Movies and television shows tell you that one of two types of girls become prom queens: the most popular or the richest.
I was neither.
In the 60 student class of 2005 at Mastery Charter High School Lenfest Campus, I can honestly say, I was the least popular girl among the female students and my family had to pool money so that I could afford my prom. In fact, it wasn’t until the day before I went dress shopping with my best friend that I had my prom money: $600 in cash.
It was never a question whether I was going to prom. I had watched five of my older siblings prepare for it, so I was definitely going. It didn’t matter if I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it or who I was going to take. I don’t even remember ever talking to my family about helping out with prom. Ever since my eighth grade dance, they had always chipped in to contribute, and my aunt, who raised me, always made sure I looked my best. One of my aunts always paid to have my hair done. My sister always helped me with accessories. I knew I could count on them to help.
My best friend and I went all the way to New York to find our dresses. I wanted a short dress so that I could show some leg, which I was told was one of my best features. At the Macy’s in Brooklyn, nothing quite tickled our fancies. The security guard at Macy’s suggested we go to a store she called “Shells” – or at least we thought that was the name. When we headed to the Manhattan address the store turned out to be Chanel – not Shells. As soon as we walked in the door I’m sure they knew that we couldn’t afford anything there. We looked completely out of place.
I finally found my dress at a mall in New Jersey. It was simple, long and brown: completely outside of that year’s prom color trend of springtime pastels. I don’t know what made me gravitate to it, but when I tried it on the chocolate brown color looked awesome on my skin. It had a v-neck and a beautiful cascading design down the back, which is probably the real reason I bought the dress. The damage was approximately $90. I know this because I remember being surprised that the gold Steve Madden wedge heels I bought to accompany it cost more than the dress. They were more than $100. I kept my accessories simple with a pack of gold bangles, a gold clutch and some cubic zirconium earring studs that came with a pendant. My hair cost $100 and my aunts dropped off the money for that earlier in the week.
When I think about it now, I wonder why I didn’t take one of my best friends in school who actually “bought” his date by personally paying for all of her prom purchases – dress, shoes, etc. I was not in a relationship, so I took my brother Billy. He was completely shocked and grateful I considered him. It worked out well except for the awkward moment when the photographer kept telling us to get closer, and the obligatory slow dance after I was crowned.
That night the class chose two prom queens, with one prom king. We were the first graduating class, so I guess they were still figuring things out. When the time came to announce the ballot results, everyone was standing around the ballroom at the Marriott. When they called my name, I couldn’t believe it. I only had a small group of friends and I think half of them voted for the other girl. With just one crown and one sash between us, I quickly went for the crown. After all what’s a queen without her crown?
The prom was the big topic of discussion the next Monday morning, even for underclassmen. People that I didn’t even know were congratulating me. Some people asked how I won and who my date was. When I told them I took my brother, all of sudden, I was the girl to talk to.
Nearly seven years removed from high school, I still smile every time I think about prom. Not because I was prom queen, but because there is something magical in getting dolled up and seeing your friends dolled up too. It was absolutely the last hurrah before college. I was also the last one out of the five kids my aunt raised to go to prom. Having my family see me off really made me feel special and beautiful.
Yasmein James is an in-house freelancer for NewsWorks.org. She lives in Germantown.