To the Young Woman Who Bought My Vintage 1950’s Prom Dress

My yard sale was not exquisite.

There was a table of little girls toys and some toddler clothing that I was not very sentimental over, six random tires from old vehicles, a table of clothes made in the USA from a brand that I respected and once sold in a popular retail store and ended up with a closet full. There were a few stacks of name brand jeans that I paid too much for (and in turn likely charged too much for) folded neatly next to a designer jean jacket that I bought at a time when I was a single mother on food stamps but “no one’s going to know when I wear this little thing.”

Against a tree, I was selling a brand new paddle board that I bought for an amazing price and then used only before realizing that the description that said that the rider needed to weigh 100 pounds over what I weigh and be about six inches taller was not lying. I got the board out on to the lightly choppy waters, SO excited to take off into the setting sun while who-cares-if-I-ever-return-I’m-a-girl-on-a-boat coursed loudly through my veins. But, to my chagrin, I could not control the floatation device because I was not the proper weight and height. Yes, I balanced like a runway model in four inch heels, no problem, but it nearly spun in a circle with each paddle pump. It didn’t fit me.

The rack of vintage clothing was where my focus had been all morning; the knee-length pleather jacket, the ancient real leather jacket that I had not worn for 12 years since I becoming vegan but never got rid of because I loved it so much. The ocean blue 1950’s prom dress that I wore to an adult prom in my late 20’s and that night discovered my boyfriend making out with another in the back parking lot thanks to his ringtone that revealed his location from behind a cement barricade sounding, “Ice Ice, Baby.” And next to that, its golden sister, a buttercup and honeysuckle, lemon drop poof of a prom dress straight out of a 1950’s dream.

(not exactly the dress, but close)

Over the years I have fit in it and not fit in it depending on my size and my ego. I purchased it for myself in a vintage store when I was twenty-one. At the time I had a two-year-old baby on my hip and a lifetime of being an adult ahead of me. But when I slipped on this dress, oh-la-la, eternal youth rang out in my eyes and heart. It fit me and it was mine.

Over the decades I wore it in the Harry Potter apartment, in the Ballroom apartment, in the Blue House, the Doll House, and each time to impress a new group of friends, a new boyfriend, a new self discovery or just to play dress up with my children. I showcased it for real on an outdoor runway one drizzly summer day. I had never modeled before and was very nervous so along with all of the champagne the models were drinking I was offered a little bit of cough syrup with codeine in it to “Relax! Take the edge off!”

Alas, dolled up hair to toe, with a parasol to boot I stood spread eagle in an alleyway hoisting up all four feet of buttercup tulle and satin so I could barf without getting any splash on my dress or shoes. With each retch my rib cage expanded and the unbudging satin lining and antique zipper strained. My mind didn’t know what to focus on… the vomit splashing off the ground onto my shoes? The dress busting at the seams? My watering eyes smearing my mascara? The nauseating and crippling allergic reaction to the codeine? Was it even legal to drink someone else’s prescription meds? Were there cops around here?

“Anne-Marie, it’s time! Hurry up!” Warning came from behind me as I stood, spitting the red syrup vomit one final time into the puddle before me. I smoothed by dress, reapplied lipstick and stepped onto the runway in front of a few hundred spectators. Profesh.

Later, for a couple of years I did not fit into the dress. I had given up spending my life’s savings on looking good and not eating and traded that for eating like a normal person and feeling good. I changed from directing fashion shows and live music to caring for the elderly and terminally ill. Indeed, I did a 180. So when my yellow dress spontaneously fit me a couple of years ago when I was hella trim for some reason I threw it back on.

At once it came back to me; my divorce, the subsequent relationships, the too-many-different apartments, the career changes, the…. puking in it one moment and then smiling for the crowd the next. Looking in the mirror and breathing deeply, passing my hands over the ruched midriff, I felt the familiar “no-give” in the bodice. I recalled that the dress gave the impression of a breezy and virgin-esque, casual, ice-cream eating afternoon, but inside it was a sweaty mess and because of the ruching around the bodice, it was actually a much smaller size than one might guess. It looked perhaps like a six when it was a mere two.

And this, my friend, is what I was thinking of when you picked up my yellow dress and said you’d like to buy it. I said, “ Oh, this dress turns heads. You’re going to feel like a princess wearing it.” And because I have daughters, because I worked in retail for years and am sensitive to the delicacies of trying clothing on, because I know that $30 is actually a lot of money for some, and because of my two decades of history with this particular love I said this to you, “Would you like to try it on? It’s deceivingly small.”

Then to which you haughtily replied with a batted eye, “I’M deceivingly small.” I giggled because your response could have been considered a clever “come back” if my offer to you had been catty in anyway. You stuffed the money in my hand and sauntered away.

For years I thought the world was against me. Or, rather, that it was me in the world and no one was coming to help me so I had better make the best out of doing every thing for myself. It was one night when I was laying in bed next to a man I was really not sure what I was doing with, but he listened to “The Secret” every night before bed so that must make him okay I supposed (?) that I had a complete change of mind…heart…desire…understanding of life: everything.

The world is not against or for any of us. The universe is not against or for any of us.

We are what we make of our world in our minds. The dress I owned for two decades did not change and it did not change me. I changed me and then the dress did not fit.

Sometimes people are genuinely trying to help though it is received as an insult and sometimes things simply do not fit. My career in fashion and music does not fit with who I am now. I ended up out of control on my paddle board because it did not fit. And perhaps that delicious yellow prom dress does not fit you either. Though, that’s not my business is it. Maybe you will fit into it. Maybe you might love it in your closet but never wear it. Maybe you’ll sell it on eBay for more than I charged you for it. Maybe you don’t give a shit and I ruined your day and in the end you bought it out of spite because what business is it of mine if it fits you or not. And, maybe I’m the only one left sobbing, recalling my past apartments and heart-broken singledom and feelings of being dreadfully alone because somehow those years were so beautifully broken and made me who I am now. All of those stories, and I’m sure dozens more from whom ever owned it before me, you just carried away in your arms with that yellow dress.

Author of Death Nesting and Ancient Death Doula Series. Feeding Your Demons Facilitator. Community Deathcare teacher. Mama of three. www.annemariekeppel.com