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.
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