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Formalwear — A History

June 4, 2014

Fat FashionFat HealthMy Boring-Ass Life

Seeing the local high school’s prom advertised on their billboard got me reminiscing. First of all, LED billboards? I’m not sure my high school even had a billboard. Then again, it may have just escaped my notice.  I was the person playing cards in the band room during pep rallies, and I don’t even play an instrument! In my mom’s day, prom was held in the school gym and it was affordable. I hear they served dinner there too.

My prom was held at a presidential library an hour away, tickets were only sold by the couple for nearly $100, and they ran out of munchies. I was so unimpressed with my junior prom that I didn’t bother trying to scare up a date for the senior one. When you get down to it, I was just in it for an opportunity to dress up.


Plus-size prom dresses have come a long way.

I was a size 12 in high school. It’s not exactly plus-size, but all the cool clothes were in junior’s sizes. My chest kept any junior top from buttoning all the way up and my hips ensured no junior pants or skirts would ever fit. I would drag my mother to the one store that went up to size 15 and leave dejected that I still couldn’t get anything stylish to fit me (my personal style in high school was a mash-up of preppy, goth, and old lady).

Plus-size clothing has certainly come a long way. I have a much easier time finding trendier clothing now than I ever did in high school. But formalwear? That’s another story.

I was lucky. My parents were doing pretty well that year and there wasn’t much of a limit on my budget because they were happy I was doing something normal-ish. My mother and I went to Nordstrom, where I flocked to the colorful, sparkly dresses aimed at teenagers and, of course, they didn’t fit. Then it was upstairs to the misses dresses where I began to think that finding a dress that was me was going to be impossible.

As we were leaving the store, we found a black column dress with a square neck and a cowl back that fit perfectly. Just two problems:

  1. My bra showed in back and I couldn’t go braless
  2. I had acne all over my back.

By some miracle we managed to find a bodysuit in a D cup that wouldn’t show under the dress. While I can’t vouch for Dermablend’s ability to cover tatoos, it did give the illusion of an acne-free back.

I wore that dress with black heels, crystal jewelry, and gloves to prom. Unfortunately, the photos were taken on a black background, so I ended up looking like a glowing forearms and face floating beside my friend. Later, I wore that dress with fishnets and combat boots in college. I even brought it on my first cruise. It was a very sad day when I discovered that dress no longer fit. The experience started off poorly, but it ended up being the opposite of what I expected it to be. Shopping for a graduation outfit was more in line of what I expected prom shopping to be.

We finally narrowed it down to two outfits. One was a white suit that would’ve looked right at home on a cruise ship, the other was a boxy pastel mother-of-the-bride dress with lace jacket. The latter won out on account of the football stadium not being a cruise ship. Still, I couldn’t imagine wearing that to prom. I did wear it to another formal event, when my thyroid started acting up and nothing else I owned fit. Even then, it was hard to get excited about dressing above my age.

After cruising became a thing with my family, formal wear became something that got worn once a year, and replaced every few years as my body continued to grow. One year, I found a beautiful size 16 green ballgown for $35 at a JC Penney outlet. That was the year every doctor I saw told me I was crazy, a liar, or looking for an excuse to be fat. I tried that dress on for a cruise the following year and spent the next half hour crying in the closet because I’d already outgrown it. That year, I wore a very boring little black dress with a lace jacket, scarf #1, and scarf #2. My sister has a very thin build and wore beautiful dresses. I spent half the cruise feeling like crap because she looked good and I was frumping it up. Even my swimsuit was one of those it-was-the-only-thing-that-sort-of fit-and-I-sort-of-don’t-hate garments.

The next several cruises brought what I call my “I Give Up” outfits. Now a size 18, I got a pair of black chiffon pants that sort of look like a skirt if you squint. I paired them with some very boring tops: a mother-of-the-bride jacket and camisole in burgundy, a black top with lace sleeves, I don’t even remember what else because they sucked. One time, I wore a chiffon top with bell sleeves, right out of my mother’s closet. Then I got really adventurous with a zebra print wrap top.

I have since given the entire collection to my 68-year-old mother because it suits her way more than it suits me. The formalwear matched the rest of my clothing. Whatever was cheap and covered was what I wore. Personal style was out the window, unless you count total apathy as a style. Were it not for the fact we eat dinner as a family, I wouldn’t even bother with formal nights. Nothing makes you feel like crap like watching women your age in interesting clothes and realizing you’re wearing the same thing as every other retiree onboard.  Add in the fact that I’m as non-photogenic as they come and my family can’t take enough pictures, and the whole trip felt like torture. How many vacation photos of you in some godawful top and frumptastic pants would you want to look back on? Don’t even get me started on the “professional” photos. I end up looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost with more chins than I thought was possible for me to have.

Stabilizing at size 22, I was once again left with the question of what to wear. I’d heard of Kiyonna before but most of their styles show more cleavage than I’m comfortable with. Finding Igigi was a revelation. There were dresses with personality, in colors, and they go up to size 32! I picked out two dresses for that cruise. One was a teal and gold Egyptian-inspired number that got me compliments from other passengers. The other was a black lace Spanish-inspired dress that is vaguely reminiscent of my prom dress. Only this time, I  can wear a normal bra and I don’t have acne.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2014 10:18 am

    I sewed my own prom dress as a result of being poor and a size 20. I spent hours hand sewing details that only I would notice. It is beautiful, but was very much not in fashion. It’s still in my closet. 🙂

  2. gingeroid permalink
    June 4, 2014 7:55 pm

    I wish I had skill at sewing. So far my specialties include ironing on velcro so that I won’t have to sew, stabbing myself, and using duct tape after I’ve exceeded my patience threshold for stabbing myself.

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