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An Abridged History of Prom

Olivia Pettee

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[ot-caption title=”Mr. Walters (’95) and Gail Gruber (’95) on their way to the 1994 prom.  (via Mr. Walters)”]

It’s that time of year again. [spacer height=”20px”]

Spring is in full swing, and for high school students that means one thing and one thing only on the social calendar: Prom. For one night in May, juniors and seniors put on their best dresses and tuxedoes, corsages on wrists and bouttnniéres on jackets, for a memorable evening filled with dancing, socializing, and of course, tradition. [spacer height=”20px”]

The word “Prom,” short for “promenade,” began in the in Northeast colleges and universities in the mid to late 1800’s for the purpose of promoting social etiquette. Early citations of prom may be traced at Ivy Leagues such as Yale and Harvard from “presentation week,” from which a promenade concert followed. Around the 1930’s, along with chocolate chip cookies and baseball, prom was a hit amongst American teenagers. Prom was becoming essential to American culture, and once the post-war economy of the 50’s came around, prom looked more like the dance held in the movie Grease: a live band providing music and entertainment, decorations and a theme, and dance moves out-of-this-world. Though prom dipped in the 60’s and 70’s due to the cultural and political issues of the time, the 80’s and 90’s revived the dance, making movies that captured prom as the quintessence of being a teenager. Such movies include Pretty in Pink, She’s All That, and 10 Things I Hate About You. It truly was a Prom Renaissance. [spacer height=”20px”]

Mr. Walters, a Pine Crest graduate and attendee of prom in 1994 and 1995, can attest to following many of prom’s traditions, some of which remain unchanged, “We would all get dressed up, go to dinner beforehand, and rent limos to go to the dance. The feeling of having that rite of passage is certainly well and alive today.” [spacer height=”20px”]

However, something relatively new that has taken over the prom scene is “promposals,” or an elaborately staged, often public request to be someone’s prom date. Pine Crest students are among millions of high school students partaking in the act of promposing, and here at the Pine the best promposel even wins free tickets to prom. As trends fade and new generations of high school students replace old ones, prom will continue to evolve. However, there is one thing that may never change about prom; it will always remain a rite of passage.

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An Abridged History of Prom