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.

Tell Us in the Comments

What do you think?

19 Responses

  1. Beth

    Absolutely love this! My prom dress still is hanging in a closet at my parents’ house, mocking me with its tiny little bodice, never to be worn again by anybody who’s birthed one kid, let alone four. Nobody ever tells you that your rib cage will expand with pregnancy.

  2. Dana

    Oh lauren, I remember my dress with much more detail than the night as well. Too funny!

  3. Holly

    lmfao! This is fantastic on so many levels! I love the look on Fireman’s face (and the look on your’s couldn’t be farther from his!!!). Funny funny story

  4. Adrianna Dufay
    Adrianna Dufay

    I barely remember the guy but I totally remember my dress!

  5. Bill Perkins

    The dress is lovely because you’re in it.

  6. jamie

    Love this. made me laugh – especially the “Pretty in Pink” reference – I actually tried to design my own dress, (Inspired by Andie – Molly Ringwald’s character in the film) failed pathetically and my mother had to find a seamstress at the 11th hour. The moment I realized my career path wasn’t going to involve me being the next Coco Chanel.

    • Eve

      Holly, I’ve had you on my mind and heart this week since it was Fatr&he#8217;s Day on Sunday. I wanted to reread this beautiful tribute about your Daddy. It is so amazing how God orchestrated so many amazing moments for your father to be with those he loved so dearly. I was always impressed with your deep love and respect for your father and especially your heavenly Father. I am praying you are well and carry these sweet memories through all your days. I love you!Melody Sutherland

  7. Claiborne Mildé

    Magnificent! Are the shoe Dyeables? Lauren, I always knew you were a pastel person at heart.

  8. Caitlin

    This really takes me back…even though I don’t remember much from our Prom Night (due to boredom, not substances or age). I want to pull a Marty McFly with you and travel back in time and see you get THE dress!

  9. Sue

    This is such a great post! I remember the gold dress I wanted for prom. I saw it in Seventeen and loved it so much! But I didn’t end up with it because no one around my area sold it. 🙁
    Oh, and LOL about the Dyeables! I had a clutch purse Dyables with a gold chain back in the day!

  10. Lauren Young

    Thanks everyone for these amazing comments. My astute sister recalls that the dress was designed by Oscar de la Renta and on markdown from $900, which would be $1890 in today’s dollars. See, I was destined to be a personal finance writer. I have expensive taste – on a budget!

  11. Kathy

    When I was 16, we didn’t have much in the way of designer options in Oklahoma. But what was popular in 1976 was a brand called ‘Gunney-Sax’, or something like that. My dress was definitely Prairie Chic. I didn’t have the attachment to it, though, and it eventually made its way to Goodwill, or some such place. Imagine my shock, when decades later I was browsing in an antique store, and there in the vintage clothing dept., hanging for all to see, was MY dress. I kid you not, it was mine. I think I was more appalled by the implied age of the dress (and its former owner) than the fact I wore it in the first place.

    • Adrianna Dufay

      I loved Gunne Sax dresses! Very “Little House on the Prairie” chic..

  12. Megan Culhane Galbraith

    I just love that Lauren Young published this photo!

  13. Lauren Young

    Please, embarrass yourselves so I don’t look like such a pink, poofy fool!

  14. Megan Culhane Galbraith

    You are not a fool, you are awesome! Here is embarrassing: I didn’t even GO to prom!

  15. Megan Culhane Galbraith

    Also, you haven’t aged. Just sayin’

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