A night to remember

From the lacquered hair to the dyed to match pumps, Baltimore celebrities dish about their senior prom and especially, The Dress

April 15, 2010|By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun

From the satin to the sequins to the dyed-to-match shoes and wrist corsages, prom sticks in our memories like Aqua-Net in an up-do.

The hiking up of strapless gowns. The leafing through dress ads in Seventeen magazine. The saving-up for a limo. The anxiety over finding a date. So many photographs out on the lawn.

On the threshold of prom season, when The Baltimore Sun started asking prominent Baltimore women about their proms, not a single one had forgotten that night. Even after decades. Some compared it with their weddings — maybe not so ultimately important, but certainly up there in pomp, circumstance and sheer primping time.

After years of raising kids, teaching school and running for office, Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke remembers the feel of her dress. News anchor Denise Koch remembers wanting so badly to stand out. Disc jockey Kiki Brown can still feel the pang of embarrassment over a discount dress.

Socialite and former Ravens cheerleader Molly Shattuck remembers prom because she didn't go. While the kids in her class were slipping into their outfits, she was sliding down the trails of the Grand Canyon, on a trip with her mother that she wouldn't trade for all the taffeta in the world.

Prom matters, one way or another. If you went. If you didn't. For what it was supposed to be and what it was. For the magic and the lack thereof. Here are five women's thoughts on high school's big night:

Mary Alice Fallon Yeskey, office manager at Charm City Cakes: Like any girl who came of age in the 1980s, Yeskey watched a lot of John Hughes movies. And so when she thought of prom, the image in her mind was Molly Ringwald in "Pretty in Pink," short on money but long on creativity and spunk, pulling a prom dress together from bits of vintage castoffs.

"That's probably the idea I had in my head," she says. "I think that the whole making-it-yourself, not-being afraid-to-do-what-you-want-to-do thing was an ideal I held dearly."

In the 16 years since high school, Yeskey hasn't changed all that much. She's still got a streak of individuality. She still doesn't follow fashion. And, yes, she still has a bit of a thing for the poodle skirt era.

So though it wasn't the style of the day in 1994, and certainly not a trend at Montgomery County's Quince Orchard High School, Yeskey decided that she would go to prom retro — 1950s to be exact. Most girls were looking for long, tight and slinky. She wanted to be Lucy Ricardo, with a cinched-in top and impossibly poufed bottom.

Her mother took her to a fabric store where they found a pattern and, as Yeskey puts it, "the most obnoxiously bright pink satin I could possibly find." Her mom made the dress.

"It was exactly what I wanted," she remembers. "Exactly."

She remembers cutting school early on prom day for an afternoon of primping.

A long relaxing bath. Lying on the sofa in a bathrobe with cucumber slices on her eyes. Lots of curling-iron action. Lots of hairspray.

When she and her date, Craig Updike, got to the party, she kicked off her shoes and wanted to hit the dance floor. But because she had lost a bit of weight between the time her mom started the dress and prom night, it had become a bit loose in the bosom.

"Once I started dancing, it was strapless and I kept sort of yanking it up," she remembers, laughing. "I couldn't dance really fast lest I have a wardrobe malfunction. At prom, you want to dance your tail off; you don't want to be doing that."

Looking back on her prom now, Yeskey might be more impressed with her dress than she was at the time. Certainly more sentimental about it. Her mom still has it, tucked away for safekeeping in a basement closet.

Mary Pat Clarke, Baltimore City Council member: Clarke can't conjure up a single detail about her prom, surprised by an out-of-the-blue phone call about it. She's pretty sure she went She wouldn't have missed it. Right? Wait. Right?

"Well, I'm sure I did. … Let me just think about that for a minute," she says on the phone. "I'm sure I did."

To be fair, Clarke's senior prom was in 1959. After 50 years, even the most vivid memories tend to blur. But apparently she needs a few more decades to erase the itch of starched tulle on soft skin.

She can't remember anything about the dress?

"All the dresses of that time can all be summed up in one word," Clarke says. "Scratchy. They were made of netting. Bouffant-y and strapless."

And just like that — "Oh, my God!" she says — she's back in Moyan, Pa., at Notre Dame High, Mary Pat the cheerleader, surrounded by stern nuns waiting to see if her itchy, scratchy dress passed muster.

"Oh, my God," she says, laughing. "We had inspections! Prior to the prom, a week ahead of time or something, we'd have to carry our gowns to school and try them on so they could be inspected by the nuns to see if they were modest enough.

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