A brief history of the American prom

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I’ve always loved history and learning more about things around me. The past is fascinating! Did you know that although many other countries have a celebratory end-of-school party or ball, the “prom” itself has been distinctly American? I spent some time researching the origins of prom, but quickly found that there’s a great deal of speculation surrounding its beginnings and development, which isn’t surprising for a tradition.

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The word “prom” comes from promenade, defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as to “walk in a public place for pleasure” and the “ceremonious opening of a formal ball consisting of a grand march of all the guests.” Although it’s unsure when proms actually began in the US, by the 20th century many high schools were holding formal co-ed events where attendees would dress up in their Sunday clothes and dine together.

Prom, as we know it, didn’t become a grand affair until after the Great Depression and World War II. A better economy meant families and schools could put more money towards events like school banquets and dances, that may previously have been thought superfluous. It’s also possible the growing Middle Class saw proms as their own version of the debutante ball.

Whatever its beginning and reason for growth, schools across the States hold a prom, or their version of a prom, every year. One thing that is well known- the expense involved. Last year, a Visa study reported the average prom costs each student (or their parents, anyway) $1,139. Crazy, isn’t it?!?

The truth is you don’t have to spend several hundred dollars (or more) on your daughter’s dress. Check out JJsHouse for affordable prom dresses, most costing between $100-200 USD. If that still makes you cringe a little, JJsHouse has a section on their site just for dresses under $100! I spotted numerous cocktail dresses for $65-90 that I would love to have hanging in my closet.

Here are some of my favorites (many of them available in additional colors, other than what’s shown). You may notice that none of these dresses show a lot of cleavage. That’s my personal preference. JJsHouse does have a wide variety of styles available.

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Which one is your favorite? What do you see at JJsHouse that you’d love to have hanging in your closet?


  • BBC America: http://www.bbcamerica.com/mind-the-gap/2013/04/30/a-brits-guide-to-high-school-proms-in-america-2/
  • Los Angeles Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/25/business/la-fi-mo-prom-costs-20130425
  • Merriam Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/promenade
  • Random History: http://www.randomhistory.com/1-50/004prom.html
  • Time Magazine: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1987594,00.html

Note: I was compensated for this post. All photos courtesy of JJsHouse.com.

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    1. They sure do! You can find all sorts of styles for wedding dresses, wedding party dresses, cocktail dresses, ball dresses…for any special occasion, really.

  1. That was a fun read. My daughters think they can’t wear the same dress twice and are always looking for affordable dresses. I’m excited to check these out.

  2. I like these choices that are more of a “younger” look for girls. The dates my son took to prom the past two years wore dresses that were “barely there”! I like that JJ’s has options that are affordable so every girl can have the opportunity to go to prom.

    1. Your curves would look smokin’ in the first two! Especially the gold one! The third one makes me think of Bjork, hahah!

  3. I loved going to prom in high school! We had such a good time! It’s great to know the history behind it and I wish there had been great deals like this when I was in school!

  4. Oh I didn’t know the history of prom, thanks for sharing it. These dresses are great. I have boys, but you never know when I’ll get the opportunity to help someone shop for a dress like this!

  5. Oh wow! Those are some gorgeous dresses! The prices on the site are REALLY reasonable too! Btw. . . I’m always interested in history too. . . so thank you for the background information 🙂

  6. It’s so odd that the American version of the high school prom didn’t come around until World War II. Now it seems that it is very much a right of passage for anyone. I attended my high school boyfriend’s prom with him and my dress was about $150. I thought that was steep when we got it, and still think it’s steep for a prom dress that you’ll likely wear once, or maybe twice if you have a cocktail party to go to and can hopefully still fit into it when you are old enough to be attending cocktail parties. I had no idea that the average prom cost is over $1,000. That is ridiculous!

    1. Hi Holly, I believe the first recorded (yearbook) prom was in the 1930s, but, yes, it wasn’t a big deal like it is today until after WWII. And yes, it is ridiculous!

  7. Thanks for the history lesson! I too like the know the story behind things. I didn’t think prom was a big deal at the time, but looking back I wish I would have gotten a nicer dress.

  8. Interesting information! There is no prom in Finland or in Ecuador. In Finland we have a Old’s Ball at the second year of HS when the third year students leave and the second year becomes the oldest students in the school.

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