I suspect local florists have been selling a large number of flowers to nervous and excited high school students over the last few weeks. Bouquets for creative askings, dainty corsages for ladies and impossible-to-pin but always elegant boutonnieres for gentlemen — prom season is in full bloom.
But while prom has been dancing through the thoughts of my peers for the last few weeks, it has been on my mind since the beginning of this school year. As a member of Aragon’s senior class student council, I was part of the group that had the responsibility of planning this year’s Casino Royale-themed prom, which was held at the San Francisco Design Center Friday, April 11.
Prom — short for “promenade” — actually originated more than a century ago as a type of co-ed banquet held for graduating college seniors. But following World War II and the rise of teenage culture, prom became a mainstay at high schools during the end of the school year.
Going through the prom-planning process — most of which occurred over the last several weeks — has allowed me to reflect on prom’s place in the lives of American teenagers. While my experience was undoubtedly very different from those who attended their proms several decades or years ago, a few characteristics remain very much the same. These similarities, however insignificant, help me understand why prom remains such a classic tradition in our culture.
Since the beginning, prom has been about fashion, but what you count as “stylish” for prom may depend on when you were a teenager.
At my prom, I found that the majority of gentlemen wore classic, black tuxedos. This left me shocked by the photos of my dad’s baby blue, ruffled tuxedo for his prom during the ’70s (He assures me this was the epitome of style at the time). Ladies have also undergone prom style evolutions over the years. Dresses in the ’50s tended to be white and tea-length, while dresses of today cover a range of colors, prints, luster, lengths ... and plunges.
Regardless of current fashion trends, prom remains an opportunity to feel glamorous. Getting ready and dressing up becomes a memory in itself and seeing peers dressed their best provides a nice contrast from daily school fashion.
Over the last several decades, the expectation to attend prom with a date has loosened. In past years, many students stayed at home the night of prom if they were unable to find a date. While a large number of students still attend prom with dates, it is no longer viewed as a necessity. I am so glad prom can be something students can enjoy with a group of friends and not something that is limited by pressure to follow a sometimes exclusive tradition.
My favorite facet of prom is that it is universal. As I meet more students from other high schools in other parts of the country, I’ve found that there are few things that link our school experiences together. However, one common link is almost always prom. On several occasions, attending prom has proved to be an invaluable conversational starter when meeting new people. What did your dress look like? What was your theme? Can I see photos?
And just as prom connects me to other people my age, I was reminded last week that it also connects my generation to those older than us. While setting up at the Design Center a few hours before prom started, several employees stopped to ask me what I was doing. When I explained to them about our prom, they all smiled and recounted some of their experiences from their own soirees during high school. Regardless of age, they all viewed prom as a joyful memory to be reminisced with a smile.
While attending my senior prom is not the most defining moment of my high school career, I am so glad I could help continue a special American tradition and share it with my friends.
Annika Ulrich is a senior at Aragon High School in San Mateo. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at email@example.com.