In theory, prom is an opportunity to dress up and pretend you're a very classy adult. Thanks to the emotionally fraught nature of high school, that can be a tall order under the best of conditions. But for plus-size girls, it's like scaling Mount Everest.
This report from the AP delves into the uniquely frustrating experience that is trying to find a plus-size prom gown. Oftentimes, formalwear in larger sizes is downright matronly. Even retailers who make an effort are battling against limited availability: "Manufacturers are starting to create more plus-size prom dresses but they are just not as readily available as traditional size prom dresses," said a spokeswoman for J.C. Penney.
Consignment shops and charities like Operation Prom have it especially rough:
"We are going crazy trying to get plus-size dresses," said D'Allacco, in Bronxville, N.Y. "We have this problem, unfortunately, every year. A lot of times we get plus-size donations and they're not appropriate for a 17-year-old. They're for your grandmother to wear. It's difficult."
Believe it or not, the situation has actually improved over the last decade or so, thanks to the Internet and to improved plus-size selection in general. When I was shopping 12 years ago, I was still at the very tippy top of straight sizes, but even then the options had already started to thin. Your choices were basically: black, or navy blue?
I don't even remember where I bought my dress senior year, just the sinking sensation of limited options. (Even at 28 years old, I can barely look at the photos.) If I'd been the size I am today? I might've just faked sick, frankly, rather than cram myself into whatever Mother of the Groom dress the mall deigned to offer. Now, a girl who's a size 22 has at least some hope for finding a bright-turquoise tulle confection if that's what her heart desires.
But online retailers aren't a panacea. A prom dress isn't something anybody buys so regularly as to know her fit without trying stuff on, and the return policies aren't always great. Plus, it requires more planning ahead—and half the fun of prom is going to the mall in a big pack of friends and shopping en masse, anyway.
This isn't just an inconvenience, either, like failing to find a pair of low-heeled black pumps. Prom is one of those moments that's been built up to be some sort of referendum on who you are as a person—and at least when you confront the wedding hysteria, you're an adult who's developed some protective armor.