It takes two to shop for the perfect dress

May 21, 2000|By SUSAN REIMER

We are in search of the perfect dress.

I say "we" because although my daughter will be wearing it, I am the one with the car keys.

The triggering event for this search is the Eighth Grade Social, but this ritual is past due. Among the many things that mothers must convey to their daughters is how to find the perfect dress.

But doing this together is less an intergenerational thing than it is a chick thing.

Women never search for the perfect dress alone. They always go in pairs. You are less likely to make a disastrous choice if you have someone with you who is enough of a friend to tell you the truth. Or at least wrinkle her nose perceptibly at your selection.

I consider this a wedding dress dry run.

She is only 14, but every search for the perfect dress -- from homecoming to prom -- will be a wedding dress dry run.

Every search for the perfect dress that is not a search for the perfect wedding dress gives my daughter and me a chance to learn those unpleasant things about each other's taste that could result in lifelong damage to our relationship when we are actually searching for the perfect wedding dress.

Already there are hints of disagreements to come.

I am thinking modest little sun dress and she is thinking beaded bodice.

I am thinking summer sandals and she is thinking break-your-ankle Las Vegas showgirl high heels.

I am thinking pale pink twin set, and she is thinking specialty bra.

"This is the Eighth Grade Social, for crying out loud," I say in one of my generous attempts to keep the lines of communication open. "It isn't the Eighth Grade Wedding or even the Eighth Grade Prom. Get a grip."

I drew the line when she asked me to hire a limo for her and her friends. And no Eighth Grade Social Breakfast, either.

My daughter has a hair appointment and a nail appointment and if I let her, I think she'd schedule a waxing. She wants sparkles in her hair and tiny gems glued to her cheeks. I feel like I am in Drew Barrymore's remake of Cinderella.

Speaking of Prince Charming ... there are none.

I am also the mother of a son and one of the first things I learned is that boys are just another accessory in a dress-up pageant run by girls. Sort of like a corsage. Boys are a prop, an excuse. This is where girls learn to dress for other women.

The other facilitators in this pageant, the other mothers, have begun to reach out to each other, the way parents of adolescents are encouraged to communicate in order to prevent drinking at parties.

"Are you shopping yet?" we ask each other tentatively. "What stores?"

We probe to find out how much the others are spending. How fancy, how revealing, how long or how short the outfit. Each of us announces our limits with certainty, but we are faking it. If a different consensus develops, we will cave and we know it.

We don't want our daughters to be left out, the only one in a cotton floral shift when everyone else is in floor-length taffeta. We know how awful that would be, because we have all been the girl in the cotton floral shift.

As my daughter and I embark on the quest for the perfect dress, I register my No. 1 requirement:

"Let's make this a dress that you might actually wear again," I say.

Who knows? Maybe it could even be her wedding dress.

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