in defense of prom

Hello there, intelligent teenage girl! You might have noticed that it’s Prom Season. Actually, you have definitely noticed, because literally every form of media targeted at your slice of the demographic pie chart is imploring you to do Prom-related things like bleach your teeth! get a spray-tan! and rent a stretch Hummer limousine! Not that I’m implying that you’re paging through the glossy Seventeens and Teen Vogues that I did once upon a time at Borders (RIP), but the little jabs from the Prom Industrial Complex have probably still wormed their way into your Facebook sidebar or Gmail inbox. 

It’s as exhausting and annoying as it is spangly and expensive. I’m so with you. It’s really fucking stupid.

But you should still go to your Prom.

First off, you need to take the pressure completely off. Extricate yourself. The people who espouse this “most magical night of your life” bullshit are the people who, perversely, engage in Prom as a commercial transaction. They’re either selling shit (Jovani, Claire’s, the shady beauty salon down the street) or buying it up (most of your high school class). The fantasy of The Most Magical Night Of Your Life is either an advertising tactic to get lots of money or an excuse and justification for spending it. So good news: you’re too smart for that. No sweat, no worries.

But just because it’s not going to be The Most Magical Night Of Your Life doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun and worthwhile. Strip Prom of its mani-pedis and dyed-to-match shoes and what is it? A huge party with all of your friends. Those are great, right? And this one’s even better because you can get super dressed up! And sometimes there are also snacks!

Not that you have to dress up, of course (though let’s face it: 17-year-olds don’t get many opportunities to wear ballgowns). You can go in sneakers, or wear a suit, pay for a fancy updo or just sleep with your hair in foam rollers. Buy some gloves. Get a headband. Sew your own dress (I did this senior year; it helps to have a talented aunt as a backup seamstress). Use a dramatic shade of lipliner. Do not feel for a second like you are obligated to purchase something sequined and taffeta’d unless that’s how you want to roll. My junior prom dress cost only $50 and came from a costume shop with a tag that read “Daisy’s High School Graduation Dress–1928.” I felt like I was giving that dress its soul back by taking it out for another spin on a youthful body 79 years later.

The author, age 17, (left) with foam-roller curls, antique dress, and BFF

Limos are wholly optional. Transportation is not the point of the night, anyway. Senior year we drove in a minivan. Junior year we took the train, and a whole host of strangers watched us giggle and float away in our finery. I’d take that over a shiny leather interior any day.

About dates. Have one, or don’t. I had a date junior year and no date senior year and, retrospectively, had way more fun flying solo. You will get another chance to lose your virginity, don’t you worry. Go with a girl friend, or a boy friend, or a girlfriend or boyfriend. Go with lots of friends. Take yourself as your date and buy yourself a corsage or a nosegay or a bunch of tiny flowers to wind into your hair.

And then? It’s a party. Don’t overthink it. You’re smart, and you will want to break it down and analyze, but try to turn your brain off just for a bit. It doesn’t hurt. Dance, take pictures, drink punch and eat cookies. Complain about the DJ. Pout. Grin. Smirk. Then go home and scribble in your diary, or go to a party with your friends, stay up late, and make waffles the next morning. Whatever you do, be vibrant and be safe.

You are not going to be seventeen forever. You are probably not even going to be seventeen for another six months. You may never have another party like this, a party for no reason but to have a party and celebrate the confusion and mystery and upheaval of being a young person.

So go to Prom to defy everyone’s expectations or go to Prom because you want to wear a dress. Go to Prom to kick the cliché of teenage cynicism in the teeth. Go to Prom and hope.

One thought on “in defense of prom

  1. Ari

    Who could forget the disaster that was junior prom?! Wish you had written this then…I would have ditched my date and worn my green Chuck Taylors! Also, I have the worst posture *evarrr* in that picture. (Still a great picture!)


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