When students are caught up in the excitement of making dinner reservations and shopping for dresses and tuxedos, they often forget the long history of prom itself, a history that has touched many generations and can be appreciated for its social and economic roles.
In the 19th century, American universities began to host co-ed banquets where students danced, chatted, and generally cut a rug. This trend soon caught the attention of teenagers, and by the 1940s, what we now call “prom” could be found in high school gymnasiums across the country. Since then, prom has evolved into the lengthy and exciting affair of today.
Weeks before prom, teenagers will implement carefully planned “promposals,” where they ask their sweethearts to be their dates in creative ways. Couples will then buy matching dresses and tuxedos, which must subsequently be hemmed and tailored. Groups will form to ensure that friends, whether single or in relationships, can enjoy the entire night together. Reservations are made at nice restaurants weeks in advance, and prom tickets are finally bought.
At long last, the big day arrives. Corsages and boutonnieres are purchased the morning of prom, and teenagers spend hours shaving, styling their hair, and perfecting their makeup. When the sun begins to dip lower in the sky in mid-afternoon, families will unite to eat light refreshments and snap photographs before the teenagers rush off to their dinner reservations. Following dinner, groups will drive to the prom itself and dance the night away. When prom ends around midnight, bonfires and after-parties await many attendees.
Believe it or not, prom was not always like this. Indeed, “promposals” are relatively new, and the event has steadily increased in price ever since the economic boom of the 1950s. The history of prom at Forbush High School is an excellent case study that sheds light on its evolution over the years.
The historic yearbooks of Forbush High School shroud prom in mystery; occasionally, readers can make inferences about the dance through a photograph or description here and there, but for the most part, yearbooks before the 1990s failed to even mention a spring formal. Indeed, the only reference to prom in the 1973 yearbook stated that “the prom was ideal for the non-conformist.” Meanwhile, the Homecoming and Sweethearts Dances were all the rage; Homecoming alone often reigned over four or five pages in the yearbook!
The rise of prom at Forbush High School can partly be attributed to the partnership of the school’s DECA club and Southern Bride of Yadkinville in the early 1990s. These two organizations teamed up to establish an annual Prom Review Fashion Show, featuring the latest trends in prom dresses and tuxedos. Entertainment included “Country-line dancing” and “dancing Women in Tuxedos.”
Fashion was certainly changing; in 1996, yearbook staff noted that “a few brave souls dared to be ‘flirts’ and wear short, bright dresses,” and tuxedo styles “ranged from elegant white to cowboy hats and boots.” By the time 1999 rolled around, “short, saucy dresses,” and “‘gangster style’ suits” had fully emerged onto the fashion scene. Marketing teacher and DECA advisor, Deborah Pardue, stated that the entire school supported the fashion shows, which simultaneously promoted Southern Bride’s products and raised money for DECA members’ competition fees and end-of-year banquet.
This year, Señora Helton is working harder than ever to make Forbush High School’s prom memorable and entertaining; it will be held at Bermuda Run on April 1st this year. She has booked a photographer, a photo booth, a DJ, and two sheriff deputies, and she is excited to provide more food this year (including a cheese and cracker display, crispy pimiento cheese bites, chocolate covered strawberries, tea, and lemonade). She has enjoyed developing the vintage Hollywood theme and cannot wait to see students dressed to the nines strutting onto the dance floor.
Teacher Jennifer Helton noted three major changes in prom culture since she was in high school: the introduction of promposals, the movement away from slow songs in favor of rap music, and the increased popularity of photo booths. In fact, photo booths have become so popular that Helton had to book one a year ago to ensure that one would be available for this year’s prom!
She finally imparted this tidbit of important knowledge that all prom-goers should keep in mind as the big day approaches: “the same was true then as now — prom is what you make it.”
Sierra Winters is a senior at Forbush High School who writes and photographs for YCS Virtual News.