Lois Nicholls

Fairy Tale Formal

Lois Nicholls
Lois Nicholls

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—When the uninformed see the composed, elegant, beautiful images of other people’s daughters posing at their ‘formal’, they have no idea that behind every smiling, buffed beauty in exquisite dress, heals and hairdo is a harassed mum who hasn’t had time to shave her legs.

I thought I would never succumb. No-one was going to force me to bow to peer pressure, book for MAC make-up (“can’t you just do your own?”), acquire a Coach clutch and source killer heels. We weren’t going to sit for hours at the hairdressers trying to replicate a delicate ‘do’ featured by Kate Moss in Vogue. I wasn’t going to be the mum trawling tirelessly through boutiques in search of THE MOST UNIQUE FORMAL DRESS ON THE PLANET. Book a spray tan? Too artificial, darling. No, not I. How wrong I was. Have done all of the above bar Coach clutch. I’ve been unwittingly sucked into the great Year 12 formal vortex and there’s no fleeing now. How on earth did I think I’d escape?

But have I learned a lot! During the search for the elusive dress, I was suddenly privy to an entire range of designers I’d never heard of: Camilla, Zimmerman, Sass & Bide, Bec & Bridge … rolled off my daughter’s tongue as though she’d been fraternising with the Packers all her life. Such are the joys of the internet. And Vogue. She was incorrigible. She’d send me links to dresses she’d seen while perusing online boutiques during her double Maths class. Maths, for goodness sake!

Armed with a strict budget, she continued her online quest at home. The first dress was a disaster. Having two brutally honest brothers turned out to be a blessing in disguise because when the feather-light parcel arrived and the slip of a dress paraded, my younger son took one look at his sister and announced she looked like a laboratory assistant. It was arctic white, a tad clinical and I’m afraid his comment completely ruined any chance of a revival.  So back it went.

We finally agreed that the online route could be fraught with mishaps so we headed off to the much-lauded fashion mecca otherwise known as ‘The Valley’. Other mums have called it ‘The Valley of Doom’ because there’s a fair chance an emotionally exhausted mum could keel over for good through sheer shopping fatigue. Perhaps it’s folklore but some mums have also been known to spend an entire day trailing from shop to shop only to return home empty-handed after uttering some final innocuous words akin to: “Don’t you perhaps think it’s a bit too tight?” In comparison, our trip went rather well, given that we found the perfect dress in only our third boutique. It was beautiful and within budget. My daughter looked stunning.  All done and dusted a whole three months in advance. Not bad going, I thought smugly.

I was wrong. Three months, it turns out, is far too long to like a dress. It’s also far too long to actually return a dress. Before my darling daughter is labeled a spoilt brat, let me explain—she’s not. She buys most of her own clothes, sews many of them, is a seasoned ‘Op’ shopper and accomplished bargain queen. And in her defense, I did see a flicker of indecision when the shop assistant and I gushed over the dress I thought was perfectly adorable (perhaps mildly influenced by the painful thought of more boutique trawling). And there was a touch of uncertainty when I hurriedly suggested: “Let’s buy it now!” So the dress went on eBay and without blinking, my fashionista daughter sourced a new one.

It’s admittedly rather lovely and she promises this one’s for keeps. Now, all we need are accessories, spray tan, hair, and makeup. How hard can that be?

Illustration by Lara Nicholls on Society6 – http://society6.com/laranicholls