Prom then and now

Next week, Madison High School Kids will join the rest of the country and celebrate the prom (based on my facebook feed, which is filled with pics of my friends kids all dolled up).

When I was in High School, things were, of course different. In my particular case, I first went to an all girls’ school and then a small school that did not host any dances. So for me, I had to get invited to someone else’s prom if I wanted to go.

But for my daughter, who is a high school senior, this is her prom, and there was never any question that she’d go. That’s just the beginning of the differences! To wit:

More about dates

The thing about getting invited to someone else’s prom is that you need a date. And I think that the idea of having a date at all was pretty important even in schools that hosted the formal dances. But now there are so many possibilities: there’s the group date, where someone just tags along with a big group of couples but doesn’t have one person they are “going with.” Two friends can go, and it’s socially acceptable if they are a girl and a boy, two boys or two girls or any other combination, which apparently, now there are. And maybe someone identifies as a tuxedo wearer you might have thought would wear a dress. Or maybe they just really like tuxedoes.

Remember when Celine Dion wore a TUXEDO?! And it was BACKWARDS!? Ok kids, stop rolling your eyes at me.

Remember when Celine Dion wore a TUXEDO?! And it was BACKWARDS!? Ok kids, stop rolling your eyes at me.

But it’s all good and definitely seems to allow for a much broader array of self acceptance than the very regimented boy/girl couples that were the exclusive attendees of the dances I went to. 

But I still don’t know what the etiquette is for seeing a friend’s child heading off to prom with a date. Does one ask if they are just friends or on a date? Does one assume that this might be a signifier of sexual preference? Does one just tuck that info away and mind their own damn business? Probably the latter.

In the end, it seems that everything is more important than the date. Even . . . 

The Promposal

Have you heard of a promposal? No? Maybe you should get out from under that rock, friend! Promposals are the new, ubiquitous way to ask someone to come to prom with you. By far, most seem to be delivered via posterboard, which makes sense. Those things come in packs of 5, which we always seem to use one of and then forget about until we need another and buy another 5 pack. So they’re around, and kids know how to use them. They have clever messages using wordplay and maybe a prop (I’m all for the ones that involve cupcakes.)

When I went to prom, it was more like this: my friend was going with his friend and the friends asked us whether we would be amenable to a date with each other. We told our friends yes and then he called me to ask and I accepted. For Sadie Hawkins my sister and her friend cooked up a plan for me to ask the friend’s brother. I called and asked for Brendan, my brow erupting in nervous prespiraition. 

“Brendan, there’s some guy on the phone for you!” his brother yelled in the background. 

I fought my urge to hang up and explained who I was to a surprised but not surprised when he thought about it Brendan, who said yes. 

Then: A no frills affair

Now: The planned, posterboard posed question yes is no less  anxiety producing, I am sure. 

The Dress

There are three beauties I remember wearing to formal dances as a high schooler. One I wore a few years ago to an 80s themed charity gala. The shoulder pads seem enormous now, but at the time I was on the more understated, preppier side of fashion. There was also a blue lace number that matched exactly another girl in our dinner party group. And my mom actually made me a dress for one dance. 

My daughter got her dress on a shopping trip to the mall with her prom date and then went with him to the tuxedo rental shop. They are just friends, but friends who want to be sure they co-ordinate, I guess. The dress is a beauty, and was secured at a bargain and needed only a small alteration. It is flattering and grown up without a plunging neckline or a slit-to-the-thigh skirt or cutouts at the waste. Those things are very popular and with three daughters, I’ll probably have to have a discussion about taste level at some point, but not this time around.

The Verdict

Then: Mostly cringeworthy

Now: A star is born

The Glam

An early formal dance I went to was a military ball hosted by the local catholic boys high school where ROTC was required at the time. My date and I connected through our mothers, which mortified us enough so that we barely spoke to one another. Nonetheless, I was very happy to go to the dance and my attitude to friends was that going with a nerdy son of my mother’s friend was a small price to pay. My friends did not buy that, and seemed vindicated that I secretly cared when I admitted that I both shampooed and conditioned my eyebrows to look extra special at this event. Other pre-event beauty rituals included showering, sneaking into my mom’s room and using her Great Lash mascara, and pinching my cheeks when he arrived at the door to pick me up. 

Nowadays, things are a little different. I think most of the boys probably do as much as I did to prepare for the dance, and the rest of them do more. Girls definitely do more. In fact, as I write this, I am at the salon with my daughter, who is doing a pre-prom hair trial. She is also getting a gel manicure with tips next week, and has carved out 90 minutes to do her own makeup on prom day, in addition to a bevy of other personal grooming services. She is not getting the very common spray tan, but she did almost start crying when she realized that an unexpectedly sunny afternoon passed playing volleyball with friends may have given her a sunburn. This is my down to earth, mature, usually reasonable, 6 AP class taking daughter. Or has she been replaced with Promzilla?

The Verdict: 

Then: Pre-Prom beauty meant I let my mom know it was time to get a new tube of mascara

Now: We’ve reached Sephora Insider’s Rouge status!!!!


This is a deceptively complex concept that’s tossed around by kids regularly without them knowing what havok they wreak. A pre prom happens (you guessed it) before prom. It is typically a gathering outdoors in someone’s backyard and is basically a photo call. The kids who are travelling together meet up and take pictures. Individual couples, All the couples, all the kids, and then maybe each kid with their parents, who also come. So it quickly becomes a lot of people. I have a friend who had 193 people show up at a pre-prom she hosted. My daughter is heading across the street and I am bringing something that all of the people who show (presumably many fewer than 193) will eat. Let’s pray for a sunny afternoon.

When I went to prom, dinner happened before the dance (Now they seem to serve dinner at the dance, which does not mean teens — and their parents — will not be eating at pre-prom). So pre-prom usually meant a whole dinner party at someone’s house. I remember we hosted a four couple affair at my house for the Sadie Hawkins dance in 9th grade. Somehow people came to the dinner party even though the dance was postponed because of a snow storm. So we did it all again on the rescheduled date and it was still somehow just as akward at our dining room table.

The Verdict:

Then: Elaborate menus and non-existent small talk

Now: A quick photo op morphed into an (it better be) instagrammable event


As I recall, the transportation to formal dances in high school was either one of my parents (with the “couple” in the back seat, as if being chauffered) or one person would pile as many people as they could into some old clunker (a 1970s Chevy Impala with bench seats comes to mind) and then maybe the same number would come home in that car. And maybe they wouldn’t. No one had cell phones and the plan was to use the quarter in your borrowed-from-your-mom clutch to call if you got into any situation you couldn’t get out of or needed a ride.

Now, there’s the bus. The school offers a coach bus — with nicer seats than a yellow school bus, climate controll and a dvd player — for a truly no-frills option ($20 per person). But you could spring for a bus for your group and not have to go to school to get to prom as if it were some away game or something. There are small coach buses where everyone sits in rows with their own seat belts and, I don’t know, probably looks at their phones all the way there (maybe $50 bucks per person). And then there are “party buses” They cost more (Maybe $80 per person, but maybe you could cram more people and get a cheaper pp rate?), but you get “dance poles” and LED lights that change colors. And the seats face each other so you can recreate that Beyonce video from Lemonade.


Lets rent a party bus!

Beth McConnellComment