My Sexy Middle School Dance Wardrobe

From regrettable rhinestones to platform sandals

Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, where at age fourteen I was an increasingly goth Jesus-camp alumna praying for boobs, I wondered how to look sexy for middle school dances. At school we wore boxy white and navy uniforms, so the pressure to dress in a hot-adult fashion didn’t exist all the time. It only really rose to the fore around school dances, which conveniently aligned with every major Christian holiday, as well as St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Cinco de Mayo. I tried to study what sexy looked like, but this was Texas, and I had no idea what sex actually entailed other than disease, unplanned pregnancy, and late-night murders in your car at the drive-in.

I didn’t get a sex talk beyond abstinence, and considered my own purity circumstantial and mildly embarrassing. The only thing that confused me more than the idea of sex was my desire for it, which I believed I could quash if I prayed hard enough, while maybe also persuading God to give me cleavage, or at least some rhythm for when Petey Pablo’s “Freek-a-leek” came on. Sadly, we were told at Jesus camp that prayers for ourselves were bad prayers, prompting several of us to cry and one girl to eat a tube of toothpaste. Without divine assistance, I resorted to trolling Limited Too catalogs for sparkly, stretchy improvements to my wardrobe, creating a collection of clothes I now define as “aspirational sexuality.” Cue the fog machines, and my English teacher’s downcast look of disappointed terror. I would have provided photographic evidence except it’s all buried in unlabeled boxes in my mom’s water-damaged storage unit. So I’m including hand-drawn illustrations instead, because, once again, I cannot find any of these photos. Any of them. Anywhere. Honest.

White tank top with rhinestone palm-tree decal

This tank told people that I was easy going (false) and liked palm trees (true?). And, the only thing that could make palm trees even chiller was bedazzling them. I usually wore this with white capris, so the palm really stood out and/or coordinated with my orange and yellow braces bands. It’s also a nice choice for shuffling side-to-side, arms crossed, to Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U.” Let me go, and just listen.

A Roy Lichtenstein “call me” comic print t-shirt

I don’t know how someone got the rights to reprint this as a skin-tight Lycra tee for teens, but someone did. And when you’re single and haven’t hit puberty, wearing “call me” across your rib cage is really the best strategy you can hope for. That said, any prospective Romeos would need to call the landline and have my mom answer, because I was still a year away from getting a Nextel rubber-coated construction chic walkie-talkie cell, which my dad always said “roger” into when calling me.

Crochet fringe mini skirt

This micro denim Abercrombie number was the crown jewel of my aspirational sex appeal collection, especially when I wore it to compete in a Miss Teen Reggae contest at a Sandals beach resort in the Bahamas with my parents in the audience. I’m more than a little disappointed to say I lost. I also want to say I was robbed but that was not the case.

Zip-up red glitter collared shirt

Look, you could zip it all the way up and all the way down, in one fluid motion. Fluttering Count Dracula lapels to go with my Partridge family bangs. Who could say no to this genderless glitter Travolta child, other than most people? I usually paired it with stretchy black flared pants and my plastic black platform sandals. Without fail it left a glitter trail over the car upholstery as I flung myself into the backseat to get away from my mom, and avoid her post-mortem of the night. Glitter on the car seats, carpet, ceiling — everywhere.

Black plastic platform sandals

These were a Valentine’s gift from my mom, acquired at Target, which is still one of my favorite places for deeply mediocre things. I think these were plastic, but they also could’ve been some other synthetic material. They had grey foot-beds, which weren’t ideal for concealing foot sweat stains and debris from the gym floor. Nonetheless, they served as block platform hooves that gave me confidence as I clopped into the room to a censored version of Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up,” which was later Bowdlerized to the more ambiguous “Back That Thang Up.”

Silver Rose long-sleeve

This was another glitter staple and again, served as a giant doily distraction from the fact I had nothing up top except my sparkling personality. As the neon lights cycled along the gym floor I liked the way the glitter refracted off my rib cage, like when those dead baby ghosts are freed from purgatory in The Haunting. With this impressive light refraction, I wondered how the guys huffing from the smoke machine could pass me up for Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing,” but their loss. Again, glitter was just everywhere.

Lace-up crotch pink corduroy bell-bottoms

Another major staple, in the vein of Colombian dreamboat Juanes, who was sex incarnate, and whom I was striving to resemble. Though granted, Christina Aguilera was also in her “Dirrty” phase and wore lace-up everything, so my lace-up crotch inspirations were far-reaching. Notably, I also wore these pants when I was food poisoned at Disney World — too dirty to clean my act up.

Bonus: This whole post should be sponsored by Old Navy, but since that’s not the case I’ll at least give a vague shout out to those head kerchiefs, which I owned in several paisley and denim patterns. What demented style genius knew babushkas would be on trend? I hope whoever you are, you’re drinking champagne in a hot tub with the evil mastermind behind the bubble shirt, which I owned in not one but two ombré patterns from the bargain bin at Sam’s. Here’s to the memories, you two! Santé!

Caitlin Brady is a humor writer who thinks gifs will save us.