I Went to Prom for the First Time at 32 — And It Was So Worth the Wait
Ah, senior prom. That magical time when you spend the whole day stressing over your hair and makeup before slipping into your fancy gown and dancing the night away with the friends you swear you’ll have forever. At least that’s how I always envisioned it. For reasons that don’t make much sense now, I skipped my senior prom. And for the longest time, I secretly hoped that one of my future boyfriends would take pity on me and help me recreate that teenage rite of passage, like a scene from some cheesy rom-com — but, alas, my prom dreams never came true. Until they did.
A few months ago, I realized I would need to take matters into my own hands — though not without a little help from my co-workers. And thank goodness for them because I honestly had no idea where to even begin. The dress, the hair, the makeup… so much to plan! Not going to lie — one of my biggest regrets about ditching prom was missing out on the requisite pre-prom glam sesh. OK, fine, so maybe this whole idea was a bit of a vanity project for me, but isn’t that the point of prom anyways? So what if I was 14 years late?
After weeks of anticipation, the big day was finally here. With my lilac Monique Lhuillier gown from Rent the Runway in tow, I headed to my hair appointment at Mizu in New York City with a rough idea of what I wanted: a whimsical updo with face-framing tendrils (what? I graduated in ‘02). Natch, I brought the MIMI team along with me. Because you can't get your hair done without approval from your squad, amiright?
My stylist Judy McGuiness gave me a look fit for the early aughts, but modern enough for a night out in 2016. Basically an updated version of Bianca's updo in 10 Things I Hate About You. The key to achieving this look? Plenty of ORIBE Hair Care Grandiose Hair Plumping Mousse ($22; neimanmarcus.com) and ORIBE Dry Texturizing Spray ($44; neimanmarcus.com) — a major upgrade from the aerosol hairspray I would have used to lacquer my bangs in high school. To say I was pleased with Judy's masterpiece would be an understatement.
Next stop: Blushington NYC. And you better believe I asked for the works — false eyelashes, red lipstick, and heavy contouring. Hey, you only go to prom once, right? My biggest concern about my makeup, though, was making sure it would last the entire night without settling into fine lines (because, let’s be honest, I have a few more than I did at 18). To create a flawless, airy finish, my makeup artist Leanna Cho used the Temptu Air ($195; nordstrom.com), smoothing out imperfections with a beautyblender ($20; nordstrom.com). I don’t want to age myself or anything here, but the beautyblender didn’t even exist when I graduated high school, which is kind of hard to believe because I literally can't remember life without it. And while airbrush foundation was a thing in the cosmetic industry, it certainly wasn’t mainstream yet. So, in that respect, I’m actually pretty happy I waited until 2016 to experience prom for the first time — I’m convinced my makeup look would have been nothing short of cringe-worthy back then.
So after my day of pampering was complete, we Ubered down to The Gregory Hotel — the perfect backdrop for those classic prom pics that clutter my Instagram feed every #TBT. We enlisted a friend to be my date (thanks, Christian!), and even made a makeshift photo booth using some props from Party City while songs from the early 2000s blasted through my iPhone. So basically Ja Rule and J.Lo on repeat. Before long, we were in full-on pre-game party mode, and I was literally living my best life ever.
While we didn’t go to an actual dance — dinner at Landmarc in Columbus Circle was the final destination — this was enough for me. And as we made our way across the street to the restaurant, a curious tourist pointed and asked aloud, “Who is she?!” I don't think I've ever felt more glam.
You may be wondering why the heck I waited so long to treat myself like the (prom) queen I am. Trust me, I’ve thought a lot about it myself. Truth is, I suffered from cripplingly low self-esteem back in high school, but I hid it well. When my friends asked why I was a no-show that night in ‘02, I blamed it on my cynical, too-cool-for-school attitude. I convinced myself that traditional rites of passage were lame AF to make missing them less painful. I don’t remember what I actually did while everyone else was at prom, but I’m pretty sure it consisted of sitting alone in my room feeling sorry for myself because I didn’t like the way I looked.
In hindsight, it’s not so much that I regret having missed prom itself (I doubt anything truly mind-blowing happened, plus I definitely made up for it in my 20s) — it’s that I missed it for the wrong reasons. I wish I could send a message to my 18 year old self that I was smart and beautiful and to stop punishing myself. It really does get better. But that’s the beauty of getting older, right? It’s never too late to start loving yourself — and it’s never, ever too late to go to prom.