Oops.

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Photo by Candace McDaniel

My oldest daughter, Carly, entered kindergarten with seriously advanced reading skills. She was working her way through the Little House on the Prairie series. In school, she was being taught the letters of the alphabet, numbers, counting, and colors. They did have a gifted program, but not for kindergarteners. I fought hard to have her spend part of her day in a first-grade classroom. I was considered a difficult parent.

We lived outside of Trenton, New Jersey, and I began exploring private schools. In nearby Princeton there were schools that catered to advanced students and actively sought them out. I found one that had the resources and experience to work with students like Carly. They offered us a substantial scholarship, and my parents offered to pay most of the rest of her tuition, and that was where she spent the next three years of her education, until we moved to Arizona.

Many of the people who live in the Princeton area are quite wealthy. We are not. It was as though we lived in different worlds.

Parents at the school sometimes threw events at their homes for the parents and/or children in their kids’ classes. You could film an episode of The Crown in their homes. Generations of ancestors looked down on you from the oil portraits on the walls. Birthday parties were elaborate extravaganzas: carnivals, candy hunts, craft parties.

One time I was invited to an “informal reception” in connection with a fundraising drive. Silly me—I saw the word informal and thought it meant casual.

That’s not what informal means in Princeton. At least, not in the late 1980s.

I sewed myself a skirt out of a Hawaiian floral print. I was so happy with the way it turned out. It was bright and colorful—magenta and yellow and green. I paired it with a shocking pink shell and a turquoise over-shirt.

I took three steps into the reception and realized I’d made a horrible mistake.

Everyone was dressed in black, or in black-and-white.

In Princeton, informal is a short step down from formal. So, not ballgowns and tuxedos, but definitely not casual.

And there I was, sticking out like the proverbial neon sore thumb.

I thought about leaving. I thought about bursting into tears. But instead I took a deep breath, smiled, stood up straight, and tried to fit in as best as I could. No one said an unkind word to me. Nobody mentioned my homemade skirt.

For today’s post, I selected an online blogging prompt: Write about a time you were inappropriately dressed for the occasion. This was the first incident that came to mind.

Now it’s your turn. Did you ever show up to an event either over- or under-dressed? Share in the comments below.

About Andrea R Huelsenbeck

Andrea R Huelsenbeck is a wife, a mother of five and a former elementary general music teacher. A freelance writer in the 1990s, her nonfiction articles and book reviews appeared in Raising Arizona Kids, Christian Library Journal, and other publications. She is currently working on a young adult mystical fantasy novel and a mystery.

4 responses »

  1. In 1980, I got to go on a 3-week trip through Europe, with 3 other young women, and led by a woman, Pat, who had lived in Paris for 2 years and hitchhiked all around. Being from Texas, the warmest piece of clothing I had was a long cardigan. It was much colder in Europe than I had expected so I wore that sweater almost every day, and we were traveling as cheaply as possible so we didn’t stop to do laundry.

    Toward the end of our trip, Pat took us all out for dinner at La Tour D’Argent in Paris, a Michelin-starred restaurant that opened in 1582. We dressed in our best but I had to wear that grungy sweater.

    I always remember how the coat check girl acted like it was just as magnificent as all the haute couture coats and furs that were hanging in the coat room. The waiters paid us every attention as if we were famous jet setters.

    To me, that has always set the standard for truly gracious behavior. When you are part of a great organization, you don’t have to be snobbish or surly.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Andrea, that is some story, I enjoyed reading it but not enjoyed what you were feeling. I’m glad the guests did not say anything unkind or reacted unkind to you. I’m sure I must have done the same, I just don’t remember. I am sure I’ve also overdressed on occasions after leaving NJ and gone to social engagements and lived in the south where it is much more casual than NJ casual.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Luckily, in California everyone wears anything they wish to to any event, so I got out of the habit of asking what to wear. It was a mark of a newcomer or visitor if they asked what they “should” wear to an event. Mexico is pretty much the same. I love that.

    Liked by 1 person

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