Sunday, April 25, 2010

Prom tiddly-de prom prom

With Prom season fast approaching, we take a look at this uniquely American import.


The English, I was told, were more sensible than their Colonial cousins and didn’t do proms. The concept was unheard of. Until about eight years ago. (Coincidentally, that’s when I arrived; you don’t think I brought the Prom Virus over with me or anything, do you?) And since then, the trend has been escalating.

Joanne of Dickies Suit Hire in the Bishopric traditionally supplies wedding apparel, but lately more and more of their business is going to outfitting teenagers for The Prom. According to Joanne the girls come in either looking for something low in the front, low in the back and halfway up their ass, or a bridal gown, but in a different color. They start as early as February, trying on different styles that cover or display their tattoos, belly button rings and spray-on tans and “have no concept of what constitutes a prom dress.” But there are a few, she says, who are just happy to be getting dressed up.

The latter might pay as little as £80 for a dress, the former, when you include hair pieces, shoes, fake tans and other accoutrements, can run as high as £800 ($1,200). And that doesn’t include limo hire, flowers, etc., etc, etc. (Can you say, ka-CHING?) The boys, of course, show up a week before and want a black tux for forty quid.

She showed me a picture of last year’s Prom King and he looked like the groom in an Arkansas wedding—meaning, of course, that he was very young. (You can still legally marry at the age of 15 in Arkansas, unless it’s a blood relative, then it’s 12. Cue rim-shot.)

But seriously, that is one of the biggest, and most important differences between the US and UK proms: the age. A senior in the US, going to her Senior Prom, is likely to be at least 17 or 18. She will have her own car (what, you don’t have a car? Loser!) and quite possibly a part time job. So while mommy and daddy may be expected to cover a portion of the damage, she and her beau can, and in my experience, often do, pay for their big night themselves.

In Britain, the giddy couple are 15 or 16 and have no problem putting their hand in their parent’s pocket when it comes to buying them their first big night out.  In the US, the prom, which comes very close to graduation, is looked upon as a sort of ceremonial induction into adulthood. Appropriate at 17 or 18, but 15?

Well, the genie is out of the bottle now, and you Brits are stuck with The Prom, just like you can’t stop Halloween. But, in my view, the prom is a bit like Halloween in that it is celebrated, but no one is quite certain why.

(For a bit more of my Prom views, visit my Postcards From Across the Pond blog.)


As Mike mentions, the American “prom” has crept across the Pond, although I doubt it will ever surpass the original for pomp and circumstance. We’ve all heard about the limos that seem to be de rigueur, and the over-the-top, over-priced WAG style prom dresses, but in many ways, there’s not much difference between the prom and what, in my day was the “leavers’ do”. Being an all-girls’ school, we invited the boys from the school up the road, and since we were all eighteen by the end of upper sixth, (not that anyone ever asked for proof) most of us had been in the pub and were a bit pissed when we got there. Apparently they don't let you in these days if it appears you've been imbibing.

In the US, the legal drinking age in all states now is 21. (I know.) This means that alcohol shouldn’t play a part in high school proms, but it does. To be honest, although teens do their share of silly-drinking over here, the culture is nothing like that of the UK. However, many schools make both students and their parents sign a contract regarding expected behaviour and consequences for infractions. An example of which is here.

Some proms are lock-down affairs, where no one is allowed in half an hour after it starts, no one can leave and come back, and sometimes they have to stay all night. It’s safe to say that all proms have a heavy parent/chaperone presence throughout the night. I don’t even remember there being many teachers at our leaving do’s and certainly not parent chaperones. What happens these days anyone?

The newest trend is the prom after-party. Have a quick Google of that one and you’ll find night clubs advertising their facilities for them. (Remember, these American kids can’t legally drink.) On some occasions, one or two families will allow their teens to rent a hotel suite (I know) and host a party. Sometimes the spoilt teen has the wherewithal to rent a hotel suite him or herself without the parents’ knowledge. This is where it can sometimes get out of control. Mind you – is this any different from going to someone’s house for an impromptu party when their parents are away at a family wedding for the weekend?

People in the UK who complain about yet another crass piece of American culture crossing the Pond must surely be just referring to the show-off elements of it rather than anything else, because the rest has been going on for decades.

What should we talk about next week?

E-mail your suggestion to:   MHMail55-MT AT

or just pop it into the comment box.


  1. My Leavers Ball in 2004 had some elements of the American prom but from the sounds of it, it was actually pretty different. The ball was held in a local hotel with a few teachers as chaperones. Everyone dressed up and there were quite a few limos. Some people took dates but most attended in groups. Myself and 11 friends hired two limos so that we could split the cost between us! The main difference I suppose would be the level of drinking that went on. Everyone was 17 or 18 and the teachers and hotel staff turned a blind eye to under-age drinking as long as it wasn't too extreme. All in all it was great fun. All the ceremony of an American style prom but mixed with a low key British piss up!

  2. A friend of mine was shocked because her daughter and a gaggle of girls went to a salon to have their hair done (which she thought was extravagant enough), and when one of the girls wasn't happy with the (perfectly ok) result, her mother took her to a second salon to have it redone.

    Where we were in Scotland, the lads all kitted themselves up in formal kilts, which looked very smart.

  3. You got a mention!

  4. Wow, I didn't even realise we had proms in Britain now. Certainly didn't when I was at school.....we did have a Leavers Ball but for some reason parents came too and you certainly did not have a 'date'!

  5. We had a prom type of party at my High school back in 1988. It was fir 6th form leavers so we were mostly 18. There was a bar and a DJ at a local community center. My mum made me an awesome dress with liberty fabric. We went in groups, not as couples though. It was great fun.

  6. Not sure how new after parties for proms are. There were certainly many of them after both of my proms (and every other school dance/play/trip too for that matter) 10 years ago. Though all the ones I knew of were at someone's house, not a hotel or a club. A fancy one would be at someone's vacation home, but that rarely happened. Anyway, after parties were where most of the heavy drinking and drug taking happened, and then we staggered home at about 6am, hair half fallen out, still trashed out of minds.

    Not that some people didn't start drinking during prom. At my senior prom one guy got drunk and punched a hole in the mens room wall. And there was also a short fist fight in the middle of the dance floor over who was more wasted (because teenage boys can sometimes be a certain kind of special).

  7. "... a certain kind of special" I like that ;)

  8. I'm just so glad I've got a boy and won't have to shell out for a dress!

    We didn't have any sort of prom at school, but when I went under duress to a grad ball at uni, I went in a borrowed bridesmaid's dress. Guess I'm not your typical girl!


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