Contributed by Donna Turner
Did you know that today’s style of prom really began in the 1950s?
Proms today are an iconic, integral part of the high school experience. They come complete with stretch limos, fancy ballrooms, live bands, kings and queens, and, most importantly, dresses worthy of movie stars. However, proms have not always been the elaborate, inclusive show they are today. Many scholars believe that high school proms emerged from the popularity of upper-class debutante balls in high society. At these balls, girls in white dresses and white gloves would be proudly escorted into a grand hall for their official introduction to the social dating scene. (The escort was generally selected by the parents.) Invitations were exclusive and official debutantes were few and far between. Indeed, the word prom is short for promenade, or the grand marching beginning to an immensely important social event.
In the early days of high school proms, the nighttime dance served a similar function to a debutante ball. Early proms were times of firsts; the first adult social event for teenagers, the first time taking the family car out after dark, the first real dress-up affair, and so forth. Proms also served as picture-taking events, similar to a first communion or wedding, in which the participants were taking an important step into a new stage in their lives. In earlier days, the prom may have also served as an announcement of engagement for the “best couple” after the prom court had been crowned and recognized.
While high school yearbooks did not start covering proms and including prom pictures until the 1930s and 1940s, historians believe proms may have existed at colleges as early as the late 1800s. The journal of a male student at Amherst College in 1894 accounts an invitation and trip to an early prom at neighboring Smith College for women. The word prom at that time may just have been a fancy description for an ordinary junior or senior class dance, but it would soon take on larger-than-life meaning for high school students.
Proms worked their way down from college gatherings to high school extravaganzas incrementally. In the early 1900s, prom was a simple tea dance where high school seniors wore their Sunday best. In the 1920s and 1930s, prom expanded into an annual class banquet where students wore party clothes and danced afterward.
As Americans gained more money and leisure time in the 1950s, proms became more extravagant and elaborate, bearing similarity to today’s proms. The high school gym may have been an acceptable setting for sophomore dances, but junior and senior proms gradually moved to hotel ballrooms and country clubs.
Competition blossomed, as teens strove to have the best dress, the best mode of transportation, and the best looking date. Competition for the prom court also intensified, as the designation of “prom queen” became an important distinction of popularity. In a way, prom became the pinnacle event of a high school student’s life, the ultimate dress rehearsal for a wedding.
Today, prom continues to be an elaborately important event in the social climate of high schools. Popular movies and novels attest to the importance of prom themes, prom dates, and prom queens. Still, prom has become more liberal about its requirements for participants and activities. It is no longer quite as important to have a date or to be asked by the perfect guy. More and more girls are choosing their own dates for the prom and more and more guys are going “stag” or with a group of friends. Believe it or not there exists prom etiquette. Manners are totally in style especially on prom night. The following 12 tips might assist you with your planning.
1. Prom status: Accompanied or not?
This is a personal choice, best made early so as not to be disappointed, influenced or taken off guard. All options are perfectly acceptable: stag, with a special friend, a group or with a date.
2. Inviting: Does it still mean paying?
The young man or the lady, both are acceptable. Whoever asks generally pays. These days that means the tickets. The couple then discusses the transportation payment. To avoid embarrassment, communicate and plan early. Discuss the situation with your date and your parents, as they often pay the prom bill. A national survey indicates that parents will pay for 81% of prom costs at an average of $804 per teen. So planning is important. Costs include flowers and grooming. Attire and accessories are considered individual purchases. If one's date is paying for the celebration, bills for hairdos, manicures or gowns are not presented to the date for reimbursement. Believe it or not, it has been done.
3. Asking How, When and What to Say:
In person is still the best and most appropriate. The phone is second best. Emailing and texting for a prom date are never appropriate. Asking once tickets go on sale is best. All the information will be on the ticket. Try this: "Hi, how are you? Great, thank you. Our prom is coming up and I thought it would be great to celebrate together. Would you please be my date?" If it's a yes: "That's great. I know we'll have a good time together. I will buy our tickets."
4. Accepting, Declining and Changing One's Mind:
Yes: "Thank you, I would love to be your date for the prom." No: "No thank you, but thanks for thinking of me." A no should be clear, without excuses. If they insist: "Thanks for thinking of me but I don't think I'm the best person for you." No, when going with a group: "Thank you for thinking of me but I've already decided to make it a girls' night out. I'll see you there." Changing one's mind because of a better offer is not acceptable. It is only one night. You must be gracious and honor your word. Remember Bill Gates' quote: "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one."
5. Meeting the date's family and conversing.
Even in our digital era, punctuality is a must. Be on time. If you are picking up your date, you cannot text or honk to indicate that you are in the driveway. You must get out of your car or limo, ring the doorbell and meet the parents. Proper introductions are made by introducing your date to your parents: "Dad, I'd like you to meet John Jones, my date for the prom. John, this is my father, Arthur Allen. Just like you, he was a linebacker on his school's team." When introduced, make sure to stand, smile, make eye contact, shake hands and say: "Nice to meet you." Continue the conversation by talking about summer plans, current movies or favorite sports teams.
6. Decoding Dress Codes:
Formal: Tuxedo and long dress. Semi-formal: Sports jacket and short dress. Styles should be discussed ahead to avoid surprises: They range from rock 'n' roll eclectic to movie star glamour. To achieve harmony in colors, a swatch may be provided to the date.
7. Wearing a corsage, a boutonnière or your cell phone?
A boutonniere or a corsage is worn on the left, close to the heart. Dads usually prefer wrist corsages, so young men are not fumbling around trying to pin corsages on their daughters. Cell phones, bluetooths and ipods are not prom wear accessories. They should not be visible.
8. Dancing dilemmas: To dance or not, with others or not?
Fast dancing is done in groups so everyone is welcome. When asked by someone other than your date to slow dance, most young men and women would agree that the important thing is respect. If you're in doubt, don't do it. Decline an offer to dance with a smile and a simple, polite "No thank you." No need to make up excuses.
9. Dining Tips and Chivalry:
To identify your place setting use B-M-W. No, not the car, but B: Your bread plate is on your left. M: Your meal plate is in the middle. W: Your beverage is on your right. Utensils are used from the outside-in. Circulation of the bread basket or of condiments is counter clockwise. Gentlemen, not sure about opening doors or pushing a chair in for the ladies, ask: "May I open the door for you?"
10. Taking Selfies, Tagging and Posting:
Yes, this is a once in a lifetime moment, you want to immortalize it and you should. But make sure to let others also enjoy their moment. Don't block anyone's view, don't delay line-ups and ask permission before clicking.
11. How to say good night correctly?
"Thank you very much, I had a lovely evening," is the right thing to say. To turn down a kiss on the lips, offer your cheek and then take a step back. Yes, it's difficult but it sends a clear message.
12. Thanking Gratefully: Who and How?
"Hello, please, thank you and you're welcome" are still in style. They should be used generously with friends and classmates, but also with chaperones, school and service personnel. Sending a handwritten thank-you note to the chair of the organizing committee, and requesting that it be shared with all, is classy. Email is acceptable, snail mail is better. Remember, as a prom-goer you are an ambassador of your school, your community and your family.
Prom is often still the main social event of the high school season, but it is also a time for fun and the creation of memories for everyone to enjoy.