Judy Kinsey knew what she wanted, and what the teenager wanted for the 1958 Albert Lea High School Senior Prom was a floor-length red dress.
No blush-red, mind you. Something closer to crimson, a shade that turns heads.
So Kinsey’s dutiful mother, Margaret Myers, took her shopping. Nothing was quite right, so Myers and her dressmaker, Mabel Nelson, helped the discriminating teen choose fabric and a Vogue pattern. Myers did the cutting and finishing, Nelson the construction.
Soon Kinsey was wrapped in a dream — a strapless, floor-length taffeta and organdy gown, with an optional top and bustle to boot.
“It was really, really a creation,” said Kinsey, who lives in West Concord, Minn., about 70 miles southeast of the Twin Cities. “It was beautiful.”
Kinsey dazzled again a month later, when she wore the gown for a piano recital before heading to Wellesley College in Boston.
Nothing matched the feeling of wearing that dress — for 60 years. Then Kinsey had an out-of-body experience.
This past April 7, her granddaughter, Annie Buresh, wore the very same dress to her prom at Minnesota’s Kasson-Mantorville High School. Stored unceremoniously in Myers’ attic for six decades, the rediscovered dress required not a stitch of alterations; just cleaning and pressing.
“I opened the box and I couldn’t believe it,” said 16-year-old Annie. “It looked like new. I did not expect to love it so much.”
“Annie looks absolutely gorgeous,” said Kinsey, who did day care for Annie and her sister, Alex, for most of their young lives.
Annie accessorized the dress with her grandma’s sparkly earrings and her great-aunt’s shoes — red Ferragamos with a bow on top. “My shoes to change into for dancing are the only thing that’s new,” Annie said. “It’s just so cool.”
To be honest, Annie wasn’t always sold on the dress. Prom-shopping is a “huge” high school rite of passage, she said. So she went to the mall with a friend. They tried on dresses, and more dresses, but in a familiar scenario, nothing was quite right.
Annie’s mother, Julie Buresh, reminded Annie that she had another option. Before Great-Grandma Myers died in 2012, at age 99½, she pulled the red dress out of her attic. While Myers sold quite a few of her vintage dresses, she kept the red dress. She had it cleaned and wrapped in plastic, then placed it inside a Donaldsons box.
Annie’s first thought when hearing about the dress? “Oh, my goodness. I’m going to look like ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ ”
Her mom pointed out that the dress was strapless. “Again, no,” Annie said. “ ‘Grandma wore it to prom? I’m going to look like a strapless tablecloth.’ I was very skeptical.”
Still, her mom managed to persuade Annie to try on the dress. It was positively perfect, although she decided against the top and bustle, opting for stunning simplicity.
Her prom date, Murad Ismayilov, an exchange student from Germany, wore a complementary red bow tie and vest for pictures, the grand march, dinner and dancing. The two are “huge nerds” and “Lord of the Rings” fans, said Annie, who is on her high school’s prizewinning cybersecurity team.
Word of Annie’s vintage dress circulated even before the night of the dance.
“One of my friends came up to me while we were dancing and said, ‘This is not your grandma’s 60-year-old dress.’ And I said, ‘It is!’ and she said, ‘No way.’ Then I told her there had been no alterations and she had such a surprised face on that I burst out laughing.”
There is one other Minnesotan who can attest to the dress.
After Grandma Kinsey wore it, and way before Annie did, Julie Argue Umbreit, a family friend and neighbor, won the Miss Albert Lea beauty pageant in the regal red gown. She wore it again in 1961 at the Miss Minnesota pageant, winning the evening gown competition and being named first runner-up.
“I remember loving the color,” said Umbreit, a screenplay writer in the Seattle area. She laughs at the headline in the local newspaper at the time: “Pretty Egghead Was Contest Runner-up.”
“It’s so funny seeing this dress,” she said. “Strapless in 1960 was kind of, I suppose, risqué.”
Umbreit is grateful for the trip down memory lane provided by the dress’ resurfacing. She remembers Kinsey’s family fondly; their mothers were best friends in Albert Lea. She even remembers that Kinsey went to the 1958 prom with friend Don Tasker, who died about 13 years ago. Umbreit graduated from the same high school a year later.
Annie is grateful for the family history she carried with her last weekend.
“It was one of the best nights of my life,” she said. “A bunch of my classmates, and other people I didn’t know very well, all complimented me on the dress and how beautiful I looked.
“The dress fits perfectly, but I also got the bonus of sentimental value.”