Thursday, March 11, 2010

The History of Prom

Did you know...

• prom has been around since 1811?
• the term “prom” is derived from the late nineteenth century “promenade ball?”
• proms are inspired by debutante balls, which are events that formally debut teenagers from prestigious families?
• in the United Kingdom, “prom” is actually an entire season of classical concerts, held between July and September since 1811?
• in the early 1900s, prom was just a simple tea dance for high school seniors?
• proms thrived in the 1950s due to a post-war economy boom?
• if you don’t get your fill of prom in high school, some universities have proms?
• the very first reference to prom is from the journal of an Amherst College student who gave a lengthy description about his experience?
• that girls never purchased new clothing for proms—dress codes found on invitations simply called for “your Sunday best?”

The Prom started in the 1920’s in the US and is the classic American rite of passage for students from all walks of life. One of the functions of the prom, planned from almost the very start, is to bring together people from all financial standings and heritage.

The word “prom” comes from the French word promenade, which means walk or stroll. In the Deep South, early in the twentieth century, it was considered inappropriate to dance with men that you were not married to, so the girls would take short and heavily-chaperoned promenades around the block with their dates.

By the 1930s, proms were common and the popularity of “prom stories”, sharing both good and bad memories, were published in school papers all over the country and added to the mystique. Other schools would acquire and distribute other school paper’s stories so these circulated from state to state and were taken very seriously. It was implied that participation in proms meant you were a good citizen and supported your community.

As proms became a passion two people attempted to suggest a way to plan them. Marietta Abell and Agnes J. Anderson’s 1936 book called “THE JUNIOR-SENIOR PROM, Complete Practical Suggestions for Staging the Junior-Senior Prom” suggested that proms could be money-savers and should not be planned in less than four weeks. Of course things have changed since some couples today spend thousands and proms are often planned a year in advance. Conde Nast estimates an average 17 year old spends $638 on the prom, more than $1200 per couple.

The 1950’s brought about heavy competition for the titles of Prom King and Queen as a popularity contest. Usually going to the best looking and best dressed couple it has been shown that today, people not from the popular crowd can win when the focus is also shifted to creativity and intellectual appeals for votes to look beyond just appearances.

The format of the prom today varies from place to place but a traditional prom usually involves high school students in tuxedos and gowns, dancing and music, combined with decorations and a theme. There are some professional event planners but it is usually the product of the hard work of a student prom committee. The era of selecting popular song titles, as themes for the prom, began in the late 60s and early 70s. All of this includes corsages, limousines, photographs (high school yearbooks did not start covering proms and including prom pictures until the 1930s and 1940s), and in many cases post-prom parties. Proms are held in school gyms and cafeterias or in hotels, country clubs, and banquet halls. Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior Proms occur but are usually not considered as important as the Senior Prom, which is the final formal dance and gathering of the graduating class.

Boys usually dress in black tie (a dinner jacket and bow tie), sometimes with brightly colored cummerbunds or vests, though any sort of formal wear can be worn. Traditionally, girls gave boys matching boutonnieres to be worn on the tuxedos. Girls traditionally wear formal gowns or dresses adorned with a corsage given to them by their date. Many boys also match the color of their tie to their date's dress. Often, boys and girls will dress according to the theme of the prom - e.g. pastel suits for a Miami Vice-themed prom.

Common prom activities include dining, dancing, the crowning of a prom King and Queen, and socializing. In some cases, high school students accumulate funds for their class prom through fundraisers over the four years they attend their high school. High schools in or near large cities may rent ballrooms at expensive hotels or, to be unusual, venues such as a pleasure cruise boat. Many students group together to take limousines to their proms. Often costs are cut by using the school gym, which challenges the decorating committee to somehow mask the gym odor and drab surfaces. Music played during the dance portion of the event is normally the genre(s) most popular with the attendees.

Prom night is one of the most important and anticipated nights of a teen’s high school life. Beautiful dresses and handsome tuxes are just the beginning of a wonderful night to remember.

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