I had loaded my bag with makeup, curling irons, bobby pins, hair spray and glitter before driving to my best friend’s house. And although prom for me was many years ago, I still remember the music coming from the direction of the bathroom where I found several of my friends already in their shimmery gowns.
After gushing about their dresses, I got to work with the tools in my bag. Bobby pins strewn on the counter and a sizzling curling iron in my hand, I chatted with them about their dates to prom, the vehicles they would be riding in, where they were going for dinner and what their after-prom plans included. I smiled and laughed as I carefully divided strands of hair for styling. Once the final strand was in place and smothered in hair spray, we snapped a few photos, and I climbed back into my car to head home.
That’s right, I didn’t attend prom that night. And while I was happy for my friends, I nonetheless felt the sting of missing out. Years later, I still remember the lonely drive home. That said, I now have the experience and perspective to realize that my life turned out just fine without prom.
I trust that you and your parents have already discussed whether you’ll be attending prom this year, but there’s no getting around the fact that culture creates a lot of hype about this one night of your high school experience. So let’s take a closer look at how prom has evolved through the years and how you can adjust your expectations to make the most of this festive spring event.
Prior to high school proms, debutante balls were the formal occasion for teens. Also known as cotillions, these formal dances were generally hosted by rich or influential families, meaning there weren’t fancy social events for most students. In some ways, prom served as a cultural equalizer that allowed all adolescents to participate in a night of glamor.
“Prom” is a shortened form of the word promenade, a term originally used for the march of guests at the start of a formal event. Historians believe that proms originated as events that allowed young men to demonstrate proper manners and decorum while in college. But the tradition soon found a home in high schools. Proms were largely planned by students and were one way for them to prepare for college life as they practiced their social skills and the etiquette that would be needed after graduation.
Today, prom in America is seen as a rite of passage and a highlight of high school for many teens. But so much about prom has changed. Twenty or 30 years ago, a boy simply asked a girl if she wanted to attend prom with him. If she accepted his invitation, she then went to the department store to purchase a gown.
Now, elaborate “promposals” are the norm. Some even rival my own marriage proposal! And dresses today look like something from a red-carpet event. Clearly, times have changed since hair glitter and pagers. But one thing remains the same: Prom is a big deal. The pressure to create a perfect evening can bring tension. And who needs more of that?
Did you know that the average cost of prom hovers around the $1,000 mark for an individual today? That’s a pricey night out. Then there’s the pressure to look your best, drive in the best car, have the best date and attend the most epic after party. It all sounds like a lot of pressure for an event that is intended to be fun. So where did all this hype come from?
Cultural expectations, the fashion industry and media messaging have played a part in current prom pressures. Also, teen movies have portrayed proms as wild events of grand proportion and self-defining moments, increasing the hype in immeasurable ways. The movie-prom experience depicts an actress who has hair, makeup and wardrobe teams, a movie budget and a Hollywood set—not to mention perfect lighting, slow motion and romantic soundtracks. Basically, it sets unachievable standards. Can you think of a movie depiction of prom that may have influenced your own prom expectations?
Amid the cultural hype surrounding this high school experience, have you stopped to simply consider why you want to go to prom? What is the purpose of prom for you? Hopefully you desire to have a fun and safe evening at the same time you make good memories with friends. Here are a few tips to help as you ponder your own prom adventure:
• Talk to your parents or a trusted mentor about your expectations and plans for the evening.
• Ask their advice and for stories about their own prom experiences.
• Journal your thoughts about prom, and then reread them to see how they align with the truth of God’s Word.
Apart from the hype, your prom experience can still be amazing. Let’s consider what might help to create a fun night and produce good memories as you endeavor to honor God in all that you do.
Remember that at its core, prom is simply a fun night with your friends. While prom may be a big event in your life, it isn’t an ultimate experience. Trust me, you have many more exciting moments coming. Keeping your priorities and maintaining your focus while preparing for prom will help you have a more enjoyable experience. This is a good place to apply Proverbs 4:23 (NIV), where we’re told, “Guard your heart.”
If you’re putting movie-level expectations on prom night—imagining a million-dollar gala or dreaming of finding “the one”—you’ll most likely be disappointed. However, if you realize that most magazines, books and movies dramatize prom as being more elegant, romantic and serious than it really is, the evening is less likely to disappoint.
Choosing a friend group that you trust is a great way to help you feel safe and comfortable during the evening. If you have an official date for prom, you may want to discuss how he shares your values. Some girls enjoy attending prom in a “girls only” group because it avoids the romantic pressure of a date. Whichever way you choose, be sure that you make prom plans with people who will make wise choices, keep you safe and help you feel comfortable throughout the night.
If you do attend prom with a date, consider making a plan for the evening in advance, just as you would if you were going with a group of friends. This might include if and where you plan to eat beforehand, when you’ll be at the dance, where you plan to go after prom and what time you plan to be home. You may even want to discuss what you’ll each do if you begin to feel uncomfortable. Knowing that you are on the same page can give both of you confidence and peace.
As you shop for a prom dress, consider focusing on colors and fabrics rather than accentuating certain body parts with your dress. A fun hairstyle, tasteful makeup and a flattering outfit can give you a look that is pretty, but not provocative, and make you feel amazing.
Some of today’s styles hearken back to vintage- or princess-era gowns with embroidery, puffed sleeves and twirly skirts. You could go with that, or perhaps your entire group could choose a fun era or style. That would make the night memorable in a way that you will never regret.
My friend Sarah remembers going to her prom with an ’80s vibe. She and her friends actually wore their moms’ old dresses. She says they had a blast doing ’80s hairstyles and taking photos. And they saved a lot of money on their outfits.
Are you ready to bust a move at prom? If you go with a group, you can practice group dances ahead of time to do together. It may even spark laughter and keep the night lighthearted. And if a song is played that bothers you, simply take a break and head to the restroom.
My friend Anna remembers when her date attempted to dance with her in a way that she wasn’t comfortable with. She laughed and busted out some silly moves while heading off the dance floor. Her date got the message and joined in on the silly dancing, never attempting anything inappropriate again.
If you practice your favorite dance moves at home in front of the mirror, with friends or family, you can take your unique style to the dance floor with confidence. After all, isn’t fun what prom is really all about?
So give your dreams and desires to the Lord. Then commit to celebrating prom night in a way that also shines His light. As you keep your focus on having fun with friends, you may even find opportunities to practice some of the social skills and etiquette that are attractive at any stage of life.
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Be a Good Prom Date
To have an enjoyable evening, you may want to talk to your date about prom before the event. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
What is our prom plan?
How will we get to prom? What photos will be taken? And will they be taken at both our homes? Where will we go for dinner? When will we arrive at the dance? Will we go to an after party? And if so, which one? Will we give our plans to both parents?
What is the point of prom for each of us?
Is it about spending money, getting to know each other better, capturing a social media moment, making a good memory or something else? What does it mean to honor God throughout this event?
What is our wardrobe plan? Why is my prom dress so important to me? What is important to him about his prom clothes? Are we dressing up or going with a theme—’80s, Western, thrift store gems?
Do I need to purchase flowers?
Would I like to wear a wrist or pin corsage? What are my favorite flowers? Does he want a boutonniere? What are his favorite flowers, or should our flowers match?
What does it mean to respect one another?
How do we want to treat each other throughout this evening? Is there a right balance for hanging out with my friends or his friends? What do we say if either of us feels uncomfortable?
What are a couple of topics we can talk about at prom?
Consider hobbies, events you want to attend, future plans, favorite shows, etc.