Prom in the 1940s and 1950s Vintage Photos

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?!


1950s Highschool Prom

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).

1940s vintage dance image, young couple
1940s Couple. Source: Flickr-Duke University Archives


Prom Clothes

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!

1940s Formal Vintage Gowns Ad
Source: Flickr-Classic Film

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.

1930s Prom dress worn by a young woman
Source: Etsy-NiepceGallery

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!

1930s vintage gown dress pattern image
Source: Pinterest

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.

1949 Prom or Formal Dance
Source-Flickr: Proctor Archives

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!

1940s Prom gowns
Source: Getty Images

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.

1950s Prom
Source: Pinterest

The Seersucker dress on the right looks similar in style (on the bottom) to a 1940s dress I recently purchased.

1950s Prom
Source: Weston History


Now of course no prom can be without the King and Queen of Prom and their Court.

1950s Prom Court
Source: Weston History

What an interesting crown the Queen is wearing.

1950s Prom Court
Source: Flickr-Jeff Miller

Long Live the Queen!

I want every single dress in this image…everyone. Wrap it up please vintage dress gods.

1940s Prom Queen and prom dresses


And now here are some more wonderful real life photos of young ladies and men enjoying their prom.

1940s prom couple
1940s Prom. Source: Pattern Patter

Lovely young woman getting a picture taken before her prom in the early 1950s. Her bouquet is simply stunning.

1950s young women going to prom

What a cute couple.

1953 Prom Couple
Source: Pinterest

Adorable couples alert! Especially the two on the right.

1950s couples going to prom
Source: Pinterest

1959 Prom. I think the girl to the left is from the prom court (too small of a crown for queen).

1950s Prom
Source: Rose Tinted Vintage

Sayonara is right, Prom does signify the end of high-school for every single person who attends.

1959 prom couple
Source: Flickr User Northridge Alumni Bear Facts

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?


Liz 🙂

10 comments on “Prom in the 1940s and 1950s”

  1. Every picture here is a dream! The forties and 50s where clearly the prom hey day. I did attend my high school prom but I don’t remember it that well and it wasn’t much fun. I would love to attend a vintage prom and even though I usually lie 20s through early 40s style I’d definitely go full on 50s for a prom with one of those divine tule dress in pastel shades

    retro rover

    • I would LOVE a tulle dress but since all the girls were like 17 there is never a size for dear old Liz so I will probably always fall into the 40s but it would be lovely to own one, I agree with you 🙂 🙂

  2. Oooh, I swear, I let out an audible squeal of delight the moment I read that you’re going to be attending a vintage prom. That is so incredibly cool! I didn’t attend my own (high school) prom and so never got a chance to experience what that is like. At this point, a vintage prom will likely be my only chance. If there were other vintage wearers around here, I’d organize one in a heartbeat! If I ever live in a big city like Vancouver or Calgary with a vintage community again, it’s something that I really want to do.

    Loved every last fabulous photo here, sweet gal. Thank you for another endlessly inspiring post!

    ♥ Jessica

    • I hope Jessica you get your chance to be the Belle of the Ball because I’m sure! that you will be the best dressed…hands down 🙂

      Thanks again for the wonderful comment. Have a marvelous day!


  3. I really enjoyed looking through the vintage prom photos, some amazing outfits there. I find the whole idea of prom fascinating as it is very different to what happened in the UK when I left school. We did have a leavers disco but that was about it!

  4. We don’t call ours “proms”, instead a school “formal” but it’s basically the same. I think maybe it’s less of a big deal here, although possibly it depends what school you go to. I went to mine, in a 16th century style dress (but without the big undergarments) that my long-suffering sister made for me, out of a totally unsuitable stretch velvet that I picked for it. It had a ridiculously long hem that she sewed by hand! I was very happy with it and it is still hanging around here in storage.

    One of the highlights of the school year for me as a teacher was going to the formals and seeing the kids all dressed up (and getting a little bit dressed up myself).

    • Proms/Formals are big deals here and the dresses start being sold months in advance of the event.

      I would LOVE to see an image of your dress, it’s sounds pretty fantastic!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.