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The History of Prom & The Evolution of the Prom Dress

The History of Prom 

Prom seems to be a right of passage these days, with most high schools offering a formal dance of some kind, sometimes  more than once year! For parents that means more money spent on ball gowns and limo rides, and for students that means more time to think about the dress and tux they’re going to wear, and who they’re going to ask!


However prom hasn’t always been about dancing, nice cars and prom dresses – the history of prom dates back further than you may think! Discover more about the traditions of prom with Honor Gold, and find out how all the different dress styles you see today evolved over time!



Where does prom originate from? 

In the United States, a promenade dance (known to us in the 21st century as Prom) is a semi-formal black tie event, known as a gathering of high school students. Proms are usually held across the world, but the country with the most wealth of history around this popular dance is America.


Promenade is known as “the formal, introductory parading of guests at a party,” which is what prom served as at its origin. In the early days of high school proms, this nighttime dance served as an event similar to a debutante ball, where young women (and men) were presented for the first time into adult society.


Prom was actually introduced in the mid-to-late 1800’s at colleges and universities, to promote social etiquette and manners to each year’s graduating class, before they went out into the world of adults. This dance provided them with a bunch of firsts – the first nighttime event with a partner, the first ball or formal occasion, and the first experience of the adult world.


When did prom become popular? 

Whilst there are a range of references to prom from early citations, referenced from Ivy League diary entries and colleges in the late 1800’s, Prom became as American as baseball and football by the 1930’s.


Whilst proms were originally introduced as events for College and University, by the 1900’s, they were being held coast-to-coast across both high schools and tertiary education institutions, with light refreshments being offered, local bands playing music and chaperones standing in every corner.


During the ‘50’s, the boom of the post-war economy footed the bills for high school’s to relocate their dances, the local hotels and clubs being chosen over the school gymnasium or school hall. Proms became more elaborate, bearing a similarity to today’s events, with teens spending more on their dresses and the car they arrived in.


The addition of competition blossomed, with there being prizes for best dressed and best couple, which is what we know these days as Prom King & Queen. Prom was known as the perfect dress rehearsal for weddings, being the pinnacle event of a high school student’s life.


Whilst Prom seemed to take a pronounced dip in references during the 60’s and 70’s (possibly due to the political issues of the time), Prom resurged during the 80’s, and has been paving the way ever since. From movies like Sixteen Candles to Mean Girls, we’ve seen a plethora of awesome, prom-centric teenage movies that have really set the tone for the biggest high school event of the year.


Prom Traditions in the UK 

Whilst Prom traditions in American began a lot earlier than here in the UK, many secondary schools in the UK held summer balls to celebrate the end of school term, and a leavers ball to celebrate the end of school. However, these dances didn’t really hold the same cultural or social significance that a US-style prom had.


Since the 1970’s, there had also been a tradition of school discos, which were semi-formal events held across the year, in particular the Christmas period. However the regular occurrence of Prom became common at most UK schools in the early 200’s, due the influence of popular US TV shows and movies.


Similarly to the US traditions, UK Proms are held at the end of the school year, for school leavers at ages 15-16 and 17-18 – the end of GCSE exams, and the end of A Level exams. Prom is held at either the school itself or an organised venue, with each school hosting different prizes, competitions and traditions.


The Evolution of Prom Dress Trends 

As Prom evolved, so did the styles! From long sleeve gowns to midi length dresses, the dresses worn to these formal occasions have changed over the decades.

The 1940’s: The Long Gown with Full Sleeves 

The 1940’s style was centred around a satin pencil dress, with covered shoulders and cleavage, with the sleeves featuring a puffy-nature. For a similar dress (minus the puffy sleeves), try our Demi Maxi Dress, simple, elegant and beautiful!

Demi Blush Lace Maxi Dress

Shop Demi


The 1950’s: The Tight Bodice and Tulle Skirt 

The curve-hugging bodice of the 1950’s were paramount to the fashion of the era, with the shoulders being revealed and the tulle skirt featuring less ruffles as previous styles had adopted. Whilst tulle skirts were big in the ‘50s, we’ve made this style a little more modern – check out our Amala Hand Beaded Blush Dress, a tight bodice with stunning beads, and a loser maxi skirt to give the body shape.

Amala Hand Beaded Blush Maxi Dress

Shop Amala


 The 1960’s: The Transition Era

In the early ‘60s, a subtle shift in style began, shifting waistlines higher and the skirts slimmed down slightly from the previously seen tulle and ruffled skirts. Dresses might have been slimmer, but hair was higher, and the trend in colours came across in innocent pastel shades.


The 1970’s: The Long-Sleeved Trend 

As we crept into the disco-era, girls were trending towards longer, flowy gowns, adopting longer sleeves with sheer materials and off-the-shoulder shoulders also came into style. Whilst the styles of the ‘70s were to be desired, Honor Gold have got some beautiful long-sleeved prom dresses that are flattering and will sure to be a success on prom night.

Bella Red Backless Maxi With Long Sleeves

Shop Bella


 The 1980’s: The Wonder of Metallics 

From crimped hair to satin pumps, the ‘80s featured styles that are truly to be desired! The shinier the dress the better in these era, really!


The 1990’s: The Off-The-Shoulder Mini 

Off-the-shoulder dresses were really popular in the 1990’s, with girls trying shorter and more stylish lengths at Prom. Spaghetti straps also began to make an appearance, with a sleek, minimalistic look taking over (thankfully moving away from the metallic colours of the ‘80s). Our Mila dress offers an off-the-shoulder prom look that is sure to have you styled up for your big night!

Mila Berry Maxi Dress

Shop Mila


The Early 2000’s: High Necklines & Beaded Dresses

During the early 2000’s, we began to see higher necklines creeping into fashion, whilst beaded dresses in bright colours and sparkles also made an appearance. Without the gaudy colours and sparkles, Honor Gold have some stunning high-neck dresses that are sure to make you look in-style and on-trend!

Shop Sasha


The Late 2000’s: Simple & Beautiful

Whilst prom dresses have seen an evolution over time, Honor Gold have got a stunning range of prom dresses that are simple, elegant and timeless. From backless prom dresses, to midi dresses to lace prom dresses, we’ve got a range of prom dresses for all tastes!

Shop our range of Prom Dresses here today!