When it came to formal events during grade school, there was only one question on my mind: What do I wear to prom, homecoming, or any other big shebang? I was so proud of and confident about my choices at the time. But looking back, all I can do is shake my head at what I thought was cool. For this reason, I decided to get dressed as if I was going to all these school dances in 2016 to see how my style and tastes have evolved, comparing my past choices to what I would likely choose now.
I used to put a lot of pressure on myself when it came to my sartorial choices for such events. Dreaming of perfect outfits years before I even got an invite to anything, I basically equated high school prom to the Met Gala. If I had to do it all over again, however, there would definitely be some changes — from the dress, to my accessory styling, to my hair and makeup routines.
To test that theory, I based my new outfits off of four of my prom and school dance looks ranging from middle school dances to the pinnacle adolescence itself: prom. While comparing what I chose then to what I would opt for today, experiencing embarrassing deja vu from grade school along the way, I surprisingly learned a lot about style, self-evolution, and expression. Here's how my recreations played out.
Seventh Grade Dance
The first official dance I went to in grade school was the end-of-the-year seventh grade soiree. It was the event of the year, especially since it was one of few opportunities we had to wear something besides our polo-and-khaki uniform.
Looking back, I think I pulled that off pretty well. You can't see the whole dress in the photo above, but it was a mint green number with spaghetti straps and gold foil detailing on the bottom hem. I rocked matching mint green eyeshadow with lip gloss, and had my mom blow dry my hair. I remember loving my look that night.
I knew I would definitely want to change up my first and oldest school dance ensemble at least a little bit, but I'm honestly still a fan of the approach I took. I donated the dress I wore years ago, so I recreated the ensemble with a similar style in a bright blue shade.
Instead of matching my eyeshadow, I kept my makeup subtle and let my hair dry naturally. I dressed things up with orange detailed wedges.
The Verdict: Seventh grade me knew what she was doing. The pretty dress and fun makeup are still something I would sport today. But considering how the event was only an hour long and pretty much consisted of my friends and I giggling about our crushes (who weren't even there), I would definitely take a much more comfortable and casual approach today.
Eighth Grade Dance
Ahh, eighth grade. What a dreadful time. Back then, however, I thought I was on top of my style game. But let's be real: Are any of us at the top of our style game in middle school? Didn't think so.
Jenny Humphrey from Gossip Girl was my style icon. So for my last hurrah in middle school at the eighth grade dance, I channeled my best Jenny with a bright blue dress equipped with ruffles, a bubble skirt, and a flower at the empire waist. Purchased at Forever21 for a whopping $18, I felt like royalty in the dress and the black heels borrowed from my sister and a face full of (way too much) makeup.
These days, my style is much more Gigi Hadid off-duty. Obviously, Jenny circa Season 1 of GG wasn't going to work for my updated look. I opted for a black maxi dress — something you really can't go wrong with. I accessorized with a throwback '90s choker (very on-trend) and natural flat sandals that are comfortable and chic. I embraced my natural waves again, but incorporated a more sparkly eye look for fun.
The Verdict: Although another uneventful dance that I put too much time, effort, and sweat into, I did love my outfit for the eighth grade formal. Today, however, it's my worst nightmare. If I had to recreate it, I'd give my outfit more personality and dimension. And, well, not channel Jenny. Sorry not sorry, little J.
Tenth Grade Convention Dance
You'd think that my style would have gotten a little bit better come high school. But no. Things only grew worse. And it started with the formal outfit I wore for a school convention dance in the 10th grade.
Look. At. My. Hair. I actually styled my hair into a comb-over for a formal event. I'm still OK with my little black dress and basic platforms. But my mane? Nah.
If I had to go to my tenth grade convention dance in 2016, I'd definitely change my hair. In fact, I'd rock it in a slight side part, and not one that starts behind my ear. I actually still have the dress, so I wore it again but styled it with some pretty and dainty charm necklaces and a basic pair of black loafers. Instead of overdoing the look, I kept it simple and focused on the LBD.
The Verdict: My hair was horrible, but I kept the basics of my outfit for the 10th grade convention pretty similar in my recreation. I focused more on comfort and feeling like myself, with natural makeup and flat shoes — rather than forcing myself to wear what I thought was "appropriate."
The ultimate school dance: prom. For prom, I got the princess treatment and traveled to every mall in the state to find the perfect dress, got my hair and makeup professionally done, and insisted on a photoshoot before the festivities. But there's so much I would change if I had to do it again today.
I wore a black princess dress with a corset and tulle skirt. I still think the dress is super pretty and unique for a prom ensemble. But it weighed about 80 pounds and was way too long. I wore super high heels that I was stumbling in, and had the makeup artist pack on foundation and hairspray, only to make me look like a doll. Even though I loved the gown, it was just a bad combination of pieces.
I still had my prom dress lying around, so for old time's sake I put it on to see how I'd recreate the look. I admit that it's still one of my favorite dresses I've ever worn, so I sported it again with styling that focused more on comfort and practicality. With black flats, a basically bare face, and natural locks, the look helped me feel a lot more like myself when I recreated it than what I actually wore to prom.
The Verdict: Prom may be the Met Gala of high school, but if I had to do it all over again, I'd focus on being comfortable enough to really enjoy every moment. I couldn't resist the beauty of my dress, but I did avoid every other styling decision of yesteryear.
What Did I Learn?
If there's anything I learned from recreating my prom and school dance looks, it's that style can change. I always thought that "style," in terms of self-expression, was a constant taste and aesthetic that was unique to every person. Everyone has their own style, and that's that. But by revisiting my choices back then and looking at how I would change my look today, I learned that things aren't that set in stone.
I absolutely adored all of the looks I wore to my school dances at the time, spending months preparing each one. But in 2016, they just don't have the same appeal. My style was preppy, punk, and dramatic back then. But today I'm much more practical, and prefer simple ensembles with quirky details. Without intentionally making any changes, my look simply evolved.
I respect anyone who has maintained a unique style for years. But clearly my tastes and personal style are always changing. And I'm totally OK with that. Even if it took revisiting some cringe-worthy memories from school dances to figure it out.
Images: Melodi Erdogan