A promenade dance, commonly called a prom, is a dance party for high school students. It may be offered in semi-formal black tie or informal suit for boys, and evening gowns for girls. This event is typically held near the end of the school year. There may be individual junior (11th grade) and senior (12th grade) proms or they may be combined.
At a prom, a "prom king" and a "prom queen" may be revealed. These are honorary titles awarded to students elected in a school-wide vote prior to the prom. Other students may be honored with inclusion in a prom court. The selection method for a prom court is similar to that of homecoming queen/princess, king/prince, and court. Inclusion in a prom court may be a reflection of popularity of those students elected and their level of participation in school activities, such as clubs or sports. The prom queen and prom king may be given crowns to wear. Members of the prom court may be given sashes to wear and photographed together.
Similar events, which may be locally inspired by debutante balls, take place in many other parts of the world. In Canada, the terms "formal" and "Grad" are often used, while in Australia and New Zealand, the terms school formal and ball are most commonly used for occasions equivalent to the American prom, and the event is usually held for students in Year 12, although the bestowing of the regal titles does not occur. Many schools hold a formal graduation ball for finishing students at the end of the year in place of or as well as a formal. In Ireland, a debutante ball or debs may also be held. In Poland and Lithuania, high schools organize a "studniówka" (lt. “Šimtadienis”). The term "prom" has become more common in the United Kingdom and Canada because of the influence of American films and television shows, such as Grease. In South Africa, this event is widely known as a matric dance as students in their 12th year of school are called matric students.
Variation exists between different dialects with regard to whether prom is used with the definite article or not—e.g., whether one says "go to the prom" or "go to prom".
In the early days of high school proms, the nighttime dance served a function similar 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 a heavily documented occasion, similar to a milestone event such as first communion or a 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, including Meghan Bretz, believe proms may have existed at colleges as early as the late 19th century. The journal of a male student at Amherst College in 1894 recounts 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 prom soon took on larger-than-life meaning for high school students.
Proms worked their way down incrementally from college gatherings to high school extravaganzas. In the early 20th century, 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 prom and senior balls 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 social life.
Today, prom continues to be a notable event in the social climate of high schools. Popular movies and novels attest to the importance of prom themes, prom dates, and prom queens. In some areas, the traditions of prom are not as rigid as they used to be, with many students attending as individuals or in groups instead of as couples. In 1975, U.S. First Daughter Susan Ford held her prom in the East Room of the White House.
Traditionally, boys dress in black or white formal wear, often tuxedos regardless of the time of the event, sometimes paired with ties or bow ties with vests, in some cases in colors matching their date's dress.
Traditionally, girls wear dresses or evening gowns and adorn themselves with ladies' jewelry such as earrings and a necklace. Traditionally, girls wear perfume, and make-up such as eyeshadow, lipstick, mascara, and blush. Girls also traditionally wear a corsage, given to them by their dates, and girls give boys matching boutonnières to be worn on their lapels.
By the 2000s, the clothes girls wear to prom have become more revealing due to the influence of celebrities and the mass media.
A "promposal" (a portmanteau of "prom" and "proposal") is a popular pre-prom tradition where a student asks another to go to the prom with them using some (usually elaborate) method and extra fanfare. A promposal is distinct from the normal prom ask, which typically includes the question, "Will you go to prom with me?" without additional spectacle. Promposals may include concepts and materials from posters, confetti, and balloons to the more viral, elaborate plans that give promposals their extravagant reputation. Examples include spelling "Prom?" with pepperoni on pizza, organizing a flash mob, wearing a fursuit, graffitiing national park land, and using a hot-air balloon. Promposals, due to their flashy nature, often include a social media aspect like livestreaming, taking and posting videos, and other forms of memorializing on social media platforms.
Prom attendees may be limited by their schools to be juniors or seniors and guests under age 21. Before prom, girls typically get their hair styled, often in groups as a social activity at a salon. Prom couples then gather at a park, garden, or their own and their dates’ houses for single and group photographs. Prom attendees may rent limousines or party buses to transport groups of friends from their homes to the prom venue. Some schools host their proms at hotel ballrooms, banquet halls, or other venues where weddings typically take place. The dance itself may have a band or DJ. At prom, a meal may be served. By the early 21st century, prom has become a multi-billion-dollar business in the United States, with each family spending hundreds to even thousands of dollars for the occasion.
Some high schools allow only the graduating class (seniors) to have a prom. Some schools also allow grade 11 (juniors) to have a prom, and in some cases, there is a combined junior/senior prom. Some American high schools that do not allow school-sponsored dances will host a junior/senior prom as a banquet instead of a dance. Typically, students still dress in formal attire and attend as couples. In recent years, American teens have started asking celebrities or famous models to their proms.
After the prom, parents or a community may host a prom after-party, afterglow or post-prom at a restaurant, entertainment venue, or a student's home. Other traditions often include trips to nearby attractions, such as amusement parks, regional or local parks, or vacation houses. Some of these post-prom events are chaperoned and some are unsupervised. Many post-proms (after-prom events) are at the school, and involve bringing entertainment such as interactive games, artists, and other entertainers to the school, as a means to deter inappropriate behaviors.
In the United Kingdom prior to the 2000s, many secondary schools would hold events such as a summer ball to celebrate the end of term or a leavers ball to celebrate the end of schooling, but usually, these did not have the cultural or social significance of US-style proms.
In the 1970s, school discos had been another tradition of semi-formal events being held at various times of the year, in particular during the Christmas period, although not all secondary schools would allow such events.
During the 2000s, school proms became common at UK schools, apparently due to the influence of US TV shows. The Daily Telegraph reported in 2012 that:
elaborate 'passing out' celebrations for Year 11 students (aged 15–16) and Year 12 (aged 16–17) have become a cultural phenomenon, stoking passions and rivalries, and refashioning the sense of what a school party should be. More than 85 percent of schools in Britain hold school Proms, which range from no-frills dinners in school halls to tailor-made extravaganzas in five-star hotels with such extras as ice- cream vans and photo booths.
Schools in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland predominantly hold their prom, or school formal, at the end of secondary education in year 11 (ages 15/16) and the end of sixth form (aged 18).
In Scotland, it is usually only held at the end of S6 (ages 17/18) because all high schools in Scotland have pupils up to age 18 years, whereas elsewhere in the UK, many students have to go to college or sixth form to study for A-Levels. Proms are usually held in June, after the end of year exams, although in Northern Ireland, they are usually held in the wintertime near the start of the school year. At Scottish formal events, boys usually wear kilts (kilts are also often seen in the other Celtic regions) and Highland dress outfitters often sell out in an area around this time of year due to demand from school events. Also in Scotland, it is customary for traditional Scottish country dancing (part of the curriculum of all secondary schools) to be included.
The concept of extending prom to homeschool students has been realized in recent years. Although some school districts in the United States and Canada allow homeschool students to attend the prom in the school district where they reside, many homeschool groups also organize their own proms. Some states, such as Oregon, Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, and Michigan, also host statewide homeschool proms, which any homeschool student in that state is welcome to attend.
Proms that are specifically geared toward homeschool students can sometimes be significantly different from traditional high school proms. It is not uncommon for a homeschool student to attend a homeschool prom solo, rather than taking a date. Often the music played is chosen by the parents rather than the students.
An adult prom is a social event that is almost perfectly similar to a high school prom in terms of themes and attire, except that some adult proms also serve alcoholic beverages, and therefore most adult proms (at least in the U.S.) require those attending to be at least 21 years of age. The origin of adult prom is unclear, though Drew Barrymore is often credited with inadvertently inventing the concept in the 1990s, when she stated in an interview on Late Night with Conan O'Brien that she threw a prom party for herself and a few friends who never got to go to prom.
A form of adult prom is the "second chance prom". It is a big gathering of people who either did not go to prom, wanted to relive prom, or whose high school prom did not work out the way they had hoped.
In the novel Nobody's Property, character Mallorie Walcott, an event planner, mentions that she helped put her younger daughter Cassandra through college, in part, from the revenue she made from planning adult proms in the 1990s either for people who missed their actual high school proms in the 1970s and 1980s or simply wanted to re-live their prom night.
A slightly different take on the adult prom is that of the disabilities prom, dedicated to providing a prom experience to disabled adults at no charge to the attendees. These events are most often organized by non-profit organizations focusing on the disabled, or large churches.
In 2010, Theatrical producers in New York produced an audience participation theatrical play, set in an actual dance hall, called The Awesome 80s Prom, where attendees were at a prom and got to vote on the king and queen from the cast of characters.
Anti-proms can be private, unofficial proms that are privately created, outside the control of the school, usually by people who disagree with their school's prom policies. Some schools also include the anti-prom as an official event called MORP (Prom spelled backwards). MORP dances can be similar to a Sadie Hawkins dance where the girls ask a boy on a date, they can have informal attire, and the decor can be dark or less elegant.
Proms for gay and lesbian people who did not attend their proms with a date of the same sex are popular in some cities. These proms may also enable trans people who experienced prom before transitioning a chance to attend as the correct gender. A 1980 court decision, Fricke v. Lynch, required a public school in Rhode Island to allow same-sex dates, but discrimination against gay students continued for decades across the country.
Proms have been the source of many controversies, many of which involve LGBT students.
|1943||Best Foot Forward|
|1948||A Date with Judy|
|1985||Back to the Future|
|1986||Pretty in Pink|
|1988||Dance 'til Dawn|
|1990||Book of Love|
|1993||My Boyfriend's Back|
|1999||10 Things I Hate About You|
|Drive Me Crazy|
|Never Been Kissed|
|She's All That|
|2008||Bart Got a Room|
|High School Musical 3: Senior Year|
|Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever|
|Princess Protection Program|
|2012||21 Jump Street|
|2018||The Kissing Booth|
|2021||To All the Boys: Always and Forever|
|2006||The World's Best Prom|
|2009||Prom Night in Mississippi|
|1990||"The Prom"||Saved by the Bell|
|"Prom-ise Her Anything"||Tiny Toon Adventures|
|1993||"A Night to Remember"||Beverly Hills, 90210|
|1995||"Angels on the Air"||Touched by an Angel|
|1996||"The One with the Prom Video"||Friends|
|1997||"Prophecy Girl"||Buffy the Vampire Slayer|
|1998||"Fools Rush Out"||Party of Five|
|"Prom-ises, Prom-ises"||Boy Meets World|
|1999||"The Prom"||Buffy the Vampire Slayer|
|"Prom Night"||That '70s Show|
|2000||"The Chaperone"||SpongeBob SquarePants|
|"Witch Way to the Prom"||Seven Days|
|"The Prom"||S Club 7 in L.A.|
|"Full Circle"||Queer as Folk|
|2006||"Morp"||Malcolm in the Middle|
|"Best Prom Ever"||How I Met Your Mother|
|"The Party Favor"||The O.C.|
|"Look Who's Stalking"||Veronica Mars|
|2007||"Prom Night at Hater High"||One Tree Hill|
|2008||"Chasing Zoey"||Zoey 101|
|"We Built This City"||Degrassi: The Next Generation|
|"I've Had the Time of My Life"||Kyle XY|
|2009||"Valley Girls"||Gossip Girl|
|2010||"The Prom Before the Storm"||90210|
|"Big Time Prom Kings"||Big Time Rush|
|2013||"Tina in the Sky with Diamonds"|
|2014||"Girl on the Cliff"||Switched at Birth|
|"The Prom Equivalency"||The Big Bang Theory|
|2015||"Last Dance"||Pretty Little Liars|
|"Blood Moon Ball"||Star vs. the Forces of Evil|
|2016||"For Tonight We Might Die"||Class|
|2017||"Tape 3, Side A"||13 Reasons Why|
|MTV TV Series||Promposal|
|2019||"And Salt the Earth Behind You"||Euphoria|
|2020||"Nadia and Omar"||Elite|
|"Prom"||13 Reasons Why|
|"Enchanting Grom Fright"||The Owl House|
|2021||"One of Us Is Dancing!"||One of Us Is Lying|
|1958||"A Date With Jerry"||Wanda Jackson|
|1990||"Promnight in Pigtown"||John Gorka|
|2008||"A Night to Remember"||High School Musical 3: Senior Year|
|2009||"Plain Jane"||B.J. Thomas|
|"You Belong with Me"||Taylor Swift|
|2013||"Here's to Never Growing Up"||Avril Lavigne|
|2014||"Break the Rules"||Charli XCX|
|2015||"Marvin Gaye"||Charlie Puth featuring Meghan Trainor|
|2018||"Back to You"||Selena Gomez|
|"The Rapture Ball"||Poppy|
|2020||"Revolving"||Yung Bae featuring Marc E. Bassy|
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senior guys indulge themselves with prom suits
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