Visiting With My Bat Mitzvah Dress

There are those childhood pictures that are reminders of our cuter selves. Aw, There I am with the freckles! And that’s me with chocolate sundae smeared all over my face! Precious.

And then, of course, there are those pictures of yesteryear that have a more humiliating bent. A particular one comes to mind: I’m wearing a bat mitzvah dress with shoulder pads that were about two and a half times the width of my upper arm. But I look so cheery, braces and massive glasses and all. Everything was so much bigger in 1992 — the glasses, the dresses, the bows (a baby-pink one on the dress and a lighter pink one on my head). No micro-minis on the bimah back then. (Case in point, the fashions seen in this recent Sisterhood video of a bat mitzvah that took place the same year as my own.)

I unexpectedly came across this behemoth of a dress when I was home for a recent visit. One of my tasks during the trip, at the request of my mother, was to clear out my closet of accumulated stuff. No problem. I opened the closet, hands on the hangers, and began the chore.

I threw the faux red-leather jacket to the ground in the designated “donate” section of my bedroom. The green-yellow cardigan, “fashionably” shorter in the back than the front, soon followed. And right around that time my hand fell on a stiff plastic dress bag, hanging in the bowels of my old closet. I knew that old bat mitzvah dress was there but I can’t say I paid it much thought in the past 18 years since I became a little Jewish lady.

What amazes me is the lack of flattering silhouettes back then, During a year when Nirvana’s [“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was ranked the top song, and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” followed closely behind, there weren’t many pop star fashion icons for the tween set.

In fact, it was some time between 1992 and now the word “tween” was invented. Today, few bat mitzvah girls would entertain the idea dress that violated so many fashion norms. But I look so gosh darn happy in my bat mitzvah picture, holding a Torah outside of my family’s suburban Boston home and about to head to synagogue. I now look back at this picture thankful for my total lack of self-consciousness. And slightly nostalgic for those days when I lived in blissful fashion ignorance. But only a little.

As for the dress, it was saved from the “donate” pile. Now, it hangs in my closet — next to my more contemporary department store duds — and remains shrouded in plastic.

Hinda Mandell blogs at

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Visiting With My Bat Mitzvah Dress

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