I’ve been a bit of a fashionista most of my life. I think it all started in 1965 when I was 17. I don’t have a model’s figure, mind you; my top is a little too small, my bottom a little too large, and my back curved in a little too much, “sway back” it’s called. Camouflaging all of that can be a challenge. Rarely can I take something off a rack, try it on and take it home. Just the luck of my DNA. But I can be cute in the right clothes on a good hair day.
I once read a book about Jackie Kennedy, in which a college friend of hers said something that stuck with me: “She wasn’t really a true beauty, but she could make herself look like one.” I felt that way about myself. Maybe not a true beauty, but something like that.
So, flash back to 1965 in Puerto Rico and my Senior Prom, which I was going to with my first love, a handsome high school football player I was crazy for. To help find a dress for the big day, my whole family traipsed along with me from the Air Force Base where we lived to a charming little dress shop in a small town with the pretty name of Isabella.
My dad was there because my mom wouldn’t drive the scary mountain curves off-base. My sister was there because it was an outing. My little brothers were there because mom couldn’t find a babysitter.
I had missed my Junior Prom for lack of a date the previous year (shedding many a tear over it!) and it was full throttle on this one. So there we were, in this little room lined with beautiful full-length formal gowns on three sides, a little dressing room with a curtain-for-a-door, and a small sofa on one wall. Everyone squeezed onto the sofa, my brothers trying unconvincingly to behave, my sister poking them now and then.
One dress after another was brought before me by the shop owner, and I stepped hopefully into the dressing room with each one. No dice. And then, not one to be discouraged, she brought over an exquisite yet simple white crepe de chine number sprinkled with shimmery little silver beads all over the bodice–that was out of my father’s price range. My dad started to object but I cut him off at the pass. “It can’t hurt just to try it on,” I pleaded. Everyone was getting tired and we all wanted to get out of this little shop, no matter how charming it was. But I wasn’t leaving without a dress.
I stepped back into the dressing room and the sales lady zipped me up. I walked out. Everyone stared.
It was just like something Jackie Kennedy would wear. A classic. I was transformed from a flirty teen-ager into a sophisticated young lady, right before their eyes. Even though I was a redhead, my skin was a tawny bronze from the Caribbean sun and the white dress set it off perfectly. My dad couldn’t say no. He felt like he had a movie star on his hands.
I fried in the sun for hours on Prom day to get an even deeper tan, put my red hair up in a French twist, tucked in a rhinestone-studded tiara, pulled on long white gloves and stepped into pointy white satin pumps. The look was complete. Amazed at the apparition before them, my mom dragged a neighbor or two over to the house to witness the miracle while dad took pictures with a little Brownie camera.
Soon my Prince Charming arrived in his debonair tux and off we went. The only thing missing was a pumpkin-shaped carriage pulled by white horses, and three fairy godmothers. But I didn’t need them, my Prom dress was magic enough.