Tradition and changes from then TIL now
By Alison Rentschler

It’s beginning to look a bit like spring, and in high schools around the country, that means it’s almost prom time! This means that many attendees are starting to find outfits and make plans for prom night.

Proms are pretty well known in the United States—from when they began in universities around the late 1800s to classic prom scenes in movies of the 1940s (“It’s a Wonderful Life”) to the 1980s (“Back to the Future,” “Footloose,” “Pretty in Pink”) and beyond. Each generation sees a new or revived set of trends and traditions, and that’s also true in 2020.


From what I remember, back in the 1990s, girls generally got asked out to prom by their dates. Couples usually went to prom together, sometimes in groups. Girls bought nice dresses, went out to dinner and the dance with their dates and sometimes attended after parties. Many girls would go to a stylist to have their hair done before prom.

In 1996, I didn’t have a prom date, which was a little disappointing, but my friends and I decided to have an “un-prom”—a girls’ night out complete with getting ready together, wearing nice dresses and eating at a nice restaurant. My friend’s brother and his friend drove us to the restaurant and served us sparkling juice on the way there. Later, we enjoyed ballroom and swing dancing at a friend’s house, and my friend’s brother took turns dancing with each of us. “That was as much fun, if not more fun, than the real prom,” reminisces my friend Shannon Richardson.


My exchange student Marysia Napieralczyk looked forward to the prom from early in the school year in the fall of 2018. She attended the prom with friends in the spring of 2019. “It’s definitely more popular to go with friends now,” she explains. “Girls get ready together from the morning of prom, and we take photos before with all the girls. People always go for after parties or sleepovers with friends.”

She says girls mostly buy dresses in stores, but she borrowed one from a friend. She says, “Many girls still get their hair and makeup professionally done, but a lot get them done by a friend. They also get their nails done. Everything has to be perfect.”


Prom has changed over the years, and dress styles have changed over time too. As Holly Mestad of Mestad’s Bridal and Formal Wear says, “Prom gowns have changed styles many times over the years, with several popular styles making a comeback at some point, and other styles never going away. Neon-colored prom gowns, which were big during the late 80s, made a resurgence several years ago, while the ballgown silhouette has always been a classic.”

Although dress styles have changed over time, some moms have gone on to buy prom dresses with their daughters at the very store where they bought their own prom dresses. Mestad notes, “Mestad’s has been fortunate enough to be in business for 40 years, so we have had many moms who’ve bought their prom gowns or wedding gowns from us and then bring their daughters back to find the one of their dreams for prom.”


Mestad says, “We always want to help our customers find exactly what the vision in their mind is for prom.” She explains they do this by asking questions about the color and silhouette the girl is looking for.

Mestad also notes that shopping for dresses has changed over time. “Online shopping has changed the way girls shop. Girls have the opportunity to look at gowns and see different colors, silhouettes and styles before they even come into the store.”

Girls can also find dresses on websites and sales sites, such as Poshmark or Facebook dress sale groups and pages. Or they can borrow a dress or rent dresses from Rent the Runway. 

Shelly Halfman owns Prom ReSale, a store where she sells used prom and gala dresses at a discount. At the store, girls who sell their dresses can receive part of the profits. “Its purpose is to help girls recover money spent and let other girls enjoy the dresses,” she says. “It’s a win-win for seller and buyer.” She notes that girls who sell their dresses get 80% of the profit from their dresses. She explains the dresses she sells are priced $150 to $250 on average. “It’s super fun. I’m forever going to be the prom mom. You get to help these girls find a dress.”


While prom has changed over the years, one thing hasn’t changed: Prom is a great opportunity to have fun with friends. And the planning is fun too—finding the right dress and deciding on plans with friends. So, for girls that are going to prom this year, enjoy the time spent planning and preparing and enjoying your time with friends at prom.

Prom shopping options

In person:
Prom ReSale, 319 S Broadway
Mestad’s Bridal and Formal Wear, 1171 6th St. NW
David’s Bridal, 1340 Salem Rd. SW, Suite #101
The Prom Shop, 517 Frontage Rd. NW, Byron
Refashion, 1218 7th St. NW
Clothes Mentor, 3851 Marketplace Dr. NW
Goodwill, 1987 Scott Rd. NW or 239 28th St. SE
Savers, 1201 S Broadway, Suite B
Kismet Consignment Fashion & Décor, 601 N Broadway Ave. 

Facebook Marketplace and dress sale groups and pages
Rent the Runway,
Beautiful Butterfly Project Prom, Facebook @Beautiful-Butterfly-Project-Prom
Project Fairy Godmothers,Facebook @projectfairygodmothers