• Michelle Vernal

A Cinderella Dress


One doesn’t reach the age of somewhere in their forties without clocking up a few Cinderella dresses along the way. In a cardboard folder stuffed in with some of my childhood schoolbooks and projects is one of those lovely close-up school portrait pics, I'm aged about nine. Pigtails, gappy teeth, freckles and a sailor dress. It was special because nobody else had anything like it. My Nana had sent it over along with a collection of other Marks and Spencers dresses all the way from Liverpool.

The first time I clearly remember feeling special in a dress, though was in the early 80’s while holidaying in the gorgeous Coromandel. It was an apple green bubble dress with white trim, and if I close my eyes I can still see myself poncing around out the front of the A-Frame holiday house we were staying in. It’s not hard, too much sun before the days of slip, slop, slap with the sunscreen meant I had a face on me like a lollipop sign at a zebra crossing.

The apple number was followed a few years later by what I think of as my coming of age dress. White, strapless, with a full skirt it was worn for my parents 25th wedding anniversary party. At 14 I was a dead ringer for Molly Ringwald, it was still the 80’s, and I was aiming more for Madonna. Hmm, I wonder if Molly ever spent an entire evening wrestling her strapless underwire bra from around her middle, thanks to her exuberant dancing? And we know Madonna didn’t because hers were always on the outsides of her T-shirts.

By my very late teens, it was a black velvet number, and I’d discovered nightclubs. I used to groove to a song of the same title Black Velvet and have to admit to feeling pretty special with my henna died orange crimped locks and way too much makeup. By the time my twenties arrived, we’d moved into the 90’s, and it was a floaty, short claret number with shoe string straps that I always felt I could strut my stuff in. I was wearing it the night I met my hubby. He never stood a chance, not with him being unable to move very fast due to his being on crutches at the time.

Thirty saw me don the ultimate Cinderella number, my wedding dress. White and no thank you very much, I saw no irony in the colour choice. My dress had a bodice with an overlay of Irish lace and a sweetheart neckline. Very princess like, it was brought from a workmate in Dublin and stashed in my backpack to come home to New Zealand.

A few years later I was a Mum in my early thirties and with a wedding to go to and the chance to get out of my track pants, I bought a tiered smokey pink number. That was the first time I’d ever specifically bought shoes to match a dress. Thank you Number One Shoes. When the big FOUR O loomed, I was desperate to prove it was the new thirty by squeezing into a straight black number with a red bodice. Nobody needed to know I was wearing a pair of cycling pant support knickers beneath it and yes, it was a shame I spent half the latter part of my ‘do’ locked in the bathroom being sick. All I managed to prove was that forty means you can’t knock it back like you used to.

And now we roll round to that murky somewhere in my forties. In celebration of having picked up some freelance work for a glossy local, lifestyle mag, my eye was caught by a black, cream and silver lace shift dress. It’s taken up residence in the wardrobe ready for me to slip into in a couple of weeks when we go to a friend’s 50th, and if Paul asks – “What this? No, I’ve had it for ages.”

What were your Cinderella Dresses?

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