20 April, 2015
Sarah has a formal dance to attend. She loves the idea of looking like a princess, gown sweeping the ground as she glides across the parquet floor. We study her teen magazines and favorite books. “I love Cinderella’s gown,” she tells me. “Do you think I could look like Belle?” she asks. “Taylor Swift always looks so pretty, don’t you think?” She rocks in her chair with a wistful smile. She hums, imagining a waltz with a fairy-tale prince. “I want to wear a dress like that one.” She points to a confection with gems sewn to the bodice, cutouts at the waist.
There was a time I romanticized historic clothing. Many of today’s fashions lack refinement and elegance, and the designers who create flattering clothing from lush fabrics cost far more than I spend. In my current circumstances, if I were alive during the reign of Victoria, I wouldn’t purchase Worth gowns. I’d more likely be a seamstress than a lady of a manor.
I chuckle, thinking of the lengths we women go to for fashion. Corsets and surgeries, lead-laced make-up and crippling shoes. Still, in truth, when done correctly, style does present a beautiful picture, one admired through ages.
Sarah points to another glossy photograph, a gown the starlets of Hollywood’s golden age could have worn to walk the red carpet. “Oooh,” she sighs.
I smile. “The color would suit you.”
I study her enthusiastic face. I know she thinks she wants this, but every Sunday tells a different story. I ask the children to wear dressier clothes to church. They can change after the service. Sarah hates even comfortable dress slacks and a nice top. “It’s itchy, Momma,” she complains. As she pulls at her blouse, she utters, “I don’t want to wear this.” All told, she is required to wear a Sunday outfit for about two hours.
A formal dinner dance lasts over five hours.
I look into her beautiful eyes and contemplate the struggle ahead. Sarah’s challenges in this include sensory issues, leg bracing, forearm crutches, and social anxiety.
Choosing a gown she will not pull off without regard to modesty, shoes to compliment the dress that fit over her leg bracing, a style for her tumbling, short-cropped tresses, and considerations of makeup and perfume. She’ll want her service dog, Latte, to match her outfit, of course, with a coordinating bow atop her Canine Companions jacket and painted toe nails. The whole excursion will be a magical, difficult mess, but as long as she enjoys herself, it will be worth the effort. I will photograph extensively, preserving for posterity the experience.
Who knows? Maybe someday, years in the future, some romantic-minded person will see a picture of my girl in her gown and daydream about donning such a fashion. Perhaps Sarah will become an icon for a future generation.
Or, we’ll simply get through another formal occasion and create some happy memories for a kid who faces enough challenges already.
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