A Day in the Life of a Texas High School Prom Dress Coach

A high school in Texas requires female students to have prom dresses pre-approved by a school coach.

The Wall Street Journal

As I looked out the window of my tiny, bare-bones office onto the mesquite-speckled shrub land that rolled away to distant mountains, I had to ask myself–why the hell did I ever decide to become a high school prom dress coach?

Tommy Nobis: “Dang, girl.  You can’t go strapless in that get-up.”


The pay was lousy, and the hours were long–but sporadic.  Eleven months out of the year I sit around filing inserts in my Texas High School Prom Dress Coaches Handbook of Regulations, trying to keep myself busy.  Then come May, all of a sudden I’m hit hard, like a high-plains twister came down the halls of Tommy Nobis Consolidated Regional High School when I wasn’t looking.  Every girl has got to be checked out right now!  About the only consolation I get out of the job is the look of happiness I see on the face of the gals–especially the juniors–when I look down their bodices and tell them their dress passes muster.  “Where’s muster?” one of them asked me the other day, and I had to chuckle.  “It’s between Corsicana and Terrell,” I said.  “Once you pass it, take 45 North to Ennis, then 175 to Waxahachie.”  I don’t think she got the joke.

And then it all came back to me.  It was my Poppa-Daddy, Jim Earl Clayton, considered the greatest Texas high school prom dress coach of all time, who inspired me.  He led John David Crow Voke-Tech to 32 consecutive years without a prom dress code violation.  One day after I told him I wanted to become a doctor or a lawyer he said “Son, there ain’t a lot of money in bein’ a high school prom dress coach, but the satisfaction you get in making sure every girl’s nipples are invisible to the naked eye until the prom is over and she is safely ensconced in the back seat of her boyfriend’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88–well, that’s priceless.”

Poppa-Daddy was the man who came up with two of the most widely-used standards for Texas High School Prom Dress measurement; the “navel-latitude test” for backless dresses, and the “areola-must-be-in-controlla” for low-cut gowns.  He was tough but fair; if a gal could keep her nippers concealed beneath fabric for thirty seconds while singing either “The Yellow Rose of Texas” or “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You,” he didn’t care whether they flopped out later when she was dancing to Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.”

Still, the amount of abuse I take for the work I do makes it hard sometimes.  Just the other day Vera Lynn Schwenger’s mother Nae Ann came stormin’ down the hall to appeal my decision on an orange taffeta dress that was as tight as a Creamsicle wrapper.

“Ms. Schwenger, I’m sorry, but Vera Lynn looked like an uncooked sausage in that outfit,” I said.  “And you know what happens when you cook sausage on the grill . . .” I said, my voice trailing off in self-censorship.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nae Ann said as she came closer, batting her paste-on eyelashes.

“She’s gonna sizzle–and then she’s gonna pop,” I said, hoping she would “get the message” without me having to “draw her a picture.”

“God DAMMIT!” Nae Ann screamed, and I didn’t know whether to shut my office door or leave it open.  “How the hell is Vera Lynn going to attract an auto dealer’s son if she don’t set some bait?”

Hot as a sausage and ready to pop.


I lifted my ball cap (“Jim Earl Clayton Jr. Prom Queen All-Star Camp”) and scratched my head in an effort to appear like I was thoughtfully considering her position.  “You know, Nae Ann, our primary mission here at Tommy Nobis High is educating our children, not making them look like pole dancers on Bourbon Street.  I believe the children are our future, and . . .”

“Don’t give me that high-minded intellectual crap,” she snapped.  “I breathe a sigh of relief if Vera Lynn doesn’t have anything worse than a C on her report card.  Her chances of making it through college are slim and none, and Slim has left town.”

When she put it that way, I had to feel a little sorry for her.  Her daughter’s only extracurricular activity in three years of high school was her “Keep the Beehive Alive!” campaign when the Waxahachie Superintendent of Schools threatened to ban the hairstyle for health reasons after reading a lurid account of a “do” that became infested with chinch bugs due to excessive use of White Rain Hairspray.

It could happen here.

“Well Nae Ann, I suppose we could make an exception if . . .”

“If what?”

“If she would add a devil-may-care, slightly off-the-shoulder stole, to . . . um . . . conceal her most precious assets, I might relent.”

“You didn’t lend me anything in the first place.”

“No, I mean ease up, cut her some slack.  Here–take a look at this catalog from ‘Your Night to Shine by Helga.’  She offers a wide-ranging assortment of accessories–and try saying that five times fast.”

Nae Ann took the picture book from my hand and was like a little kid with a Sears Roebuck Christmas catalog.  “These are nice–but is there enough time to order one and have it git here by next Saturday night?” she asked.

I hesitated a bit before I spoke.  It wasn’t my job to get a girl in under the wire if her no-count mother neglected to get her gown cleared early.  “I tell you what,” I said finally.


“If it don’t get here in time, Vera Lynn can drape my Houston Oilers autographed game-worn George Blanda jersey around her–it’ll drive any boy wild!”

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