No Sugar Added: The magic of a prom dress

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Along with a throng of other parents of high school seniors, I am, this morning, recovering from the prom.

And for me, it’s not merely a physical recovery, but an emotional one.

My daughter, Ophelia, is on the brink of college-dom, and the prom is one in a chain of upcoming events that will assist in putting a padlock on her childhood years of mandatory classroom hours and holiday gifts for teachers, while simultaneously providing her with the key to the brightest of futures.

Like her peers, she’s about to enter a brave new world of collegiate independence. I imagine that the first few weeks of actually using an alarm clock will be fraught with peril. But she will adapt. Either that, or she will be begging to move back into her bedroom here in Maine by Halloween.

My daughter wore to the prom a dress that her grandmother wore to a dance back in her own high school days. A dance she attended with her high school sweetheart, the man who would later become her husband, and my father. They ended up divorced, so the significance of the white, tulle, ballerina-like vision of a frock doesn’t hold quite the sentimental significance that it could, but still, she wore my mother’s dress. And it brought tears to my eyes.

I did not attend my own senior prom, so there was no fashion inheritance for Ophelia. I figured, if Bobby Sherman wasn’t available, why bother? This nonchalant attitude affected my mother more than it did myself. She thought I was missing out on a major milestone, whereas I thought I was missing out on fighting off the inevitable, unwanted smooches of some guy who probably smelled of Hai Karate.

Now, just so you don’t think I am completely unaccomplished, I did attend a prom during my junior year of high school. My best friend’s cousin, a senior in a nearby town, had invited me to be his date. All I remember of the evening is that his pale green tux with black accents caused him, sadly, to look not unlike a container of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

I actually happen to love mint chocolate chip ice cream. But I could think of other flavors I’d rather have on my arm at a formal event.

His name was Peter, and he was a nice, tall, fun (albeit rather quiet) guy. And Peter, if you’re reading this, I know you did the best you could. It was the tail end of the 1970s, and your choices at most New Jersey formal-wear establishments were undoubtedly limited to a variety of pastel shades. I thank you for not choosing lemon meringue.

Things could, indeed, always be worse.

My best friend died about eight years later, and every time prom season rolls around, I think of her laughter. And of her cousin. In that tux.

Some parents get very involved in the entire prom process. I attempt to stay out of the swirling pond of prom muck until the plans have been established, and someone has asked me for cold hard cash. I ask as few questions as possible, beyond those related to safety.

The innocence of the prom no longer exists. Nowadays, they administer Breathalyzer tests along with a smile at the front door. Back in my day, in the decade following Woodstock and “Barbarella,” I imagine certain chaperones may have slipped something into the punch bowl themselves (although I have no evidence to support this suspicion).

As Ophelia and I shopped for a variety of fashionable prom accoutrement, we had some of the most touchingly honest conversation in recent memory. We talked about her future and her dad and the melancholy feelings we had both, unsuccessfully, been trying to suppress.

My mother’s dress ended up being a catalyst for feelings of love and sentiment, for reflection on time passing, of people no longer present, of days gone by and of the promise stretched before us. It provided the perfect bridge, both to the past and to this wondrous, new chapter in our lives.

Sometimes, a few yards of white tulle and some thread is more than just a prom dress.

Sometimes, it’s magic.

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No Sugar Added is Cape Elizabeth resident Sandi Amorello’s biweekly take on life, love, death, dating and single parenting. Get more of Sandi at or contact her at