor at Reuters, where she oversees personal finance, wealth management and investing coverage. Formerly of BusinessWeek and SmartMoney, you can find her on Twitter: @LaurenYoung


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