Prom traditions could use a makeover


Graphic illustration by Emma Constable and Elizabeth Cheng; photo used with permission of Maia Bline

With dress expectations, heteronormative stereotypes and the pressure to find a date, prom is not all glamor and fun.

Neha Ayyer, In-Depth Editor

Prom is traditionally defined by students as dressing in elegant gowns or tuxedos, dancing, singing and laughing with their friends while capturing memories through photo booths and blurry videos. However, with dress expectations, heteronormative stereotypes and the pressure to find a date, prom is not all glamor and fun.

Dress expectations for each gender are evident when it comes to prom. Most prom dresses are expensive, with the cheapest ones being nearly $100. Adding to the cost of dresses, the money spent on hair and makeup can lead students to spend more than $300. Furthermore, girls are not only expected to wear dresses, but dresses that they have not worn before. The amount of money spent on these preparations puts pressure and shame on those that may not be able to afford them. 

“Prom is considered the opportunity to finally express yourself in a fun way, but there isn’t a lot of creativity to wear different types of garments and still fit inside the box of being formal,” senior Swasti Jain said.

Through these dress codes, there is little room for androgyny and freedom in clothing styles. Girls are not expected to wear suits, and boys are not expected to go to prom in dresses. Students can combat these traditions by feeling confident in re-wearing a dress or wearing clothes outside the usual dress or suit, such as a blouse and skirt or jumpsuits.

“Anything outside the standards of normal puts pressure on people when they want to dress differently,” junior Tristan Dowdell said. “But, prom has a lot of fun aspects, and wearing different, cool outfits should be a part of that too.”

The heteronormative ideals of society are perpetuated in this event that is supposed to be inclusive of all students — the image of a boy in a tuxedo and a girl in a ball gown dancing together is integral to the idea of prom. Aside from labeling specific types of clothes for certain genders, heterosexual couples are considered the norm. Promotional videos and pictures for prom reinforce these standards.

You can have an equally amazing time going with your friends or wearing what you want.

— Avantika Thiruppukhuzi, Junior

The pressure to find a date for prom, often from social media, also stresses students. Many people feel the need to find a date for one night, trying to ask out people they barely know. Going to prom with someone that they hardly know can be awkward, leading students to not spend time with their date at the party. This social requirement excludes students who attend prom without a date or just with their friends. Students should not put pressure on their peers for following certain prom traditions or judge others who disregard these expectations. 

“We have always thought of prom as this once-in-a-lifetime event, so everyone wants to have that perfect experience, trying to find the right dress or the right date,” junior Avantika Thiruppukuzhi said. “But, you can have an equally amazing time going with your friends or wearing what you want.” 

While many spend the weeks before prom trying to find a date, they are expected to ask out others in a public way, spending money and time to create elaborate proposals. As these proposals are meant for the entire school to see, students face anxiety and stress from making sure they are not humiliated. Public proposals also force the other student to say yes, as rejecting the proposal creates an environment of fear and embarrassment. 

“It’s really important to take into consideration the feelings of the person you are asking because public proposals have the ability to become showy and disingenuous very quickly,” Jain said.

Prom is seen as the event that embodies the “classic” high school experience. However, these outdated norms of prom make it difficult for anyone to have fun. Some prom traditions should be changed so that they are inclusive of all students, taking into account that not everyone has the same style and money to spend lavishly on prom preparations. Furthermore, there should be less pressure to follow these expectations, especially from advertisements. Some students who may not feel comfortable partaking in these traditions should not have to succumb to peer pressure in order to not miss out on school events. Discarding these harmful prom expectations can make the event include all students in this unique high school experience.