The Red Dress

Four views of the years of innocence, 1951

by Julie Eberhart Painter


Mrs. Sennet, Laura’s mother, finds the pattern:

The summer our daughter Laura turned sixteen I wanted to introduce her to proper society. The best way to show her off was to bring her out at the annual Bucks County New Year’s Eve dance, a gala evening held at the Mill Art Gallery. The perfect dress was essential.

A Vogue pattern caught my eye. I had enough remnants of red chiffon and taffeta to turn it into a glorious creation. At the first fitting, Laura’s trim bosom held the dress neatly in place as long as she didn’t move.

“Mama, it needs a bra.”

“Laura, please call me ‘mother’. This is a very high-class affair.”

“Mother, it needs my white strapless.”

“That thing will show through the chiffon and ruin the look.”

“Oh, Moth...ur.”

Laura’s date was her new boyfriend, a young swain we didn’t really know. But the four of us would be driving together. We’d be able to keep an eye on him.

It was a cold evening, threatening to snow. I lent Laura my mutton lamb coat. It looked like sheared beaver. We bundled up, and started off, the children whispering excitedly in the back seat. Laura would emerge on the dance floor a princess ready for society.

Mr. Sennet, Laura’s Father, sees the Red Dress:

Our only child was a willowy girl, blossoming into womanhood. I’d heard about the dressmaking project but left the fashion business to the girls. My wife is an excellent seamstress, and her rendition of the Vogue pattern made the red dress appear to have come from a fine boutique. But I gasped when I saw how daring it was.

On the big night, Laura danced down the steps from her bedroom and embraced her young man with an enthusiastic hug. The boy looked bewildered. I began to see the dress as he might. It was ethereal to the point of impropriety. The boy couldn’t miss that plunging neckline.

Laura and the Red Dress:

I loved my dress, very chic, completely lined with red taffeta. The top of the dress was sheered into a V, with cap sleeves gathered by drawstrings that shaped the plunging neckline. The cummerbund midriff belted above a full ruby slip of crisp taffeta. The dress flowed over my body like warm water.

The doorbell sounded and I floated across the room and ran to greet my boyfriend, Roger. He must have been nervous because he stood stiffly, shooting his cuffs.

Roger, Laura’s date, experiences the Red Dress:

Laura leaped into my arms, pressing her upper torso against my chest. My God! I couldn’t believe it; this proper girl had no bra. I slipped my hand down her back to make sure no newfangled contraption lurked there to spring like a trap. I had an instant... reaction. Backing up slightly, I greeted her parents. We headed to the garage to pile into the family’s 1949 green Ford station wagon, a woody.

Laura took my hand as we drove through the dark night broken only by occasional snowflakes in the headlights. We spoke in murmurs. I threaded my fingers through hers. She laid her head on my shoulder. What a sweetie. I hoped her parents hadn’t seen us.

When we arrived, I helped her out of the car. Poor kid, she had to wear her mother’s old fur coat. It hung two inches above the skirt hitting the tops of her stadium boots. Her walk sounded like a monster gliding through running water. Or was that a bit of the Delaware splashing over a mill wheel?

The main room was decorated with streamers and circulating mirror balls. A curtain shut off the stage; I couldn’t see the person operating the hi-fi. We went to the cloakroom to take off our cold damp garments. She reached for my hand and dragged me up the steps to the dance floor.

“No stop at the buffet?” I asked. But she wanted to dance.

I moved slowly at her side. She put her left hand on my neck. Electricity zinged through me like shock treatments. She pressed her chest against my tux and began moving in rhythm with the music. I felt scared; I loved this girl, but she was turning me on. I pulled back to look into her eyes, but dropped my glance to the neckline of her dress.

All night my eyes traveled south with diabolic frequency. What was I going to do? Her parents were watching. Her dad had to know. I tried to keep my eyes away, but those peach-tipped beauties curling upward drew my gaze like twin magnets while she danced on unaware.

“Let’s go downstairs and check out those refreshments,” I suggested. Anything to get her at arm’s length. She smiled up at me, her face like a Madonna.

I pulled her inside the cloakroom for a quick kiss. She broke away and led me to the snacks.

All night, I tried to be a gentleman, but this was asking too much. What would happen when we got back to her house and her parents went to bed? While I pondered these thoughts, I saw her dad sprinting across the dance floor hell-bent for us as if he had read my mind. I prayed he hadn’t seen us in the cloakroom.

“Roger, some friends have offered to drive you kids back to the house so you can get your car. We’ve made other plans. You don’t mind, do you?”

I didn’t mind at all!


Copyright © 2008 by Julie Eberhart Painter

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