A Short History of Prom: How Did This Tradition Begin?

(Last Updated On: April 27, 2018)

A Short History of Prom
The formal clothes. The corsages. The awkward photos. You remember prom, don’t you? This tradition has become a bit of a rite of passage for many teenagers across America. Today, most public high schools will hold some sort of yearly prom event. But how did it all start? Why do we have prom? Let’s look at the history of prom.

The History of Prom

While we think of prom as a typically high school occurrence today, it actually has its origins in American universities and colleges. Prom stands for promenade, a French-origin word which according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means “to walk about in or on.” Basically, the promenade was a walk for university and college students to be seen by others, but it wasn’t for just anyone. It was only for students in the graduating class, and was used to promote social and etiquette skills to other students.

The idea of a promenade event isn’t new. In fact, they began to crop up more than 150 years ago, traced back to the mid-1800s at colleges in the northeast United States.

Ivy League schools in particular helped popularize our modern concept of prom. Many of these schools would hold “Presentation Week”, capped by formal dress and dancing accompanied by a promenade concert.

The Shift to Teenagers

Prom would continue to be a dignified and classy event held at universities and colleges throughout the country, but over time, the tradition began to gain more popularity among a younger crowd. By the early 1900s, some high schools began implementing the idea of prom. These events continued to resemble those social promenades of the past.

However, that began to change in the 1930s. Prom began to gain much more widespread appeal, eventually becoming a common event throughout high schools around the United States. These prom events came to be large dance parties, usually held at the school itself, with a dinner and a live band. The tradition of using prom to practice social and etiquette skills faded away.

In the 1950s, these festivities began to closer resemble our modern idea of prom. Instead of the dance being held in the high school gym or another large area in the school, prom planners began to find fancy, more lavish venues for the night, such as hotels, banquet halls, or outdoor gardens.

What is Prom?

As prom has slowly shifted to an almost exclusively high school culture today, it has lost some of the sophistication of prom events from decades past. While it is still a formal event, prom has gained more attention these days as a night for drinking and other promiscuous activities.

Prom is also becoming an increasingly expensive event. When you combine the costs of many of the current prom traditions, like nice dresses and formal wear, transportation, tickets, flowers, dinner, photos, etc., the price tag can really add up.

But, for most teenagers, the high price tag is worth this magical teenage memory, and that’s what prom is all about.

Check out these hilarious celebrity prom photos – how many of these famous people can you name?

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