Debs Dress by Illustrator Maeve O’Keeffe

Cartoon: Debs Dress by Maeve O'Keeffe
Debs Dress by Illustrator Maeve O’Keeffe

Summer 2016 is ambling along, with its lacklustre weather, long-gone soccer, Rio Olympics and Pokémon Go.  Right now, I would normally think of schoolbooks and uniform shopping, but this year it’s different.  Daughter did the Leaving Cert, so no back to school for her.  I’m trying not to stress about exam results, CAO offers and the nightmare of finding student accommodation if she goes to Dublin.  A welcome diversion is the debs dance.

A few weeks after recovering from the ordeal of the Leaving Cert, it finally hit that she (we) had better get cracking, or all the ‘good’ dresses would be gone.  Even her fellah had his suit booked!  In some shops, the management checks what school you’re in, to avoid potential disappointment of two girls appearing in the same ensemble.  A great idea, but tough if a coveted dress is already taken.

Initially, I feared that I might be excluded from the dress-hunting, thinking she might prefer to do that with her friends.  As it happened, some months ago, we were passing a boutique with glamorous gowns displayed in the window.  “Could I have a quick look?” she asked.  “Sure,” I replied, as nonchalantly as I could, but inwardly thrilled at this unexpected chance.

She fingered through the rails of colourful sheaths; lyrca, lamé and lacy numbers, mostly festooned with sequins and shimmering beads.  Looking at the gorgeous colours, I would have killed to have worn something similar when I was her age.  Back in the day, I did have a debs during Leaving Cert at the local Loreto Convent, but it was a monochrome affair.  In January.  Glittering white frost in freezing cold weather.  With no fake tans available (or none that I knew of), we were all pale as sheets in the whiter than white dresses that were then de rigueur.  In contrast, my daughter’s debs will take place in clement August temperatures, the girls naturally (or St.Tropez spray) tanned, looking fabulous and sophisticated in sparkling, colourful gowns.

However, out of all the gorgeous, to-die-for dresses, the only one that appealed to her was a plain black number with slashed panels of rose-patterned lace.  Not a bead or sequin in sight.  Oh God, is my lovely girl going as a Goth?  I turned over the tag.  No, not worth the money.

So, months later, with the debs fast approaching, daughter went looking with her friends, tried on a few and took photos of potential contenders.  One gown stood out, but unfortunately when she returned later, it was no longer on the rail.  “I hate glitter, sequins and glassy beads.  Most of the dresses I’ve seen are showered with the stuff,” she groaned, “What am I going to do?”.  I contacted friends and relations whose daughters have been through this.  “Oh, you’ve left it very late,” said one.  “Try the internet,” suggested another.   With only a few weeks to go, there’s no way we would chance a lengthy delivery date, ending up on debs morning with still no dress!  Shop local.  I haven’t the energy to traipse off to Dublin, Limerick or ‘appointment only’ venues that are supposedly the holy grail of debs dress choice.

Armed with a list of suggested emporiums, next morning we set off.  Yes, it’s definitely Debs and Grads season.  Among the Back to School adverts were Tan and make-up offers and even a Grads special offering the full package of ‘Suit, Shirt, Tie and Shoes!’

No joy in the first shop – too long, too shiny, too tacky.  We tried another.  Again, no shortage of sequinned embellishments.  She showed me a gown she’d previously seen but it wasn’t outstanding enough to merit the price.

Third time lucky?  In the next shop, a sliver fish-tail caught my eye.  It had brocade, netting and not a sequin in sight.  Could this be the one?  The shop assistant buzzed over, offering to help lace up the corset-type back.  The dress was stunning but a bit too big?  “That’s no problem,” gushed the lady, “We’ll simply tighten the lacing.”  Like a scene out of ‘Gone with the Wind’, daughter’s slender frame was trussed, Scarlett O’Hara-style, into the gown.  “There!” the assistant cried, triumphantly.  We stood back.  The dress was lovely.  “What do you think?” I asked the lady.  “If you want my honest opinion,” she said, “It washes her out.  She needs colour.”  I could have hugged that fantastic lady for all the care and time she gave us, and then being absolutely straight.  The silver gown wasn’t right, but we would definitely return.

“Look, why don’t we go back to the shop where they had that nice one?” I said to daughter, “You can show them the photo.  Maybe they can order another?”  We went and there it was, hanging on a rail and in her size.  She tried it on, it fitted beautifully.  A good price too.  We were on a high – the pressure was off!

For me, sharing the debs dress experience was as special as the communion dress shopping, and I’m sure it’s one that all mothers of daughters will relate to.

We still have the hair and make-up to sort.  An up-do, or curled long tresses?  And I’ve stared inviting family and friends to call over.  “Mum, are you inviting all YOUR friends?”  In other words, “It’s my day – back off!”  Forget that, the debs is a day for the Mammies, too!



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Maeve O’Keeffe, the Frazzled Mammy!   ©Maeve O’Keeffe 2016

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