The Yellow Rosebud prom dress

By Nancy Covert

The sight of rows of willowy, yellow flowers standing like soldiers in a row—better described by English poet William Wordsworth as “a host of golden daffodils”—sent my mind pirouetting back to memories of my 1960 high school prom.

I’d been introduced to the Prom tradition early when I was six or seven years old: much too young to attend a real dance; however, courtesy of a collection of “Make Believe” play clothes that included my mother’s 1936 prom dress, I fantasized of how it might one day be for me.

The yellow gown was a leftover from the year when Mom had worn that feminine white organdy frock to her school prom. The sheer voile fabric was embellished with yellow roses, embroidered, all over and tied around her girlishly slender waist with a yellow grosgrain ribbon.

That day I played “dress up” Mom pinned up the hem so I wouldn’t stumble as I traipsed around the living room, pretending to be a grown up girl. I can only imagine what Mom thought as she watched me day-dreaming in her special dress.

Several years ago, I jotted down a few notes about that long-ago incident as I recalled them, but there were a lot of gaps. The next day, I phoned “The Source,” and she cleared up several of my faulty recollections.

Here’s the background: Mom and her mom (my maternal grandmother) had shopped at Joseph Horne’s (in those days it was Pittsburgh’s fanciest department store) for the dress. Price—about $10. The outfit included a sheer, white slip, silk stockings, and white leather dance pumps. She’d received a fragrant yellow rose corsage from her beau, A.H. She and her date shared a Yellow Cab with another couple for the trip to Chartiers Country Club.

The music? She couldn’t remember. An Internet search turned up some possibilities. Swing was King. They might have danced to anything by Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, or Artie Shaw.

“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got what swing,” was popular that year. “Happy Days are here again,” was another, designed to lift the spirits as people struggled through the Depression and dreamed of better times ahead.

Highlights of that pre-war decade included: Pluto’s discovery by a diligent astronomer named Clyde Tombaugh, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the completion of the Empire State Building, and the invention of air conditioning.

Many of that evening’s details, though, are “gone with the wind,” she recalled, but she did remember the rain. It had poured steadily that evening, but the downpour hadn’t dampened the prom-goers fun. Her PHS Commodore football player beau, she added, had sung in the Men’s Choir and had once written her an original song. And, she still had the ring that he had given her that night while they danced. That innocent piece of jewelry, though, got her in hot water a few days later.

The following Monday, Mom said, lowering her voice, she was summoned to the school’s administration office. Principal Dr. John Adams said that he’d learned Mom had gotten engaged at the Dance! If that were the case, he threatened, Mom would not be allowed to graduate! Mother was flabbergasted! Showing him the innocent Promise ring, she emphatically asserted that the rumor was not true. Apparently Dr. A. was convinced since Mom did graduate that June.

About three decades later, my beau and I attended Perry High’s prom that was held at some unmemorable, downtown Pittsburgh nightclub. By then most of the girls had chosen to wear cocktail-style dresses. Well, wouldn’t you know it? Three girls showed up wearing the same style of gown as mine, but different colors. I did not storm out of the restaurant and demand to be taken home.

There aren’t any photos of Mom in her embroidered organdy dress, but that night in 1960, she took plenty snapshots of me in my grown-up, frilly layered, white nylon gown. Of course, Grandma had helped select it.

Gram and I schlepped around Pittsburgh for several hours one Saturday before the big occasion, in our quest for the perfect dress. I must have exhausted the patience of many sales clerks, not to mention Grandma’s, as I discarded one style after the other.

Eventually, I settled on a white, multi-tiered, frothy confection that looked like one of our neighborhood baker’s fancily decorated wedding cakes. Gram probably savored the irony since I found my perfect dress, too, at Horne’s.

Two weeks ago I drove to Edgewood to visit my granddaughter and contribute some jewelry that might go well with her dress. She and her mom had found the “perfect” dress—a navy blue taffeta gown with a beaded bodice—at the Auburn Super Mall.

Although the prom was still two months in the future, my granddaughter informed me that, “when you see what you want, you get it!” Of course, she modeled it for me, and, as she twirled around, lost in some teenage fantasy, I remembered my own 1960 gown. I’d paid $25 for it; hers was about six times as much.

And, while her mother, my daughter, had made her high school prom gown—an attractive teal-colored gown—my granddaughter announced that, whether or not she had a “Date” for the prom, she intended to attend anyway.

Comments

  1. Mary Hammond says

    I love this story, Nancy! It brings back memories of my own senior prom, for which my mother made my dress. I was the only girl in the class of ’62 wearing a hoop skirt! What a challenge that was to wear. My mom had also made the new dress I wore to the junior-senior banquet, where I had a hard time concentrating on the many speeches, roasts, class wills, etc., as I was too distracted by multiple little “jabs” in my legs. After close inspection, I discovered that my mom had only finished hemming 2/3 of my full skirt, the remainder being secured only by lots of straight pins. I wonder what distracted her?