Traditions are an important part of society. They help pass down memories of important events and offer common ground to experience the rites of passage that maintain a cultural cohesion.
We just found a sweet video clip of a girl who is getting ready to graduate from high school. While this is usually a time for young ladies to go shopping for a new dress, this particular teen decided to honor her heritage and wear her grandmother’s prom dress from fifty-seven years ago. You are going to love this heartwarming video when you watch it.
High school proms started out as a kind of debutante ball meant to function as an initiation into adult social activities. They mark the first late night formal ball, the first fancy dinner without parental supervision, and all kinds of other “adult” behaviors, as they prepare to leave the confines of adolescence and formal school for the grownup world.
The concept really did not start to become widely popular until around the 1930’s and ‘40’s, when we can start to see school yearbooks include them in their documentation of the highlights of the year. However, at least one historian named Meghan Betz theorizes that they may have started at colleges and universities around the late 1800’s. She found the journal of a student from Amherst College in 1894 where he describes attending a prom at Smith College.
Over time, proms trickled down to high school culture, probably starting off as less formal tea dances where students would simply wear their Sunday formal clothes. But just before World War II, they exploded and became an annual banquet with a formal dance party afterward.
Historian Jackie Blount says that in the 1950’s as Senator Joseph McCarthy waged his war against the Red Menace, “schools became implemented curricula intended to keep youth sexually straight. In effect, schools became fundamentally important agencies in the nationwide campaign to fight homosexuality.”
This was probably where the practice of establishing a prom king and queen arose, as reactionaries equated homosexuality with communist activities.
Throughout the 1950’s and ‘60’s, proms became more and more important in society. In fact, if it were not for the 1955 Hill Valley prom, a certain Marty McFly would never have been born and Donald Trump might not be president today.
Speaking of presidents and high school proms, did you know that in 1975 the White House actually hosted the prom of the first daughter Susan Ford? Right there in the East Room!
The whole concept of the high school prom is very American, but it has started to become a popular event across the English-speaking world, first in Canada and then the UK, where it is quickly becoming a huge hit.
And there is a lot of money in the prom business. Whether you own a flower shop, limousine service, or tuxedo rental shop, spring time is k’ching time, if you know what we mean. Any town big enough to have a high school knows that as soon as the themes have been selected it is time to go to work.
What is your favorite memory of your high school prom? Please share your stories with us here.