We’re back today with our summer Fashion Memories series. Last week we introduced the series with Cathryn’s first date outfit, and today my friend and fashion buddy Brandy has a precious memory from years ago. As she terms it, “my oldest happy fashion memory.”
Turn back the clock. I am 19 years old, a freshman in college, and I just received a fantastic scholarship which would allow me to attend school in Paris at the Sorbonne for a term.
I had already been accepted to the Sorbonne, after a grueling application process including a written French exam, and a truly terrifying phone interview in French with the “Examination Board”. After being accepted, I then had to apply for and get the scholarship. As my family would have had a very hard time covering the cost for me to attend otherwise, this was a huge moment for me.
The international studies scholarship recipient winners were asked to attend an awards banquet. The banquet was for all scholarship recipients attending foreign schools under several different exchange programs. I recall that my closest friends went to the Universities of Madrid, Heidelberg, and Estonia.
An unfortunate request for the banquet attire was to wear our school colors – ours were red, white or black at Lamar University. I suppose I can be grateful that I wasn’t yet at University of Texas; that would have left me in a white or burnt orange cocktail dress! I do not look good in red as a general rule because of my skin color, and add to that red dresses can go tacky on me quickly because I’m curvy. I was unwilling to wear white- I could just see me spilling something on it before the photos!
So, I decided to buy a black dress. This was my first “grown up” little black dress I had ever purchased. I still remember walking from the side of the store with the juniors clothes, my typical shopping stop at 19, to cross over to shopping in the women’s section of the store. (Oh my, the sizes come in even numbers- how interesting!) I found the right dress! I was so proud to have a simple classy dress that was in my poor college kid budget to wear to the event.
At the time, the popular bands were Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Bush, and everyone in my circle wore Seattle grunge rock wear. Wearing ironed clothing would have been a crime! So owning a dress like this and wearing it to school was huge! (The banquet was on campus at the top floor of the library in the University President’s event space.)
I remember my best friend and study buddy at the time was a guy, also a scholarship winner, and when he saw me at the event he said, “Wow, this is the first time I ever thought of you as a woman.” I still recall that line! On my side, I said, “This is the first time I’ve ever seen you clean and not in Doc Martins.”
The President of the University made a speech, and then the International Studies advisor for each student said a few nice words about us. We sat at tables with our donors and our parents for dinner. I was not used to making serious dinner conversation with older, well-off donor types at the time! Then we walked onstage to accept our award, thank our donors, and give a short speech indicating why we had selected that study abroad and what drove us to study that language. My family was very excited about the honor, and I recall my mom telling me I was the first person in our family to study abroad. My first grown up little black dress helped me have the confidence to enjoy the evening, and I can still remember that happy and proud feeling about having this opportunity attend the Sorbonne.