10 Facts About the History of Prom That Will Seriously Shock You
It's finally starting to get warm out again, which means only one thing: it's almost prom season! Of course, you knew that already. You spent the last few weeks screenshotting inspo for your prom hair, shopping for the perfect prom dress, figuring out the limo sitch, and planning your post-prom festivities. But throughout all of this, you may have found yourself wondering: how did prom became such a big deal in the first place? Well, actually the history of prom is pretty wild. Check out these 10 facts about prom, where these traditions come from and how far we as a society have come in just the past decade.
1.Prom used to be pretty boring, tbh.
The term prom comes from "promenade," or the walk that debutantes took at their "coming out" ball. One of the first references to prom was found in a 1879 issue of the Harvard Crimson, with another one coming in 1884 when a student at Amherst College wrote in their journal about attending prom at Smith, another school nearby. Over the next few years, high schools picked up on the trend and started hosting proms as a chance for students to practice their manners while sipping tea in the gymnasium. Yawn.
2.Prom king and queens didn't always exist.
While these days, the question of who's going to get crowned prom king and queen might be a major between-class discussion, those titles didn't always exist. In fact, the idea of prom king and queens wasn't formally introduced until the 1930s.
3.Prom got a glam makeover in the 1950s.
Over the next few decades, prom got a few much-needed upgrades—schools started serving full dinners and hiring local bands to play—but we didn’t reach peak prom until after World War II ended. Thanks to a post-war economic boom, schools moved their proms to fancy banquet halls and standard prom attire got a lot swankier. Today, the average student spends almost $1000 on prom expenses—yikes.
4.Prom got a little intense at one point.
It was in the post-war boom, though, that students got a little carried away with prom festivities. According to the Chicago Tribune, at one point in the 50s some principals had to cancel prom because it was becoming "psychologically wounding" for students.
5.Prom almost fizzled out.
A few years ago, an article on the language of prom looked at how many times prom was mentioned in text over the past century and found a major lull in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Most likely, that’s because there was so much going on at that time — like the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War — that prom took a backseat while students focused on fighting for change. But it made a big comeback in the ’80s, with the help of iconic prom scenes in movies like Pretty in Pink and Back to the Future.
6.Prom has a presidential history.
In 1963, the senior class at Burroughs High School booked the biggest ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for their prom. Then JFK requested the same room for a fundraiser — and the venue bumped the prom to accommodate the president. But when JFK heard about the mix-up, he let the high school have the ballroom and moved his fundraiser to a few smaller rooms in the hotel. (He even made an appearance at the prom!) And in 1975, then-President Gerald Ford’s daughter, Susan, booked a seriously posh venue for her senior prom — she convinced her dad to let her class hold their prom inside the White House!
7.Promposals weren’t always a thing.
Apparently someone decided that asking your crush to prom wasn’t awkward enough already, and there needed to be way more potential for public embarrassment—and thus the trend of extravagant prom proposals started in the early 2000s. A recent survey found that promposals cost an average of $324—just tack that on to prom’s already-hefty price tag. (But we have to admit, some of them are pretty awesome, and there are plenty of ways to do it on the cheap.)
8.Prom has inspired so many different pieces of culture.
If I asked you to name five TV show or movies that have had a prom scene right now, would you struggle to do so? I'm going to guess not. Over the years, all of your favorite fictional characters have gone to prom at one point or another, whether it was Troy and Gabriella in High School Musical: Senior Year, or Betty and Jughead in season three of Riverdale. Prom is such a classic part of high school, it's pretty much always included in shows and movies these days. There's even a prom musical now!
9.Prom is pricey AF now.
If you've been to prom or are planning to go, you know how much the one night can cost. Between hair, makeup, shoes, a dress, a ride to the dance, and all the various other
accoutrements, the total can add up quickly. While back in the 50s, dresses may have cost $50, these days you can spend hundreds on the perfect gown (though there are affordable options). In fact, in 2015, the average student spent almost $1,000 on the night! While some of that, of course, if avoidable (you can do your own hair and makeup and still look gorgeous, you can drive to the dance instead of renting a limo), some is not. While the price of prom tickets vary school to school, they can often reach $100 at some places. If you're ever nervous about paying for prom, talk to your school about it and see if they have any scholarships or alternative plans available to help get a ticket.
10.Prom is f-i-n-a-l-l-y making progress.
Prom traditions have been kind of stuck in the past—some schools still try to ban students from taking same-sex dates to prom, for example, even though that’s against the law. A high school in Illinois faced some much-deserved backlash a few years back when their dress code stated that the same dress might be acceptable on one student but not another “due to body types.” And one high school in Georgia was still holding segregated proms up until seven years ago—seriously, that’s not a typo. But there have been a few promising signs too — like the first transgender prom queen in 2010 — so maybe prom is slowly catching up with the rest of society.