Dress shopping for the semiformal dance is a milestone for many young women and a never-ending nightmare for others. With a theme like “Midnight in Paris,” the girls of Ridge View Community School in Dexter are looking for gowns that sparkle like the stars, flapper dresses with a modern twist or sassy black numbers that practically drip sophistication. But Hannah Wigham, 13, of Garland had another idea, one to set her apart from the crowd.
(She had voted for the “Black and White” theme, not “Midnight in Paris,” anyway.)
“I just want to stand out. I’m not normally the most popular person in my class, and I just want to show them I can be cool,” Hannah said on the Monday before the big dance. “My friends always tell me I could pull off anything. I don’t care if you like it, I wear it anyway.”
The idea came to her during April vacation. While her classmates were busy combing through store racks in their search for the perfect gowns, Hannah sat down at her laptop and Googled “unique dress designs.” On the third page of results, she found the dress; and it was made entirely of newspaper.
A newspaper dress would not only stand out in a room full of silk and sequins, it also would express Hannah’s strong views about the importance of recycling.
To Hannah, a paper dress sounded like a fitting challenge for her grandmother Patricia Brawn of Dexter, who sewed for Hannah a fairytale gown of blue chiffon for last year’s semiformal.
Brawn studied the photos, took out a stack of old Bangor Daily News papers and got to work.
“I’ve played with origami some, but it was just automatic I guess,” said Brawn, who has been creating clothing for herself and her family since she was 12 years old. “I just started folding.”
Without a pattern, Brawn created the gown in two pieces. The fitted bodice is a symmetrical piece of complicated folds fastened with red duct tape. Bawn folded frills along the top, and on the chest she placed a heart made out of an old red zipper. The feminine design fastens down the back with Velcro.
“We tried to work in a few funnies and a lot of crosswords,” Brawn said. “We tried to stay away from the political stuff — didn’t want to make any statements.”
For the billowing skirt, Hannah helped her grandmother fold sheets of newspaper into points, which were then arranged in layers on a silk liner. By the time they were done adding all of the paper layers the skirt felt just as heavy as the most luxurious of ball gowns.
“The only thing I’m scared of is rain,” Brawn said.
To complete the ensemble, the pair crafted matching earrings and a necklace out of a scratched “Dreamgirls” CD. Hannah snipped out colorful magazine clippings to decorate a pair of high heels her grandmother had purchased in the ’80s. And in case of any wardrobe malfunctions, they stowed a small supply of red duct tape (along with some lip gloss), in her newspaper and duct tape purse.
In all, the outfit cost Brawn $18.
“I think we have some pretty creative genes in our family,” Brawn said.
Hannah plans to participate in chorus, dance and theater when she moves on to high school next year, and undoubtedly she will continue to express her creativity through fashion. Since falling in love with The Beatles in fourth grade, Hannah has been known as “the hippie” of the class, wearing ’60s attire — neon T-shirts, bellbottom jeans, peace signs.
“My friends are really supportive of me and my ideas, and they will probably freak out and think the dress is awesome,” said Hannah, who kept her special dress a secret from everyone except her immediate family and best friend Abbie, who recently moved to Florida. Even her close friends Riley, Kaitlyn, Emmalee, DeAnn and Geneva won’t see the dress until she walks through the door on Friday night for the pre-dance award ceremony.
(Hannah asked that the BDN not run her story until after the dance for that very reason.)
“This year, maybe people will say, ‘Oh, there’s a girl in a newspaper dress. I want to get to know her.’ Because I’m naturally shy — but maybe if they made the first move, I’d talk more,” Hannah said. “I’m not the type to follow the mainstream. Maybe they’ll think, ‘Hey, that girl isn’t following everyone else. She’s not afraid to pioneer.’”
Brawn is a bit nervous to see what Hannah’s two younger sisters will come up with for dress ideas when they reach seventh and eighth grade and are able to attend Dexter’s semiformal.
“I have prom next year,” Hannah reminded her grandmother with a grin.