Hard as it may be believe, prom — for some, the pinnacle of the high school experience; for others, cruel and unusual punishment — is not a carefully documented artifact of American history. The etymology is simple enough: The name comes from "promenade;" though what hair-sprayed and tuxedoed high schooler ever attempted that square dance move?
Some Web sites date the prom back to 1811 (the year of the Battle of Tippecanoe, for what that's worth). The first written mention of a prom, according to RandomHistory.com, is "from the journal of a male student at Amherst College from 1894 which detailed a prom he had attended at nearby Smith College." Most historians seem to agree that the blow-out dances started as dinner parties in the early 1900s and grew to major social events in the post-war boom of the 1950s.
Another fact many prom-survivors seem to agree upon is that the more recent (post-1980s) upsurge of adult prom and alternative prom-theme parties prove to be far more fun than those anxiety-riddled, popularity making-or-breaking, "Two Tickets to Paradise"-theme having proms of yore.
Whether your prom was great or horrid, this weekend's Prom! will likely be a lot better. For starters, the supreme Reigning Sound headlines and tropical-pop outfit Floating Action will play. There'll be fun stuff like a photo booth, themed decorations and a disco ball. Encouraged attire is thrift-store formal. In preparation for the event, Xpress readers recall their best and worst prom memories.
For my senior prom in '96, my mom sent me to her gay hair dresser, Frank, to get my hair done. My hair was slick, straight, and hung nearly to my waist. He worked it into the shape of a bow on the back of my head, with long strands hanging like ribbon. It looked really cool from the back, but from the front it looked like I had horns — and boy was my mom pissed. She insisted I take it down and redo it, but I was firm: It would've looked much worse if I'd tried to fix it. Because I enjoyed standing out in a crowd, I was perfectly happy with my horns, no matter how funny they looked.
After prom a bunch of us got a hotel. My date's "real" boyfriend showed up and my best friend got alcohol poisoning. I had to wake up real early the next morning to buy Phish tickets.
— Jon "Jar-E" Reid
For senior year prom, I had to take my car because my date did not have a car (which was fine, but my car was a Pontiac 6000 and had issues). It was rainy, so I was worried about the effects of the weather on my Aqua-Netted mullet and on the way to the restaurant my windshield wipers quit working and I was hanging out of the driver's side window (in the rain) trying to get the wipers going again. Heaven forbid we just pull off the road somewhere.
— Jenny Martin
Junior year, I didn't have a date for the prom, and truthfully, I didn't want to go anyway. I loathed high school and high schoolers in general. My bad-influence friend, Wendy Norman, was a different story. She was a senior and really bummed she didn't have a date. She'd asked her hunky private swim coach to go, but he'd turned her down. On the night of the prom, we were hanging out at her house and she procured some beers and decided we should dye our hair. Wendy was my Rayanne Graff, and I was her Angela Chase, and she made it clear that my mousy-brown hair was holding me back. She convinced me to go with the blackest of black. It looked dreadful, but Wendy wouldn't hear it. She drove us to the after-prom party at the rec center by my house, and ditched me for her friends as soon as we got there. Jill Meyers, my biology partner and the captain of the swim team asked me what happened to my hair and did I know that there was black streaked all over the back of my neck? That damned Wendy hadn't even bothered to tell me.
My longtime girlfriend who was a Thanksgiving Day float princess had decided that the prom was too elitist and we weren't going. Then a girl who I'd had a crush on since 5th grade asked me to go with her. What was I to do?
—George Terry McDonald
I was 14, a sophomore in high school, and had recently relocated to a rural county school. I was excited to be hanging out with an "older" crowd from my previous "city" high school and dating a senior who attended there. He tried to break up with me a week before the prom, but I played the "I already bought my dress and shoes" card, complete with extra helpings of pathetic teen-aged crying jags. Presumably out of obligation, he back-pedalled and acquiesced to stay together and go the prom as a couple. We went out to dinner at a cheap, American-Italian restaurant, where I spilled lasagna down the front of my dress. The prom took place inside a local hotel ballroom. The deal was to party before the prom, get pictures taken, and then party in a hotel room that fellow teens had somehow rented for the evening, scarcely setting foot inside the actual dance. After pictures, my date told me he'd be right back. Two to three hours passed, while I sulked with my best friend. Girls I barely knew approached me. After confirming that I was Thomas's girlfriend, each informed me that he was presently making out with an exchange student from Holland in a third-floor hotel room.
My date and I rode to my senior prom on a Harley Davidson. My 1950's vintage dress split up the side because of our transportation choice.
After prom, my group of friends partied at a lake house "chaperoned" by the parents of my best friend. They were super-laid back and made themselves scarce and we were allowed to act like rowdy teenagers. As the night wore on and we all got drunker, the girls of the group eventually passed out and the boys were left outside on the deck. At some point, joints were rolled and weed was smoked. They barely noticed when my friend's dad wandered out onto the deck, clearly under the influence of drinking beer somewhere behind closed doors. The boys didn't know what to do or how my friend's dad would react. He asked for a drag of the joint. They gave it to him. He made a face and said, "You call this pot? Hold on a sec." He then proceeded to go inside and bring out his own bag. The next morning, my best friend found out what her dad had done and was mortified. She was embarrassed but everyone else was in awe. I bet you can guess who we asked to chaperone our Senior Week beach trip.
One year I decided to go super last minute, the day of. Ran to the mall, snagged a dress, got ready and headed to the house where we were all meeting. Had the same dress as the girl who organized the whole night, which of course she had had picked out for months. She accused me of trying to outshine her on her special night. Then at the prom, I snuck out for a smoke break and got caught by the Chief of Police and ended up in the drug test pool at school. Sheesh.
During my Junior and Senior year I attended two high schools. In the morning I went to "normal" high school in Anderson and then went to "art" high school in Greenville. I boycotted the normal prom because it was not my scene. Instead, the art high school had a crazy dance, costumes encouraged. I took a mannequin wrapped in plastic wrap as my date. "Rock Lobster" was the jam, it was awesome.
I told my mother that I would only go to the Senior Prom if and only if I got to dress up as an 1880s saloon hall girl. We found a nice bright red busty olden time-looking dress with black accents, and did it up with all the accessories — a red feather fan, a black feather boa, fingerless black lace gloves, a little black beaded purse, old fashioned Victorian lace up black boots, tight sausage curls, rouge, red lipstick and even a red and black lace garter from the Saloon Hall in Dodge City, Kansas. T'was a grand night and enjoyable because I got to be myself.
— Jenny Bowen
what: Music by Reigning Sound, Floating Action and DJ Rob Castillo
where: Grey Eagle
when: Friday, Nov. 13 (8 p.m., $10 advance, $13 day of show. www.thegreyeagle.com)