Americans have been attending proms for well over a century now. Short for promenade, these formal dances first appeared at American colleges and universities in the late 19th century. Attendees would get dressed to the nines in sharp tuxedos and white gowns. Since they were based on debutante balls, the women would also wear white gloves and dance with many different partners.
How and why did the prom come to high school? Like many traditions that were once practiced only by the rich, formal dances eventually caught on with the middle class. Because most Americans admire the rich and aspire to be like them some day, they want kids to learn the manners and traditions of the well-to-do. Formal dances became a popular and effective way of instilling etiquette and social skills in American teenagers.
The first high school proms were highly formal affairs. Students would show up in their suits and dresses, drink tea and dance to a couple of slow numbers. In time, children were given a bit more freedom than earlier generations. This may have had something to do with the war (WWII). Boys were able to pick up their dates and drive them to the prom on their own. Parents had little influence over these annual dances. Shortly thereafter, the tradition caught on with most American high schools.
Why is prom important? Because it is one of last remaining rites of passage for American teenagers. In a country where parents constantly complain that children grow up way too fast, prom is a subtle reminder that they are, in fact, becoming adults. Not to mention the fact that they love it. Some of them save up for months to pay for prom tickets, transportation and attire. The total bill often approaches one thousand dollars, but few parents or students complain about the price.
As the girls are sure to learn as they get ready for their proms, the guys have it easy. Just as with any other formal event, a guy need simply rent a tuxedo from a local store, comb his hair and brush his teeth (hopefully!). But the girls typically go all out. They get their hair and nails done, do their makeup and go shopping for a prom dress and shoes. Unlike the guys, they cannot rent their dresses and return them the next day.
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