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Published February 11 2012

Swift: Aunt shows a-mace-ing grace over niece’s dress

When my 3-year-old godchild, Penelope, turned to me and asked if I could buy her purple sequined tennis shoes, I knew we would be the best of friends.

Ever since then, I’ve lived for the day when I could take this budding fashionista prom-dress shopping.

Sure, I’d already enjoyed that vicarious thrill of shopping for prom with Penelope’s older sister, Yolanda.

But Yolanda was practical, conservative and money-conscious. She would only try on A-line dresses that were either blue or a certain shade of yellow. She had more rules about proper attire than a Catholic school in 1957.

Yolanda did not appreciate my helpful suggestions that she bedazzle the bodice, invest in a hand-jeweled tiara or add a dyed-to-match faux fur stole.

She was like the anti-Tam.

I knew Penelope would be different. She’s fashion-forward, highly social and boy-crazy. I would call her a chip off the old aunt, but she’s actually a version without all the bugs and insecurity. Think Tam 2.0.

Penelope wouldn’t balk at trying on mermaid dresses or funky shoes or tiaras. It would be like dressing my own, life-sized Barbie.

As we entered the first prom store together, Penelope made a beeline for the sparkliest, blingiest, brightest dresses in the room.

“That’s my girl,” I thought, smiling indulgently.

But as she emerged from the dressing room looking more 25 than 15, my enthusiasm began to wane.

As Penelope tried on various skin-baring styles – and they are all skin-baring these days, unless you shop at the Posh Pilgrim Boutique – I winced.

The dresses had enough boning to give Brock Lesnar curves. Not only that, she had curves. And long legs. And a size 2 frame.

In short, she looked like a knockout in just about everything she tried.

It made me want to run up to her and say: “You know what this strapless, form-fitting gown needs to really make it pop? It needs a floor-length canvas cape with a sewn-in turtleneck. And it should be accessorized by your aunt, who will be carrying a baseball bat and some mace.”

And so my sister Verbena and I did what we could to delicately steer her toward less seductive apparel. We didn’t wish to squish her excitement or self-expression, but we didn’t really think a teenager needed to try on a corset dress with transparent lace.

Even so, we had many ideological differences. We wanted her to look like Nellie May Prairiestarch. She wanted to look like Katy Perry.

Despite our difference in opinions, Penelope didn’t seem to be madly in love with anything she tried on.

Then, at the last store of the day, she found it.

The minute she walked out of the dressing room, we knew this was the one. She couldn’t stop smiling or looking at herself in the mirror.

It was a strapless, lime-green dress with a beaded, corset-style bodice. Classified as what those crazy kids these days would call a “high-low,” its skirt started at just above the knee up front, then cascaded to a train-length swirl of lime-green rosettes in back.

It also cost $500, which was approximately the price tag of my school’s whole senior prom – and that included the cost of hiring a fancy band from Mandan.

It was cute, trendy and flirtatious, but it didn’t make her look like a Frederick’s of Hollywood model.

More importantly, it was completely Penelope. And she was completely in love with it.

So we said yes to the dress.

And maybe just one teensy can of mace.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or tswift@forumcomm.com