Help The Renal Support Network Make Teen Prom Dreams Come True

In a post last year, Kit captured the glamour and significance of high school proms as "The First Big Night to Remember":

A rite of passage in many ways, all of the rituals and excitement surrounding the prom give most kids their first brush with adult glamour. Reared on princess mythology, girls finally get to don their own ball gowns and be perceived not just as little girls, but as something close to grown women.

For kids with chronic kidney disease, who typically spend four hours a day, three days a week  hooked up to a dialysis machine, that rite of passage is often just a dream. That was the case for Lori Hartwell, who was only two years old when her kidneys failed and later missed her own high-school prom because she was on dialysis. As an adult, Hartwell founded the Renal Support Network to help give people with kidney failure “health, happiness, and hope” while coping with their disease. (If all goes well, Lori is due for her fourth transplant early next year, with a kidney donated by her step-sister.)

Renal Teen Prom 2010 dancing

One of the networks's most inspiring—and certainly most glamorous—programs is its annual Renal Teen Prom, which each January gives “kidney teens” a special night “to have what no young person should miss...the chance to enjoy being young!” As Linda Oakford, RSN's patient coordinator explains,

The best part about the Renal Teen Prom is that they get to share a wonderful evening with others who are experiencing the same issues that they are and that they are not the only one dealing with [chronic kidney disease]. They don't have to explain their scars or other obvious medical problems.  The girls will wear strapless dresses not worrying about covering catheters or scars. As you know teenage years are difficult enough without medical issues, many of these teens feel like outsiders. Life-long friendships have been made at the Renal Teen Prom.

Thanks to financial and in-kind donations, and a lot of volunteer labor, the prom is free, including dinner, transportation, gowns for the girls and ties for the guys. The prom is held the Sunday before the Martin Luther King holiday, because dialysis is rarely scheduled on Sundays and the following day is a holiday.

Beautiful guests

The photos above were taken at last January's prom by DG friend and kidney mom Karol Franks, whom you may remember from her great candid photos at our hat party. She told us about the prom when she was looking for a last-minute replacement photographer. They're covered for photography this year, but DG readers can still help make these special prom dreams come true.

Renal Teen Prom Dress Caravan Your $50 contribution can send a teen to the prom. Or you can help with in-kind contributions. In particular, the RSN needs donations of large and extra-large dresses that look appropriate for teenage girls. During the first two weeks in January, volunteers will visit hospitals and dialysis centers around Southern California, bringing dresses for girls to try on and select from. They already have plenty of small and medium dresses, but larger sizes are in short supply. They can also use accessories like jewelry and evening bags. Dresses do not have to be new, but they should be cleaned before donating.

Financial and in-kind contributions are tax-deductible. Businesses that support the prom will receive credit in the printed program. 

To donate dresses or accessories, you can contact me at or leave a comment below. I will either arrange pickup or a convenient dropoff. If your business would like to support the prom or RSN's work in general, please contact Linda Oakford at or 818-543-0896 x106.

Jack Black at Renal Teen Prom 2010
And if you're a celebrity, or know one who'd be willing to spend an evening in Sherman Oaks, they'd love to hear from you. Jack Black was a big hit last year.

[Photos by Karol Franks, Flickr user okarol, and used with permission.]

Why Is Princess Glamour So Persistent?

Girls dressup pink princess dresses tiaras abbybatchelder Flickr Loyal DG fans will recall my earlier posts (here and here) on why little girls play princess. For my book research, I'm still looking for princess memories and insights from parents and today's little princesses. But given the prominence of princess news of late--I didn't even mention the engagement of Prince Albert of Monoco to former Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock (which, not being a royal watcher, I learned of when I saw the Tatler's cover story)--I took up the subject in my latest WSJ column. I appreciate your comments, here or on the WSJ site.

I admit it. When I was growing up, my father called me "Princess." Routinely. Even when I was in high school.

This was strange, I now realize, and not just because I was more nerd than girly-girl. The United States has been a republic for more than two centuries. We aren't supposed to have princesses. Yet the archetype remains both persistent and profitable.

Princesses are everywhere: under the tree at Christmas and on the sidewalks at Halloween, atop birthday cakes and in videogames, on bedspreads and in perfume ads. They provide themes for baby showers, quinceañeras, even weddings. The phrase "every little girl dreams of being a princess" generates more than 300,000 Google matches, only a few of which concern Kate Middleton's impending marriage to Britain's Prince William.

"Princess" is not just a royal title. It's a powerful, and popular, ideal.

Read the rest here.

As the photo above, courtesy of Flickr user abbybatchelder under the Creative Commons license, illustrates, the little-girl glamour of princesses lies in the imagination of those who imitate them. The kids dressing up as princesses aren't glamorous. They're cute.

The Allure Of The Catalog

Tiffany catalogs I'm a Christmas-shopping purist, which means that I don't really start until after Thanksgiving is over. Retailers, of course, start the season a little earlier—well before all the Halloween candy is gone. What this means at my house is that my mailbox is stuffed to the brim with gift-touting catalogs. Fancy food, educational toys,  historically accurate tchotchkes from museum gift shops, lots of silver picture frames—I'm never quite sure what I'll find when I open my mailbox, but it's always exciting.

And I do mean exciting. I realize that not everyone feels as I do and no, catalogs are definitely not environmentally friendly, but I can't help it: I love them. I always have, ever since I was a little girl, when I spent hours poring over every magazine I could get my hands on. When I was a kid, during the mid-80s, my catalogs of choice came from Horchow and Neiman Marcus—apparently I liked what companies from Dallas had to offer (in 1988, Horchow became a part of Neiman Marcus). I spent hours with those books, reading descriptions, analyzing the products and playing a strange little game I called "marking."

When I was marking, I'd make a small check mark or asterix next to each item in a book that I wanted - not so much for myself, but for an imagined future me. I'd read through the catalogs over and over again, each time selecting different clothes, different bedding, and different furniture, as I dreamed of different lives I might lead (somewhat different, at least—in all of my lives, I was obviously able to afford whatever I wanted to buy). There's room to debate how healthy it was for me to define my imaginary futures by the cashmere sweaters and fake Ming dynasty bedroom accessories featured in the catalogs, but it was a fun pastime, I think I've escaped lasting damage, and the reality is that our material choices do play a role in communicating to others who we've chosen to be.

As a kid, I thought I was alone in my game, but I wasn't. Some time ago, I came across a post written by Square With Flair on the lifestyle blog Easy and Elegant Life. SWF wrote about vintage Tiffany catalogs, which he has been collecting since, well, since they weren't vintage. His experience with the catalogs gave me some additional perspective on my own game:

It started when I was a teenager in the 1970s, living in a small, remote, northern town and dreaming of New York sophistication and perfect taste. I’d save my allowance and send $2.00 to Tiffany’s in New York for their delicious little blue book catalog. It always seemed an eternity until they arrived, but they always did. How I pored over those charming little books for hours, days, weeks…for years! I collected one each year, and I studied them over and over. Boy, that was better than any fine arts course, and I’ve taken plenty of those.

Mid-80s Horchow books, with their big hair, Big Dallas looks, were a far cry from the carefully curated Tiffany books of SWF's youth, but they provided some of the same lessons for me—lessons about color, balance and trend.

Today, old Horchow and Neimans books might not be in high demand (though I wish I still had a few), but collectors recognize the value of those gorgeous Tiffany catalogs—right now, a collection of 14 vintage books from 1969-1981 is available on eBay for a "buy it now" price of $1,800. They do make a lovely collection— and an educational one, too.

At my house, the "marking" game continues with my son. He calls his game "titling" (I think it has something to do with car titles, but I'm not completely sure how his mind works). Right now, he spends most of his time with LEGO books and Halloween costume catalogs, imagining what he might do with a Harry Potter costume or a giant set of Indiana Jones LEGOs. Every once in a while, though, he picks up a "grown-up" catalog and starts paging through, stopping here and there to check out fireplace sets or high-end cookware. At four, he's quickly developing an understanding of how that stuff relates to the lives we lead and the choices we make—and he's already starting to make his own decisions about how he wants to fit into the material world we live in.

[Photo credit: eBay user bookgen.]

The Glamour And Peril Of Getting Gifts

In a 1993 article in the American Economic Review, Wharton economist Joel Waldfogel estimated the “deadweight loss of Christmas,” arguing that “holiday gift-giving destroys between 10 percent and a third of the value of the gifts.” That loss is basically the difference between what givers pay to buy the gifts and what recipients would be willing to pay for the same items. Waldfogel has now developed his argument into an adorably packaged little book called Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays. Here’s an excerpt from chapter one, which you can read in full here):

When the day arrives, families—and extended families—gather around a tree or a hearth or a menorah to exchange holiday gifts. Kids squeal in delight as they open their dolls and trucks. With young children especially, the gifts matter less than the ritual of ripping off wrapping paper and bows. Teenagers feign surprise—for grandma’s benefit—and register actual approval for the gifts they specifically requested. They roll their eyes at the music and movies you buy them. Because you’ve raised them well, they manage a smile for grandma’s gifts. What kid doesn’t need a candle? But the fabricated smiles aren’t limited to the teens. The adults all arrange their faces into expressions of pleasure as they unwrap items they would never buy for themselves. “A cribbage board? You shouldn’t have,” we tell our mothers-in-law. Indeed

O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi is a tale of another sort of deadweight loss. I’ve always hated it for the cruel joke the author plays on the characters, doubly so since he declares their gifts a model of wisdom rather than heartbreak. How can that outcome be good? Everyone is worse off! Even as a child, I thought a bit like an economist.

But O. Henry did perceive one thing correctly: that the characters’ gifts were at least proportionate to each other, and each was—and was perceived as—an expression of great love. Imagine how much worse it would have been for Della to have sold her hair only to receive an ordinary tin of tea in exchange. (Diet Coke hadn’t yet been invented).

Cash, the favored alternative of Scroogy economists, lacks the glamorous promise of perceptively fulfilling an unarticulated longing. (Scrooge, of course, did not give cash. He was too stingy.) It also lacks the license to enjoy yourself that comes with a gift chosen by someone else. Cash is fungible. You may use it for something routine or responsible rather than something fun.

But suppose you’ve said you want the cash for a particular purpose, to get something you want but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) buy without the presents. Your friends and family could chip in to fulfill your wish, and you’d feel at least a moral responsibility to use their gifts the way you said you would. It would be just like cash, but it would feel different: a little more sentimental, a little less crass. Plus instead of, say, four OK presents for $25 each, you could get one great $100 present. It might not be glamorous, but it could be fun—and a lot less disappointing than letting people guess.

That’s the idea behind Lottay (pronounced like the drink), a gift-giving site started by some of my husband’s former UCLA MBA students. Their biggest problem, as Professor Postrel warned them, is getting people used to the idea of giving, and asking for, cash. It’s a tough challenge, one they’re trying to solve by encouraging givers to specify what the cash is for (with the understanding that recipients can spend the money as they choose) and by using “e-greeting cards, private messages, images and pictures to wrap money in the emotion of the occasion.” For those who don’t find that approach convincing, they have a blog with a glamour-puncturing message: Hints Don’t Work.

[Woman opening iron from iStockPhoto. Five-year-old by Flickr user edenpictures, used under Creative Commons license. Theft of the Magi cartoon from the wonderful XKCD. For sweet, funny, geeky gifts, visit the XKCD store here.]

How Barbie Lost Her Glamour, And How She Might Get It Back

Grace_look Barbie was never meant to be naked, anyway. The countless accessory packs filled with every imaginable wardrobe need affirmed that the point of the doll was the clothes, and not the other way around. Fashion provided the details that gave life to Barbie’s world, inspiring girls’ play with scenarios of lavish shopping excursions and elegant cocktail parties. The molded stiletto sandals, fur-trimmed sleeves, and velvet pocketbooks all suggested, but didn’t proscribe, starting points for a fantasy.

The tiny clothes were glamorous in their own right, modeled on the real-life wardrobes of icons like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Jackie Kennedy. It helped that they were designed by a fashion designer and hand-sewn by Japanese home-workers under her supervision. Paris’s haute couture was the inspiration through the early 60s, with designs modeled after those by Hubert Givenchy, Coco Chanel, and Cristobal Balenciaga. Paris was supplanted by London mod later that decade, and the Twiggy look was a natural fit for Barbie. She had more casual outfits as well, but they were tailored and adult, never too girlish.

This aspirational adulthood at the core of Barbie’s glamour started to fade in the 1970s, a direct result of evolution in the design of the doll and her accessories. Barbie started going in for regular plastic surgery as early as 1961, and the result was that she got younger and younger looking over time. Looking back, Barbie #1 was probably too old (“the face of a 40 year-old woman whose seen a lot of action” in the words of one collector), but as they say, cosmetic procedures can be addictive, and by now Barbie has had so many that she looks barely 15. Likewise, her fashion sense has gotten more casual, more girly, and less couture over time. No doubt this movement reflected trends in real-world fashion, but it made Barbie less of an elegant model. Mattel amped up the youthful girlishness with the introduction of liberal doses of pink, which though now ubiquitous was never a major influence until the 70s.


This younger, brasher form of femininity made Barbie more relatable but less aspirational, and her audience has steadily down-aged with her. Ruth Handler originally intended the doll for girls aged 8-13, but for a 13 year-old, there’s nothing glamorous about a doll that’s pretty much just like your older sister. Now girls are done with Barbie by age 6.

The other essential aspect of Barbie’s glamour was a certain aura of mystery that allowed you to fill in the details of her life in whatever wonderful ways you pleased. But Barbie got a little less mysterious in 1972, when designers traded her classic downward gaze for a direct stare. This made her more open and less enigmatic, and I think that had to change the relationship girls had with her. Now Barbie engaged with you; she was a friend and a playmate, like your favorite babysitter rather than an icon from the movies or TV.


Lately, Mattel has taken Barbie into uncharted territory — the realm of pure fantasy — which crosses the line from aspirational into imaginary. With dolls like Barbie Fairytopia and Mermaidia (complete with mermaid tail), they contradict her original purpose of working through real-life desires by projection, and offer something more akin to fairy tales. Other Barbies, such as Birthday Barbie, seem to have absorbed this influence, and are starting to look a lot like Disney characters. This may make them magical and enchanting to her now very young audience, but the loss of a connection to reality makes this least glamorous evolution so far.


Of course, none of this is to say that any one incarnation of Barbie is better than any other, or that glamour is necessarily even still relevant to Barbie’s role in American girl culture. After all, I came of age in an era when glamour was largely gone from the brand, and yet I loved my campy Barbie in her hot pink spandex and her fuschia dream house. But while my loyalty to 80s Barbie is unquestionable, there is little part of me that can’t help but wish for a renaissance of that old-school Barbie, the kind of doll that would grace the pages of the The Sartorialist, rather than the aisles of Forever 21.


James Bond For The Kiddie Set

Backyardigans Super Secret Spy Men and women, being from Mars and Venus and all that, often perceive glamour in different ways, and seek glamour in different types of stories. However, one type of tale that appeals to both sexes is that of international intrigue – dashing men, beautiful women, dazzling jewels, high-tech tools and exotic locales. These elements have been incorporated into thousands of stories, from The Thomas Crown Affair to the entire James Bond collection.

We’ve written a lot here about princesses, fairy tales, and the roots of little girl glamour. Little boys construct their own worlds full of glamour, often drawing on cars and buildings and superheroes to tell their stories. Like their grown-up counterparts, the two narratives have things in common–they share themes of self-reliance and aesthetic beauty and the joy of escape–but they look pretty different from the outside.

It's not surprising then that children’s programmers, in an effort to develop shows that appeal to kids of both genders, turn to 007 himself for inspiration. A few years ago, the creators of the Nickelodeon show "The Backyardigans" produced an hour-long movie called The Backyardigans - Super Secret Super Spy. It came complete with a dramatic villainess and juice boxes that are shaken–never stirred. My son was a baby when it aired, too young for TV, but I loved it.

115909_098_ful Recently, The Disney Channel has picked up where Nick left off, with “Special Agent Oso,” an animated series chronicling the training missions and “special assignments” of Oso, a stuffed bear who moonlights as an international special agent, helping kids solve problems like learning how to play hopscotch or tie their shoes.

Every element of the series draws from Bond, from episode titles (“Carousel Royale,” “Live and Let Dry” ) to swirling graphics and classic “spy” music to Oso’s reliance on cool gadgets. The show’s creator, Ford Riley, was inspired to create Oso after his young son was entranced by his first glimpse of a real James Bond movie, making me wonder if we’re all hardwired to be thrilled by certain types of glamour.

Special agent oso car Special Agent Oso and other kids’ spy shows bridge the gender gap, but they also span another gap that might be just as important–the generational one. Most parents I know have a fairly low threshold for kids’ TV. There’s only so much Dora one adult human can take. But Oso is somehow different. Even as a grown-up, I connect with that little stuffed bear.

Sean Astin, who voices Oso, says, “I should probably be embarrassed by the fact that I feel that by some extension, secret agent status has now been conferred upon me personally.” I know my son, now 2 1/2, feels the same way. And, come to think of it, so do I.

[Special Agent Oso images ©American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (Disney Channel), used with permission.]

The First Big Night To Remember: Prom Glamour

Prom 1993 For high school-aged girls across America, late spring means one thing: prom time. For most, the season really probably started months – even years ago – with careful perusal of dresses in magazines and intense discussion of who’s going with whom and “OMG will I get a date??!?”

The big day arrives with corsages and manicures and hair appointments and limousines – all the trappings of grown-up red carpet glamour, tried out for the first time by 17 and 18-year olds anxious to grow up.

A rite of passage in many ways, all of the rituals and excitement surrounding the prom give most kids their first brush with adult glamour. Reared on princess mythology, girls finally get to don their own ball gowns and be perceived not just as little girls, but as something close to grown women.

The end-of-high-school dance as we know it didn’t emerge until the 1930’s or ‘40s (and really took hold in the ‘50s), but “proms,” short for promenade, most likely began in the U.S. during the late 19th century. Originally dances held at Northeastern colleges to celebrate the end of senior year, the first proms were modeled on formal debutante balls and designed to help young adults learn social skills and etiquette.

Though today’s dances, with their fancy dresses and fancier cars, often seem to be less about etiquette and more about showing off, the prom is one glamour-related tradition that hasn’t strayed too much from its original roots. It’s still about learning how to get dressed up and how to act (or not act). Even MTV, not exactly a network famous for portraying teenagers in their most flattering, mannerly light, uses prom as an opportunity to offer a bit of practical grooming and etiquette advice.

The biggest lesson my own prom taught me wasn’t about manners or social graces. Instead, it was that sometimes, the most glamorous part of the evening occurs before the event even begins. My memories of the prom are good ones, from start to finish, but my memories of finding and buying my prom dress are even better. At my grandmother’s insistence, I took a day off school and she and my mom and I drove from Annapolis to D.C., to find stores that carry something other than boat shoes and polo shirts.

After several fruitless hours and a nice lunch, we ended up in the cocktail dresses at the Neiman Marcus on Wisconsin Avenue, where I found an amazing dress that was somehow both sophisticated and age appropriate (though it was definitely not designed with prom in mind). Buying that dress was the culmination of a lot of daydreams. It was also practice for a lot of future shopping, including for a wedding dress.

Trying that dress on for the first time, and again to show it off to friends and family, I felt as glamorous as any 17-year old girl possibly can. When the big day arrived, and my hair was up and my nails were painted and I’d replaced my Chapstick with lipstick, the glamour reached fever pitch. But it wasn’t sustainable and I’m not sure that the reality of the evening could’ve possibly lived up to the fantasy. And that's OK. Part of the allure of glamour is that it’s fleeting.

That’s me in the picture, by the way (or the back of my dress, at least) and my high school boyfriend/prom date next to me. We're outside my parents’ house enjoying prom’s own version of the red carpet, the pre-dance rush of flashbulbs and corsages.

And the dress now? It’s hanging in my closet. I’m sure it’ll never fit me again, but I just can’t part with it. Too many memories, and too many lessons. Plus, it's really, really pretty.

Dance Week: Has Ballet Lost Its Little Girl Glamour?

Ballerina dollWhen I bought this ballerina doll in Florence, as a present for my niece, she seemed almost like an artifact from a lost era, and not just because she's made of porcelain. In the age of Bratz and Disney Princesses, do ballerinas still represent a glamorous ideal in the minds of little girls? Or has the childhood glamour of ballet faded as the grownup version has lost some of its cultural salience?

I do occasionally see little girls lining up for dance classes in those classic pale-pink leotards. But what about kids who don't actually dance themselves? In my childhood, a ballerina music box was the standard jewelry chest for even graceless nerds like me. Now, at least judging from the Amazon reviews, it's a "a nice gift alternative"--a clever and unusual, rather than a standard part of childhood. But maybe that's a comment on music boxes rather than ballerinas. You can, after all, still buy ballerina Barbies.

I had intended to speculate on why ballerinas were no longer as prominent representatives of ideal, grownup femininity as they once were. But perhaps my premise is wrong. What do you think? Do little girls still dream of pirouettes and toe shoes?

The Evolution Of The Glamorous Mom

As DeepGlamour’s newest mother (my son is two and a half), I do a lot of thinking about the way having a child has affected  my capacity for glamour – usually at the same time I’m worrying that my jeans are veering rapidly into “mom” territory. Like DG interviewee Maureen Kelly, I find myself paying close attention to the glamorous moms out there.

Jackie or marilyn A while back, Virginia wrote about the original glamorous mom, Mary, full of serenity and grace. A generation ago, mothers like Jackie Kennedy captured the public’s imagination. Kennedy’s iconic beauty and elegance stood in sharp contrast to other glamorous female icons of the era, most noticeably, Marilyn Monroe (Mad Men’s fictional ad wizards immortalized this difference in their proposed campaign for Playtex bras, asking ‘Are you a Jackie or a Marilyn?’).

Today’s noticeably glamorous mother figures, celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, and (my favorite) India Hicks, are less pure examples of saintly motherhood and more reallife mixtures of fabulous woman and loving mom.

With all of these ideals of glamorous motherhood, it’s difficult to choose one as best, though I do lean towards the modern mix. For me, having a child has sharpened the distinctions between real life and glamorous fantasy. Where in my pre-kid life, dressing up for dinner or a night out was a regular, run-of-the-mill event, these days, on the occasions I have to dress up, put on heels and makeup and something other than eau de Play-Doh, I’m especially conscious of how I look and feel. I lay it on a little thicker. My heels are getting higher and my perfume’s getting stronger – but my skirts are getting just a little bit longer, too.

Maybe that’s the luxury of being a modern mother – we get to be Jackie, but have our Marilyn, too.

[Image: Dyna Moe's depiction of the Jackie vs. Marilyn campaign. Used with permission.]