Each year finds high school teens brimming over with excitement as they prepare for their long-awaited event – their high school prom. With each passing decade, proms over the years have painted a picture that tells much about the generation and its culture.
Proms Through the Late 1800s and Early 1900s
The high school prom grew out of the popularity of college formal dances of the late 19th and first decades of the 20th century. In an era where most college students came from upper class families, these events became highlighted arenas for the upper crust and a training ground for entrance into society’s elite circles. By the “Roaring 20s,” in the aftermath of World War I, flappers were turning up their hemlines, bobbing their hair and humming the strands of “in the morning, in the evening, ain’t we got fun?”
Colleges Lay Groundwork for Later Proms Over the Years
College proms flourished until the Depression years and World War II made them appear too frivolous for the more serious issues of the day, even if the rich could still afford to sponsor such events. Proms over the years following World War II proms began to flourish on high school campuses. Thus began the rite of passage from youth into adulthood known today as the high school prom.
By the 1950s, proms were in full swing.
Its difficult to think about the 1950s, high school teens, dancing and proms without conjuring up associations of ever-present pent-up teenage hormones that accompanies these terms. As teens left behind both the safety of home and family, the high school prom marked the ending of life as they knew it with Mom and Dad and the transition into the world of work and responsibility. Adult role models emphasized societal acceptance, which meant knowing how to conduct one’s self in society, follow proper social etiquette and practice social graces.
Proms through the years of the 1960s and early 1970s continued to serve as training grounds for entrance into polite society. Proms grew into increasingly formal affairs. Young ladies’ attire slowly transitioned from ankle-length tea dresses of the late 1940s to satin, taffeta, netting and lace concoctions floor-length ball gowns. Tuxedos and tails became standard evening fashion for young men.
Less Restriction, More Freedom Affects High School Proms
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, ideas about freedom combined with Vietnam and post-war emotions of the Beat Generation. Flower children let their hair down and simplified prom attire they found stiff and restrictive. By the late 1970s, cotton eyelet, daisy-bedecked long dresses allowed more intensive gyrations on the dance floor. A growing individuality among students found the occasional mother’s wedding dress or tea dress on a young prom attendee. The era was a time for self-expression and individuality. Guys traded black-and-white tuxedos for pastel blues, yellows, greens and grays – with jacket lapels as wide as the smiles on their faces.
Proms Turn Disco
The 1980s brought movies like “Saturday Night Fever,” “Stayin’ Alive” and John Travolta dance moves. The ’80s gave youngsters Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and “Thriller.” Culture Club’s Boy George, Phil Collins, Loverboy and Cindi Lauper each held center stage, if only for a few brief moments in prom history.
Rounding Out the Century
Music Television (MTV) first appeared during the 1980s, but by the 1990s, it had indoctrinated a new generation of teens. Music had always demanded dancing and appropriate garments that permitted in-vogue dance moves. MTV brought with it the visuals. Dance names like the Butt and the Electric Slide joined in with breakdancing, the Egyptian, the Worm and moves one had to see to believe, and to learn how to maneuver.
Enter the 21st Century and the Modern Prom
By 2000, Hollywood and its Red Carpet arrived in home towns everywhere. A profusion of proms over the years included nostalgic music in resurrected songs like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Wonderful Tonight.” Television series “Sex and the City” and their iconic New York career-oriented characters influenced the prom scene. New York and city prom themes flourished, as did romantic themes that incorporated Paris, Rome, Venice and Around the World into their titles.,
High school proms over the years have served useful purposes and promise to continue as long as – well, as long as teenagers keep coming along. Short of war, severe economic conditions or unforeseen disasters, proms remain the means of choice for “steppin’ out” before graduation and stepping into young adulthood.