I love prom theme parties, they are so fun and allow me to get my hair and dress right (as opposed to oh so wrong when I was a teen in the 90s lol). I’m very lucky that in Toronto there are lots of themed parties to attend, with many of them having a 50s theme.
For my blog today I wanted to give an overview of the history of prom, check out some images from the 1940s and 50s of proms (and formal dances) and whatever other fun things I can find.
Lets begin shall we?!
While high school yearbooks did not start covering proms and including prom pictures until the 1930s and 1940s, historians, including Meghan Bretz, believe proms may have existed at colleges as early as the late 1800s. The journal of a male student at Amherst College in 1894 recounts an invitation and trip to an early prom at neighboring Smith College for women. The word prom at that time may just have been a fancy description for an ordinary junior or senior class dance, but prom soon took on larger-than-life meaning for high school students.
Proms worked their way down incrementally from college gatherings to high school extravaganzas. In the early 1900s, prom was a simple tea dance where high school seniors wore their Sunday best. In the 1920s and 1930s, prom expanded into an annual class banquet where students wore party clothes and danced afterward. As Americans gained more money and leisure time in the 1950s, proms became more extravagant and elaborate, bearing similarity to today’s proms. The high school gym may have been an acceptable setting for sophomore dances (soph hop), but junior prom and senior balls gradually moved to hotel ballrooms and country clubs. Competition blossomed, as teens strove to have the best dress, the best mode of transportation, and the best looking date. Competition for the prom court also intensified, as the designation of “prom queen” became an important distinction of popularity. In a way, prom became the pinnacle event of a high school student’s life, the ultimate dress rehearsal for a wedding.
Today, prom continues to be a notable event in the social climate of high schools. Popular movies and novels attest to the importance of prom themes, prom dates, and prom queens. In some areas, the traditions of prom are not as rigid as they used to be, with some areas allowing individuals or groups to attend instead of couples. These days limousine becomes compulsory for the prom event (Source: Wikipedia).
Of course a big deal for prom is the clothes, I think more for the ladies then the men. I mean the men during the 40s and 50s did not have much to choose from, Suit or Tuxedo. BUT for the ladies ohhhh the possibilities were endless!
The Queens of Vintage Website gives a wonderful breakdown of the style of dresses that were popular during the 1930’s thru to the 1950s.
Proms were starting to gain popularity with the middle classes, who adopted them as their version of the wealthy colleges’ debutante balls. Sleek, floor-length, demure dresses in light colours echoed the debutante style.
I love the wonderful sheer overlay of the below gowns. AND did you notice the dance card the one girl is holding in the image? Fantastic!
As the prom started featuring more in the High School yearbook, the debutante-influenced full skirt was still popular but more feminine. Structured lines were evolving around the upper body to emphasise the hourglass figure that so epitomized the decade’s style.
The first dress is my favorite as it appears to be velvet on the top and I just love the beautiful (very large) corsage she is sporting. Farewell Seniors!
Bring on the taffeta: this is the decade that gave us the quintessential prom dress. Tiny waists and skirts so full they could stand-up on their own.
The Seersucker dress on the right looks similar in style (on the bottom) to a 1940s dress I recently purchased.
Now of course no prom can be without the King and Queen of Prom and their Court.
What an interesting crown the Queen is wearing.
Long Live the Queen!
I want every single dress in this image…everyone. Wrap it up please vintage dress gods.
And now here are some more wonderful real life photos of young ladies and men enjoying their prom.
Lovely young woman getting a picture taken before her prom in the early 1950s. Her bouquet is simply stunning.
What a cute couple.
Adorable couples alert! Especially the two on the right.
1959 Prom. I think the girl to the left is from the prom court (too small of a crown for queen).
Sayonara is right, Prom does signify the end of high-school for every single person who attends.
AND…Here is a super fun video from the 1940s about the “Do’s and Don’ts at Prom”. ENJOY!
Dear Readers: Did you attend your prom? Or attend a vintage/retro prom like I’m going to? How was it if you did go?