What to Expect From Going to Prom

The prom is an important event to students, but why? The prom is really just a high school dance, specifically put on by juniors and/or seniors. But there is a mystique about the prom, an event into which parents and students alike dedicate great care and planning for months.

For parents, it is an event that symbolizes youth: joy, carefree days devoid of responsibility, and being with friends made over many years including some who marry within the next one or two years. In some ways, parents get to regain their own memories as their child’s excitement and planning builds up to the night of the prom. For students, it is a special occasion like a rite of passage into adulthood: the formal attire, proper manners, the boutonnieres and corsages may only be seen again when they are participants in a wedding.

For students attending schools in remote and/or rural areas, the school gym is ornately decorated by committees spending weeks or months in preparation and the day before and day of the prom putting everything in place. For students attending suburban or urban schools, the prom is a dance preceded by a dinner at an area hotel, country club or fancy restaurant. Regardless of where students attend school, there are certain elements to the event:

The Hairstyle (For girls only)

Visits to have hair cut and styled usually happen the day of the prom. Stylists cannot do miracles on everyone in the school during the same two hours between school and getting ready for the prom. Long hair takes a lot longer than short hair to wash, dry and style, especially when the style is ornate and unusual.

The Clothes

Girls spend months looking at dresses, finding The One that fits their dream to wear. Color, fabric, design and accessories all must match the dream. Budgets are allocated for these clothes to be either rented or purchased. Sometimes outrageous amounts of money are needed for these dresses destined to be worn only once and retired to a dress bag for decades. Tuxedos must color coordinate with the girls’ dresses – after all, what would be worse for a couple to be blinding others with harsh colors? Boys have it much easier – they can rent the tux and not worry about it anymore, but they must decide on the jacket (such as satin or plain lapels) and shirt (such as ruffled or pleated fronts) styles and cummerbund (usually just black or red) options.

The Flowers

Boys and girls usually collaborate for these, because both color and style are going to be dictated by personal taste and The Clothes. If a girl wears a strapless gown, a corsage will present unique challenges. The boy is expected to pin the corsage on the girl’s dress, and this can often prove to be awkward and embarrassing. Then there is the matter that it is going to be in the way or destroyed by the first slow dance. A wrist corsage would be most appropriate for the strapless dress situation and for those who want to preserve the flowers for the entire evening (and beyond, if possible). The boutonniere is a more easily solved problem: typically it is a rose that matches or blends well with the cummerbund and the girl’s dress.

The Transportation

Wise parents do not encourage their children to drive cars, especially when there are parties before and after the prom. Instead, limousines are hired by the couple and/or a group of friends going together. The limousines assure driving safety for everyone.

The Dinner

When the prom is in the school gym, typically the couple go out to eat somewhere before the prom. When the meal is served where the prom is held, the price is included in the prom tickets. The point is to show off appropriate table manners (elbows off the table, not talking with your mouth full, eating appropriate portions of food without complaint) and the ability to eat without spilling everything in your lap the way you do at home or school. When the restaurant is a country club or “fine dining establishment”, there are extra pieces of tableware that provide the opportunity to demonstrate that the small fork is for salads, the outside spoon is for tea/coffee, and the fork and/or spoon above the plate is for dessert.

The Pictures

Photos remain as memorabilia for the rest of your life (or at least until you toss them out of embarrassment) of this moment in time. Parents take oodles of pictures to remember the day their child suddenly grew up into an adult (if only for the day). Couples have photographers take pictures at the prom to remember who they went with and what they each wore to the prom. Sometimes these can cost a lot of money, depending on the package you order, so be prepared for the bill.

The Dance

The music at the prom may be a live band (when the class can afford the cost) or a DJ. Typically the music plays for 2-3 hours; when there is a live band, they often need to take a 15 or 20 minute break in the middle. Regardless of the source, the music is usually loud and fun to dance to. While there may be some “challenging” music (fox trots or cha-chas, for example), typically it is patterns of several fast dances followed by one or two slow dances. Both boys and girls should practice waltz steps so they don’t step on each others’ toes unless they only plan on standing in one place and swaying to the music.

The Chaperones

The prom is a school function, so teachers and administrators must be in attendance. They usually enjoy themselves by watching the couples behave appropriate and have fun. Should someone try to disobey the rules (exiting and entering the building repeatedly or after having consumed the forbidden alcoholic beverages that some will try to consume), they will be the ones to have to enforce the rules. It makes for a pleasant memory to follow the rules of the prom.

The After-the-Prom Parties

The prom usually ends between 11:30 and 12:00 because people need to sleep, the limousines are rented by the hour, and many students have curfews at home. Some students may rent motel rooms (if there are any willing to have teenagers after a prom) or go to a willing adult’s home to continue the party atmosphere for an “all-nighter”. Sometimes these will be harmless gatherings of friends just having a good time until they collapse from exhaustion. For others, this often means consumption of alcohol and/or drugs often in conjunction with sexual activity just to prove they are adults and capable of making decisions of what they will do to and with their bodies.

The after-the-prom party is where the teenager demonstrates all the efforts his/her parents have spent raising their child to be responsible. This is where many teens make poor choices or bad decisions that can affect them for the rest of their lives. Far too many teenagers die because they drive under the influence. Many more must decide what to do about an unwanted pregnancy. Everyone wants to have fun, but sometimes fun turns into danger or sorrow very quickly. Be smart and make your decisions as if your whole life depends on them; it may be the truth more than you realize at the time.