Christopher Chancey and Larina Bourne of Morgan Park High School.
Next to graduation, junior or senior prom is probably the most anticipated event of a young person’s high school career. Nothing symbolizes the ending of those teenage years like the opportunity to dress up, stay out late and say goodbye to friends before everyone goes their separate ways.
Over the last few years, prom has become an extravagant event involving grand ballrooms and banquet halls, expensive designer tuxedos and gowns, limousines and fun day-after post-prom events. But it hadn’t always been like that. According to Pretty for Prom, proms began in the late 1800s in the elite colleges of the Northeast. The prom (which is derived from the word “promenade,” meaning a ceremonious opening of a formal ball consisting of a grand march of all the guests) originated from the debutante balls of the wealthy, and soon middle class parents who admired this event instituted this same type of formal dance to help introduce social skills and etiquette to their children. Although high school proms were fairly simple in the early 1900s with students just wearing their best church attire, after the luxury of the post-war economy in the 1950s, proms became a more elaborate, less chaperoned, fancier occasion.
Nowadays on prom night, it’s not surprising to see the streets and highways crowded with borrowed luxury cars or rented stretch limousines filled with glamorous high school students on their way to an impressive banquet hall, ballroom or restaurant, or even the school’s lavishly transformed gymnasium.
Dajia Woods, a senior at Joliet West High School in Joliet, Ill., said that about $355 was spent on her prom last year, the dress costing $230 alone. Her expenses also included buying shoes and getting her hair and makeup done. She and her date didn’t have to spend money on transportation, though, because they used her uncle’s car-a Jaguar.
Her expenses were about the same this year, too.
Proms of today and proms of preceding decades have changed almost drastically-from the places the event is held to the way the attendees dress.
In referring to her mom’s prom experience, Woods said, “Her (prom) was different from mine because they dressed a lot differently than we do now.”
Angela Reed, 43, can attest to this. She attended her junior prom in 1982 and said that things have certainly changed between today’s proms and the proms of 20-plus years ago.
“The kids definitely dress differently nowadays, especially the girls,” she explained. “When I attended, the dresses were more conservative. They didn’t show any skin and they left a lot to the imagination.”
Reed also said that prom wasn’t as expensive as it is now-from the tickets to the formal attire and transportation. “I don’t think 20 years ago we focused as much on spending a lot of money on the dress or tux, or even on going out to get our hair and makeup done. To my experience, it was more of a family event. The moms and aunts would come and help (us) get ready.”
This experience, though, still holds true as Woods said, “My mother helped me. She was very excited; she even followed me to prom.”
In addition to the way the teens dress and the expenses dished out before, during and after prom, there has even been a change in the traditional date situation, where the boy asks the girl to be his prom date. An emerging popular trend with modern prom-going students is to attend the event stag or with a group of friends. And, at some schools, same-sex couples are allowed to bring their partners. Woods said that she noticed some students didn’t have dates; they just spent the entire night having fun with a group of friends.
“Back then, no one went to prom by themselves,” Reed laughed. “Everyone was paired up. But now it’s acceptable for girls to ask boys and for students to bring same-sex dates. The whole prom date experience is different now.”
Post-prom plans are almost as looked forward to as the prom itself. It’s become common practice that the day after prom, friends get together to hang out and mull over the previous night’s activities. In the Chicagoland area, most students make the trip to Six Flags Great America in the northern suburb of Gurnee. Woods said that she, her prom date and a group of friends ventured there the day after prom.
“The best thing about prom was the people I was surrounded by,” she explained. “I loved being with all my friends and my boyfriend. My best friend also won prom queen, and I was very happy for her.” All in all, it’s sufficient to say that for many students, prom is the highlight of their high school lives. It is believed that this event is like a rite into adulthood, the last dance before juniors take on their final year of high school, and before seniors head off into the real world of college and work. And no matter what has changed between proms of today and proms of yesteryear, they will always continue to be a night to remember. Pictured are Class of 2010 prom- goers.
Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender.