Fashion, Feminism, and A Winter Formal

A cotillion.

In my hometown, December means more than just early evenings and the optimism  of an impending winter break. It takes on significance beyond any of the holidays, concerts or changes in the weather. Instead, December means Cotillion, the prom-like event that has groups of high school students talking endlessly of dresses and limousines, pre-parties and after-parties, and definitely not the etiquette that the dance is supposed to teach. The real highlight of the preparation process is choosing a dress, since appearance is everything.

I checked Facebook one November night to find that I had been added to the ominously named group, “Junior Cotil Dresses 2014.” My classmates immediately began posting pictures of beautiful dresses that they’d claimed to assure that no one else would wear the same dress to the dance. Frankly, I was a bit bothered by the obsession with looking for a dress. I had always thought of Cotillion a milestone and not a fashion show, but in the Facebook group, the dance that my friends and I had so eagerly anticipated was reduced to a slew of online shopping victories.

In the group, there was visible competition: one pink dress got ten likes while an equally pretty blue one got fifty. One ‘selfie’ received comments like “hottttt” while other dress reveals remained without a word of praise. I balked: fashion is not something that warrants Facebook likes or comments; it is an adventure in self-expression! I worried that the nature of dress shopping would destroy the fun aspects of selecting a dress and instead highlight the potentially superficial nature of overpriced sequins and sparkles.

Yet, it soon became clear that the Facebook group had unforeseen benefits. My peers maintained their confidence and the security of their decisions by posting images in the group. Yes, the students probably wanted to impress others with the gaudy dresses, but they also impressed themselves. Fashion offers a certain confidence, which can be tough to find among teenagers. The competition to find the perfect dress is really just a showcase of individualism: whether or not someone cares about how she dresses matters less than how that motivation makes her feel. It became clear that the process I had initially judged as horrendously superficial was actually one of the best ways my classmates could possibly prepare themselves for the dance.

When it comes to the ethos of the Facebook group, my good friend put it best when she explained that dressing well makes her feel better, just like how for some, sweatpants are the epitome of comfort. Not every woman needs to find value in what she wears, but her right to enjoy dress shopping and fashion must be maintained. Fashion is individualistic and we should not judge people for their clothing choices: we should “like” every dress posted just the same simply because it was posted. By appreciating people’s individualism, we can somehow gain the confidence necessary to reveal our own.

As I write this, I still haven’t found the right dress. But the hunt continues, and with my newfound open-mindedness, I firmly believe that I am ready for anything. There’s no need to type “how to dress like myself” into the search bar. I’ve already got that covered. 

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Landau, Rachel. "Fashion, Feminism, and A Winter Formal." 18 December 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 28, 2024) <>.