We’re all familiar with the promise of prom. The glamour, the romance, the memories! Even if the whole tradition of a high school prom is something we’ve nicked shamelessly from America (“in my day we just called it a leavers’ disco,” sniffed every parent over the age of 40, ever), it’s a ritual most of us are totally happy to make our own.
Here are a few things you expect to happen at your prom: you, casually looking like a goddess; a dreamy-eyed date watching you walk down some stairs in slow motion; a parent waving a camera and crying over how only yesterday you were in nappies and now you’re a woman; some delicious scandal that maybe ends up with a fight in the car park; two girls (not you) wearing the same dress and really not seeing the funny side; elegant slow dancing; less elegant snogging; a raucous after party at someone’s (conveniently absent) parents’ massive mansion, probably with a pool, into which you’ll all end up jumping.
None of these things happened at my prom. Except the dress clash, which actually was me, and my arch enemy. And I didn’t see the funny side.
I really should have realised weeks beforehand that my prom wasn’t going to be the stuff of teen movie fantasy. Clue one: we went to an all-girls school and weren’t allowed to bring outside dates. This was a massive injustice, obviously, and I ranted about it for weeks, neatly glossing over the part where I didn’t know any boys to bring anyway.
Clue two: we weren’t allowed to hire a fabulous venue in case we were seen ‘associating with boys’ in town (yes, apparently I did go to a school for nuns in the 1800s), and instead had to have the prom in the school hall – scene of assemblies, exams and buying sausage rolls and baked potatoes from a hatch. Clue three: instead of hiring a cool professional DJ, we were obliged to have Mr Smith the photocopying technician, who sometimes did his Queen megamix at weddings and christenings on the weekend. No part of this set-up spelled out ‘best night of our lives!!!’ and yet, I still hoped somehow it might turn out to be the prom I’d always dreamed of.
Of course the prom I’d always dreamed of didn’t start, funnily enough, with my mum and I locked in the bathroom trying to get my dress to do up. Somehow the combination of a stiff zip, nervous sweating and the fact I’d bought it in February and my boobs had apparently had a growth spurt since then meant that while my friends were gathered in my bedroom, laughing and doing their hair and taking selfies, I was crying off my glitter eyeliner and envisioning myself rocking up at prom in a hoodie to conceal the fact my dress was wide open.
“Stop wriggling, I nearly had it!” hissed my mum, flexing her fingers like a snooker player. “I am doooooomed. My life is a joke.” I wailed, between snotty sobs, as she went in for another determined tug. “DON’T BREAK IT!” Eventually, eventually, the zip went up. It fit, I could breathe, I wasn’t going to be a topless prom pariah! It was all ok!
Until about 30 minutes later, when, just recovered from the zip drama, I put my heel through the hem as I got into the car. Riiiiiiip – one stiletto, straight through the floaty chiffon. On the plus side it then became easy to distinguish between me and the nemesis who was also wearing my dress, because she was the one without the massive gaping hole in her skirt.
Next came the journey, which had so much potential to save the day; a fleet of classic 1960s minis, called in as a favour by a mate of my dad’s who belonged to the local Mini club. Having organised it all, I naturally nabbed the best one – bright yellow with (swoon) an open top – and then spent the whole trip shivering in the wind, trying to stop my hair from turning into a frizz hedge, and fighting with the driver to play some music that fit with our retro vibes, instead of his preferred playlist, the greatest hits of 90s country star Sheryl Crowe.
“At least we win the coolest arrival,” we told ourselves smugly, watching everyone else’s predictable white limos roll in. Until a group of the most popular girls managed to turn up in a police riot van, and completely stole the show. They weren’t playing Sheryl Crowe either.
Inside Prom Central (AKA just the school hall with a balloon arch and a buffet table), things continued going downhill. Without dates to flirt with and vicious catfights to have in the car park, we didn’t know exactly what we were supposed to do, at the prom. Except dance, hard. Dance like no one was watching. Which no one was, because did I mention NO DATES? The highlight of the night turned out to be standing in a circle around the hot young geography teacher as he danced to Justin Timberlake, clapping.
I ended it all by having a fight with the lady doing the professional photos, over whether I should wear my hair in front of my shoulders (“It’ll obscure your accessories!” she said. “My hair is MY BEST ACCESSORY” I snapped back). The final result was me with a single tendril of hair flapping weirdly around my pink, shiny face, scowling.
My Granny still has that photo on her mantlepiece to this day, where it provides a handy reminder every time I go round – a reminder that a) life is not always like films. Actually life is basically never like films, and that’s ok. b) The fun you can have in a tight dress and heels is rarely as good as the fun you will have back in your mate’s room afterwards, in your PJs, laughing until you nearly wee about how anticlimactic your prom was.
And c) you’re not really meant to have the best night of your life when you’re 16. In fact, I’d advise against it. It gives you so much more to aim towards.