Though prom is a relatively modern phenomenon in the UK, its long-standing history in the US has helped it to become the milestone we know and love today. As such, we think it’s only fair to celebrate prom’s heritage as the season draws near and while we’re at it, take some sartorial inspiration from the fiercest prom Queens of decades past.
Though prom (short for ‘promenade’ FYI) originated during the mid- to late 1800s, prom as we know it is undoubtedly linked to 50s Americana. Post-war prosperity meant that prom got an upgrade, moving out of the school gymnasium and into high-end venues like country clubs and hotels. Ultimately this, together with Hollywood (here’s looking at you Grease), paved the way for the modern prom. Fitted waistlines and voluminous skirts call to mind Dior’s ‘new look’ silhouette; showcased by a new, teenage generation, it’s a dress shape that came to define the decade.
The 60s brought a more streamlined approach to dressing. Skirts became slimmer as hair became bigger (think of it as a balancing act), and nowhere was this more evident than at prom. Waistlines had risen to sit under the bust as empire styles dominated fashion, hinting at the A-line androgyny that was to come. Though a palette of femme-50s pastels prevailed in the early 60s, colour, styles (and attitudes) were bolder by the end of the decade.
The 70s heralded two distinct styles; hippie and glam. The former had a notably bohemian aesthetic that matched perfectly with the counter-culture cool of the movement. Floral prints, billowing sleeves, ruffled accents and maxi lengths brought flower power to the prom, whilst free-flowing hairstyles put an end to backcombed bouffants.
Later in the decade, the rise of disco created a whole new look for teenagers to experiment with. The slinky draping of Halston’s most famous creations made waves down at Studio 54 (New York’s most infamous nightclub), whilst sequins, lurex and glitter brought the statement looks of the city to suburban prom nights across America.
The teen movie wouldn’t be complete without a climactic prom scene; Hollywood’s appropriation of prom during this time has turned it into one of the decade’s cultural cornerstones, much like it did for the 50s. The difference though, was that by the 80’s shoulders were big, hair was even bigger, and the underdogs always came out on top. In the age of the renegade prom Queen, only one look would do; shiny, ruffled and ruched dresses with shorter hemlines turned prom night photos into Polaroid homages to Desperately Seeking Susan.
If there’s one look that dominated prom in the 90s, it was the cami dress. Spaghetti-strapped styles reflected the minimalist mood of the time, so naturally prom dressing took a subtler turn. After the boldness of the 80s (so much shine), it was probably a welcome turn for this generation’s teenagers.