noelle o designs

creativity + sewing + upcycling inspiration

1980s high school dance pictures
fashion, humor, sewing

1980’s High School Dance Pictures

1980's high school dance photosThought I’d share a few treasured 1980’s high school dance pictures. I once heard it said the my generation, Generation X, is the generation that thinks they are cooler than their kids. I believe there may be some truth to that and can’t you see why? Look at the hairdos we invented, the make-up, the Risky Business sunglasses, the puff sleeve. We were a generation that understood and embraced fashion… (oh wait, shouldn’t that be present tense…)

Now for the story I promised yesterday-

I attended high school in Southern California. It was very difficult, as it is in most places, to find a prom dress that didn’t in some way show off something that should be secret. My mom and many other Mormon mothers of that generation strived to maintain control of the modestly and virtue of their daughters by sewing their prom dresses.  My one friend, K (pictured on the right, both rows) had very rigorous modesty guidelines, as you can see from the two dresses she’s wearing above, (thank you Jessica McClintock) likely and expressly her mom’s dress picks.

One year, I believe it was senior prom, K’s mom decided to make her daughter’s dress. But as human nature continually affirms, she procrastinated sewing the dress until the very last minute. She took up the project so late that the final stitches were placed as K used half a bottle of hairspray on her fancy 80’s hairdo and applied the finishing touches of her high school prom make-up. The finished dress was zipped onto the girl and the room fell silent.

The discreetly humble homemade dress was unquestionably the tightest, hottest, low-cut creation a girl could ever dream of wearing. Oh, sleeves were present, but they draped alluringly across her biceps leaving the entire decolletage for the viewing. Let me conjoir up an image-

Oh no, not quite this fit… although this was the shape of the bodice.

This was the look she pulled off. It was fantastically immodest, absolutely stunning, fitting her 17 year old figure like a glove. There was nothing to be done but hand her a winter coat. And beg her to wear it. Then watch her drive off into the California sunset with one extremely lucky high school boy.

Ok, not quite like Christina Henricks, but I had to throw it in. But no gal can pull it off like she can.


  1. kalamitykelli

    November 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Oh gosh – I love those pictures! I have a sewing story: When I was in 4th grade (I went to private school) during the spring we had a “western day” at school. Mom, who was a great seamstress sewed me a lovely red dotted swiss peasant style dress. She thought she would try some new thread on the market – clear plastic thread that you could use on anything and not have to match thread and material. Mom was also a perfectionist and so after finishing the dress (at midnight the night before western day) she pressed it ever-so-firmly making it look very smart! The hot iron weakened the plastic thread and by my second class of the day it was falling completely apart! By the time of the square dance, I was wearing a teacher’s cardigan that ended somewhere near my ankles, thank goodness. Yep, embarrassing day and there are FB friends from my school who remind me of it ever spring!

    1. NoelleOlpin

      November 6, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      Oh my gosh, I LOVE that story! What did your mom say when she saw you coming apart at the seams!?
      Oh the last minute jobs… where are the elves (and the shoemaker) when we need them?
      You can add me to the list of people who will never forget that story and perhaps re-tell it too!

      1. kalamitykelli

        November 7, 2012 at 1:28 am

        My mom, the perfectionist was absolutley mortified! Did I mention that all the parents came that afternoon for our rendition of “Oklahoma!” and the square dance? Oh yeah, everyone talked to mom about her “new” thread. She was kind of an outcast anyway because she was a career woman in a world of stay-at-home-moms and this just made it worse. But we all laugh about it now.

      2. kalamitykelli

        November 7, 2012 at 1:30 am

        P.S. Please feel free to retell it at will. They year was Spring 1971.

  2. Kerri

    November 8, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    Loved this, Noelle. I’m seriously going to find a picture of the dress. The reality just won’t do justice to the pictures you found, though, so maybe it’s best left to the imagination. 17 year old me didn’t quite fill out a dress like that.

    I have both of the pictures on the left in my high school scrapbook. Dapper Dave and Kim, and Randi, and your gorgeous dress. I was always so jealous of your mad creative sewing skills.

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