I’ll never forget Eric Benson and not just because he was tall, dark and handsome. He was my brother’s best friend and more importantly, he was my date to the eleventh grade prom. When he picked me up that memorable night, he was wearing a crisp white tuxedo, a deep burgundy-colored cummerbund, a matching bow-tie and his favorite Converse Chuck Taylor’s.

Eric wasn’t looking dapper on his own behalf though. He wore it all and wore it well because I told him to. Yes, he was my date, but things weren’t like that between us. I mean, even though Eric was everything a girl could want in a guy (a star athlete, a bonafide school heart-throb and an honor roll student,) he had expressed to me, with no-holds-barred honesty, on more than one occasion, that I “just wasn’t his type.”

Honestly, he wasn’t the man of my dreams, either. I mean, I wasn’t even a woman yet, but the one thing Eric had that I longed for in a boyfriend or any person I kept company with during that period of my life, was for them to be an empty, unabashed canvas of fashion willingness. Eric let me be his painter of style, if you will, and with just the right palette, I was able to put together a perfectly polished, creatively cool, “couple look” for prom.

Eric asked me to the dance in the first place because he just wanted to have fun. He didn’t want the pressure of performing (if you know what I mean) and on top of that, he was up for Prom King. He felt safe with me. We were practically family. I could tell he was nervous about it, although he didn’t say as much. So, who better to ask to the prom than his best friend’s kid sister?

Plus, Eric just really wanted to hang-out with my brother (and a couple of his other good buddies) who were all going stag, but if he actually won Prom King (and there was a good chance because he was pretty popular,) he wanted to be flanked by a fashionable girl (his words not mine,) not with his posse. After all, pictures last forever.

In exchange for my so-called flanked-ness a.k.a. availability, I got to style the entire posse (including myself) for what would be their last night of pubescent, debauchery-filled, high school freedom. It was an honor and a job I took on pretty seriously.

Months before the big night, I ripped pages out of “Seventeen Magazine” for clothing ideas and arranged them on a large, shabby chic cork board in my bedroom. I explored dozens of fabric stores for inspiration and to get a grasp on what was ‘really’ in style, I wandered through as many department stores and shopping malls (as humanly possible) and that’s when I found it. The perfect prom dress.

I fell in love immediately. It was just one of those dresses that was so special, it changed me. I would never know a dress as special as this one, not that I knew it at the time (the story of my life.) It was the color of fresh fallen snow and possessed the delicate beauty of days gone by. I was entranced. It was so amazing, I longed to preserve it and wear it on my wedding day, when and if that ever happened. It looked as if a doily and an elaborate wedding cake had mated and birthed the most fabulously frilly, freakishly beautiful, baby.

I named the dress “Madonna.” Yes, after the pop star, because I thought it to be unusual, provocative and one-of-a-kind. It had a square neckline and a tight bodice, resembling dresses of the Victorian era. The skirt was big and bouncy and buried beneath it were layers of intricate lace and tule. The dress hit me just below the knee, but the hemline grew gradually longer in the back, flowing into a mini train. It was fit for a prom queen, not that I had been nominated, but it was definitely a true asymmetrical cut that could complement Eric’s potential kingly moment.

I lived and breathed to own, possess and wear “Madonna.” Naturally, I demanded an audience with my parents. They knew that I had been overly spirited about fashioning my own prom experience (and they were extremely supportive.) So the following Saturday, my mom and dad drove me to the mall, where I’d discovered the fab frock; the one I named after the most famous pop star in the world (at the time.)

I still remember the “ooh’s and ahh’s” from my parents. They were smitten, too. They even agreed that the dress was flat out fantastic. They smiled and stared at me as I sauntered around the store in “Madonna,” asking everyone (or at least the other store clerk that wasn’t helping us) if I looked like a Prom Queen. The answer was YES, but things don’t always work out like you plan.

My parents explained to me that even though the dress was lovely and perfect for prom, they just couldn’t buy it for me. Needless to say, I was DEVASTATED. I wept like an angry child and asked: “Why?! Why can’t you buy me the dress?!” My mom hugged me and said: “Baby, why would we buy you such an expensive dress? We just can’t afford it.” I looked at her puzzled and said: “Well, sometimes you don’t need a reason, you do nice things for people…just, just, just because.”

I’m sure it was heart-wrenching for my parents not to be able to buy me something I really wanted, but I dropped it. I didn’t want them to feel pressured over my guilty pleasure. They were raising a houseful of kids, both of them were working full-time jobs and they’d just bought a new house that our big family could live in comfortably. As a consolation prize, my parents took me to Dairy Queen and bought me a banana split Blizzard, my favorite.

The next week, I got a job at McDonald’s. I excelled at the drive-thru. My manager said I was a great multi-tasker. I worked every shift I could get after school and saved my money. Still, I wasn’t sure if I had enough time or energy to buy “Madonna” before prom. It’s the first time I understood what it was like to work for something I truly wanted. It scared me. What if I failed? What if I couldn’t do it? I trudged on.

My new job quickly taught me to take responsibility for my own wants and desires, instead of transferring them onto my parents. It felt unbelievably good to work hard and at the end of the week get my OWN paycheck. I opened a bank account and took on another job: babysitting.

There were never enough hours in the day. Eventually, I started falling asleep in class, so I had to learn the proper balance to make sure I was present for every situation in my life: school, work, homework, family, friends and my beloved fashion planning.

The house was dark and quiet when I got home from working my double shift at Mickey D’s that night. My bedroom door was slightly ajar, which I thought strange because I always shut it before I left for school. I felt around for the light switch, flipped it on and there she was: “Madonna.”

THE dress that I had wanted so badly was hanging in MY room in all of her Snow White glory. It was so long and luxurious it had to be hooked to the very top of my book shelf. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I walked forward to touch it and noticed there was a note attached. It read …

just because…

Love, Mom & Dad

I was speechless. I choked back my tears. I was exhausted from school and work and my emotions surfaced easily. I had only known crying from sadness, but now I knew what it was like to cry out of happiness. Although, just in the eleventh grade, I finally understood why people wept at weddings, reunions and surprises. Joy and happiness can be overwhelming emotions that spill from our souls just as easily as pain.

My parents, sleepy-eyed and in their pajamas, walked into my bedroom. The three of us embraced. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. I think the intimacy of it and the fact that they chose to reward me for working so hard just sunk into my heart and remains there to this day.

I saved most of the extra money I earned (in those few hectic months,) but I spent part of it, too. I bought a pair of white lace fingerless gloves, white lace high heel shoes and a white satin ribbon for my hair. My ultimate prom look was complete. I tried on the dress a few dozen times before its debut (to this day, I still love a good ‘dress’ rehearsal because of “Madonna.”) The most spectacular part of the gown, hands down, was its hemline. The high-low look was pretty and sophisticated (like the dress pictured in the blog.)

And while that hemline brought me a lot of happiness back then, the style quickly came and went. Now, a few decades later, “The Must Have Maxi (just because…),” is the must have dress of the Summer.

The style originated in the 19th century, to complement women’s evening wear. It was created to mix elegance and drama. It was also popular in the 30’s and 40’s and eventually, in the Summer of 2012, it seamlessly fit into fashion again. It’s been gaining steam ever since. The fun and flirty hemline is extremely versatile and best of all, it can show off a killer pair of legs or your favorite pair of shoes.

Even though the high-low skirt is uber-popular, I tend to lean toward the dress trend. For me, it’s more of a streamlined look. Sometimes a shirt/skirt pairing can be bulky, because you’re dealing with extra material. Especially if you’re petite and especially if you’re donning a dramatic hemline. The dress, on the other hand, elongates the body and if you pair it with nude shoes or an opened-toed, beige bootie (preferably the color of your skin,) you’ll immediately add extra length to your legs.

By the way, my eleventh grade prom was pretty amazing. Eric and I were everything we should have been: awkward, stylish and really happy (at least as happy as teenagers can be.) We danced, laughed and sang the night away.

Eric, did become high school royalty that night, when he was crowned Prom King and the pictures are priceless (it’s a good thing they do last forever.) Eric wasn’t just flanked by a fashionable girl wearing “The Must Have Maxi (just because…).” He was joined by his entire posse (including my brother) for his official pictures. It was hard to tell who his date really was that night. I guess we all were in a way, at least when it came to celebrating his special moment. We made funny faces, threw peace signs, rabbit ears and even did a few group hugs with “King Eric” in the middle.

After prom, I ended up keeping my job at McDonalds’s, my brother and his friends went off to college and, well, I grew up fashioning my life, because of what I learned that year, in a lot different, amazing ways.

Now, every time prom rolls around (like this time of year,) I can’t help but think of Eric, his posse,”Madonna” and that note from my parents. I think about how much all of it still means to me, how the experience changed me and helped me grow into a better person and that’s why “The Must Have Maxi (just because…)” will always be one of my favorite things.

Blog dress provided by Koko & Palenki: www.kokopalenki.com
Lace-up bootie by SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker): www.nordstrom.com
Necklace: Charming Charlie’s
Earrings: www.anthropologie.com
Resin orange bangle bracelets: Sobe Summer Flea Market

Have a fashionable idea? Contact me:
Twitter @ShireenSandoval
IG @ShireenSandoval

photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Twitter @todp_t4twophoto
IG @Tod_p

Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
Twitter @Odettehernandz
IG Odett_Herndz

Editor: Matthew Auerbach

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