Saturday, April 24, 2010


(It strikes me that I look haughty here,
but it was nerves, all nerves)

In spring, a young girl's fancy turns to thoughts of prom. And in spring, a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of how to pay for prom.

At least that's the way it is for teens today. We've all heard about the high cost of prom these days - the elaborate themed decorating kit more suited to a Broadway musical, the expensive dress and salon hairdo for the girls and the rental of tuxes for the guys. One must hire a stretch limo, reserve a photographer for formal photos (!) and go to a fancy restaurant before the dance. And after the dance it's time to head to the all-night after prom party. 

Here are some stats from just one website: Tickets can be anywhere from $50-80, tux rental $150, dress at least $250, flowers $40, limo rental $400, total $920. Hey, they forgot the dinner! You're talking $1,000 before you can say "May I cut in?"

Prom is short for promenade, or what we used to call the Grand March. (Do they still call it that?) It's a prelude to a dance. A dance. That's all it is, gals - and guys. Just a dance, not a wedding, not a coronation.

My thoughts turn to prom today because it's Bismarck High School's prom tonight. I knew that because of a news story I saw last evening. Apparently BHS is cutting back on the cost of the prom by holding the dance "in only one gym". Only one gym? We only ever had one gym, which always smelled of old gym socks and sweaty bodies. The cost for a BHS prom ticket? A "low" $35.00 (for a single or a couple, I'm not sure.) The ticket price includes two spectator seats. Cripes, in our day the prom was free and the town bum could come in off the street, plop down on a bleacher seat and watch the Grand March.

For my junior prom, I was invited by a fellow junior, a red-headed Irishman named Tim Fay. On prom day, I washed and set my own hair. Like all the girls, I wore a long dress (maybe $30?). Short dresses were NOT an option. My dress was sleeveless with a straight-line skirt. It was pale yellow with a lace overlay and featured a deeper yellow bow at the waist with long ribbons trailing down the front. I wore "bone" colored gloves and shoes.

Tim, like all the guys, wore a suit. Like all the guys, he drove his dad's car. He wasn't a farm kid, so he didn't have to worry about showing up in a truck. Unlike the other girls, who got roses or carnations, I got orchids. I still remember their beautiful color, sort of a creamy beige with purple at the throats. I was the only girl who had a wrist corsage too.

This corsage is very like the ones I got for prom.

We raised money for the prom by holding car washes and other fund raisers. The day before prom, the girls decorated the gym with color-coordinated crepe paper, cut-out lettering and balloons. We always chose some dreamy theme like Tropical Paradise or Under the Moonlight. Even then, proms were about getting asked out by the cutest boy in class, or the excruciating fear of not being asked at all, and ultimately having the most romantic evening ever.

Back in my day, not having a date for the prom could scar a girl for life. A friend of a friend of mine still holds an annual BFFL (Big Fat F------ Loser) Party for anyone who never went to prom. 

This $1,186 Castle in the Sky theme
was not quite in our budget.

Columbus High School proms were pretty sedate, with forgettable bands hired from Minot, the typical mix of slow and fast dances, dance cards to fill out in pencil, and punch - not spiked! After the prom, the girls changed into more casual clothes while our dates waited, and then we went out for a late supper at The Portal Corner supper club, which stood in for swanky in our area. (Specialties: steak, fried shrimp and fried chicken.) After supper, we all went home. Well, I went home anyway.

The next year, very little had changed, except that a small group of senior girls determined that everyone - EVERY SENIOR at least - had to go to the prom, so they went into overdrive to matchmake. Tim had moved 100 miles away, but I was pressured into strongly urged to invite him. A good sport, he accepted. Thank goodness gas was cheap then.

I wore the SAME dress and the SAME shoes to senior prom, with maybe a different pair of gloves. Spare no expense was not my family's motto! I was again the only girl who got an orchid wrist corsage. (I bless Joan, his mom, to this day.) This time we went to the Border Triangle Club, which was located exactly one block from my house in our tiny town of Larson. However, my family rarely ate there, so it was a treat for me. And afterward I went home, removed my second orchid corsage ever, and stuck it in the fridge so it would last for days.

Tim lives in Bismarck now and I have run into him several times in Wal Mart or K Mart, and he's usually accompanied by one of his four red-headed sons as we yak about this and that.

Attitudes toward prom have changed in the last 40 years. Some kids try to see how inexpensive they can make their prom experience. Some kids - gals and guys - go stag or as a group. When it was time for Kristen's prom, she went to an anti-prom party, probably wearing her usual jeans thrift shop T-shirt. That was fine by me.

These days, my only opportunity to see prom goers is when my sister and I are out and about on a Saturday afternoon and the kids are emerging from limos for an early dinner at a nice restaurant. How beautiful they are, all dressed and tuxed, moussed and sprayed, made up and splashed with cologne. I won't be going out today so I won't see them but I do hope the rain holds off so it doesn't spoil their special day.

And for anyone not going to prom, or never went to prom, you are not, I repeat, not a BFFL.


mxtodis123 said...

How beautiful!!! What great memories for you. I never made my prom.

Rowan said...

Proms are a very American thing I think and it was never part of school life over here. You looked lovely in your Prom dress - I must admit I'd have liked to have chance to dress up like that.

Janet said...

Your memories of prom are wonderful. I never went! Guess I was one of those BFFL's - :-)

Love the picture of you in your dress.

Shopgirl said...

You look adorable! And I love your flowers.Prom, what a thought, I have really enjoyed my granddaughters dances and then prom. Always lovely and not cheap in any form. I did not go to prom, I got married. I finished my last year of school a married girl. But that did not bother me at all because I had the man of my dreams and we were making a life together.
My Jenny was lovely at her prom, and we did not pay a bundle for her dress, it was peach, her favorite color at the time. She looked like a walking dream to me...Thank you for the trip down memory lane...what a wonderful adventure. Hugs, Mary

marthaberry said...

I find it amusing and not very surprising that I had a dress similar to yours. Mine was the same shade of yellow, but it was empire. Same neckline. I had daisies as orchids were not in, but neither were daisies. I remember my date had a daisy too, and it fell off while we were dancing. I was so upset because I thought he "lost" it on purpose. No, I wanted something different. Poor kids gave/wore carnations, rich ones, roses.

Leanne said...

we dont have proms over here, our schooling system is different. It wouldnt surprise me though to hear they are gradually creeping in over the next few years, many american trends or events seem to arrive here eventually.

You look lovely in your dress Julie. Just think, if things had worked out differently, you could be the mother of 4 red headed sons!!! :-)


gma said...

Prom wasn't all that it was hyped up to be for me.We double dated with a couple who really liked each other.We were just friends and didn't really want to be with people who were making out in the front seat. We made the best of it though, in fact I think Joe took the wheel so Len and Sarah could have the back seat.In all I'm glad I went.We had more fun after prom at the steak house.

Róisín said...

What a great photo! You look so lovely.

We don't have proms here either, or at least we don't call them that. Most places have a thing called a 'debs' in their final year but we just called ours 'the formal'. When I was there they used to hold it in the school gym, which we got a week off to decorate. Then they'd get caterers in and we'd have a sit down meal before a disco. Now they just hold it in a local hotel, which if you ask me just isn't the same.

There's one thing they still do though, and I think our school was unique in doing this. A couple of days beforehand all the students in the year gather together and they put all the girls' names in one hat and all the boys' in another. Then the names are pulled out in pairs and whoever you're called with is your 'date'. It takes so much pressure off people worried about who to take. I actually had a boyfriend at the time who was in my year (and who happens to be my fiance now, 11 years later) and we had to go with different people, but that didn't matter really at all.

Oh look, you've gone and got me all nostalgic!

Julie said...

Oh, Roisin,

What if there was an extra girl or boy? I hope he/she didn't have to go with a brother/sister or cousin???

Róisín said...

That did happen! Not the bit about the brother/cousin, the bit about the extra boy. I suppose it probably happens every year. What happens is that some people just have to share. The year we had ours there were more girls than boys so some fellas ended up taking TWO girls! Good for them you say, but all it really means is that they have to buy two sets of flowers and chocolates and listen to the two girls natter on all night! It's all part of the fun, though, seeing who gets two partners, or who has to share.:)

I think my school still do it, and I really hope so 'cause if you ask me it's a great tradition.

Autumn Leaves said...

I never went to a prom. Had my first boyfriend as a senior in high school and he couldn't afford to go. My mom offered to pay for it (though money was always tight in my house growing up), but he wasn't comfortable with that so we didn't go. Count me amongst the BFFL's. By the by, I love redheads and one of my high school crushes was a redhead by the name of Tim.

Lila Rostenberg said...

Your dress was perfect! Love that yellow!
The wrist corsage was special, I'm happy you got 2!
I skipped my senior year and went on to senior prom for me. I do have memories of my son's experience in the late 90's....yes, rather costly!

Celeste Bergin said...

did you graduate in 1968, I think I had that same dress. Well, your memories are spot on--I remember how AWFUL it would be to not go to the prom. OMG, it would have been like the end of the world. Thank GAWD I was asked. Praise Jesus.
Hey. I think I am Irish and Scottish too. Not sure how that happens when they hate each other so openly. lol.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,
Sounds like you had a lot of sweet memories of prom.
I was one of those very shy girls in high school that never went to one.

I agree nowadays prom has really gotten out of hand. Spending so much money ~ I think its just parents trying to outdo each other.

Mary said...

Lovely pic of you in your prom gown - and wearing it twice made it extra special. Do you still have it?

No proms in England - they tried so hard to keep girls and boys apart after age 12 - I was at an all girls school! Uniforms complete with Panama hats and blazers, ankle socks and brown or black shoes only - we were so dowdy!