Evolution of prom

April showers may bring May flowers, but they also bring celebratory groups of teenagers all dressed up in their finest to nearby restaurants. That’s right, it’s prom season once more.

The commonplace tradition can trace back to the days of debuting young women for high society in Europe and the East Coast. The Ivy League Universities took the idea and began the tradition of creating a social situation in which they could promote social etiquette and manners in each graduating class. The journal of a male student at Amherst College in 1894 accounts an invitation and trip to an early prom at neighboring Smith College for women.

The event trickled down to high schools as the years passed, though many of these parties merely celebrated the culmination of a student career. High school yearbooks didn’t begin covering proms or including prom pictures until the 1930s and 1940s, when dances became popular additions. As Americans gained more money and leisure time in the 1950s, proms became a place to display this new social status. Instead of the high school gym, many schools began hosting their events in hotel ballrooms and country clubs. Competition pushed classmates to find the best dress, the best mode of transportation and the best-looking date – as well as jockey for the designation of “prom queen.”

While the dance remains an important event in the lives of high-schoolers, the edges have softened on the social demands laid upon them. Many now attend as a group or individuals, simply using it as a good reason to get dressed up, have a nice meal and a memorable evening out with friends.

Rebecca Ebnet-Desens is the executive director of the Anoka County Historical Society.

Alexander Springer and Dawn Ryman, May 1958.

Alexander Springer and Dawn Ryman, May 1958.