Shifting the Paradigm of Prom in America

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When you think about your high school prom. What feelings come up?  Do you still remember the stressors leading up to it? Do you still recall who was crowned the king & queen?

Maybe you attended and had a great time.  Or maybe you didn’t go, for whatever reason.  But you still remember everyone else going.  

Prom is a pivotal event that most people, no matter how old they are, remember the events surrounding it.

I remember going to prom and it was fun, but there were so many rules and it involved so much drama.  There have always been the mean girls, as well as the social stigmas.

Traditionally, prom is a special evening that marks the end of high school. It is a time to practice social skills, celebrate with friends, share memories and dance the night away. 

However, before it became the extravagant affair it is today, there was a lot more to prom than just getting dressed up and dancing until midnight. The current $426 billion industry version is a far cry from when it all began.  The drama, competitiveness, expensive gowns, jewelry, and coordinating tuxedos were never the original intention.


Prom first started in the 1880s when colleges and universities held a “coming out” dance for their incoming classes to promote social and etiquette skills. These were not the glamorous, high-end parties we know and love today, but they were a good way to learn etiquette, practice proper social behavior, and have fun with friends in a formal setting.

In fact, this iconic dance also has its roots in debutante balls, which served as a coming-of-age ceremony for young women from wealthy families.

In the early 1900s, proms began to spread across colleges and eventually to high schools. They started out as a small class dinner where students would dress up and dance, but quickly evolved into the big night that we now know of.

There are many different ways that prom became an important part of American high school culture. Throughout the 1930s, it began to gain popularity, and by the 1950s it was becoming a regular fixture of the high school calendar.

In the 1960s, proms started to resemble the kind of dances where students’ formalwear was becoming more formalized. They began to wear more expensive clothing, coordinating  outfits with their dates and even renting limousines for the occasion.

The competitive aspect of prom also increased as students competed for the titles of “prom queen” and the “prom king.” This competition helped to fuel the popularity of the prom.

All of this began adding increased stressors on kids.  The disappointments of not being chosen for prom court, not being asked by their dream date, or not having the funds for a tux or gown.  This can all cause so much undue pressure on teens. 

The Evolution of Prom 

Traditionally, proms were held in school gymnasiums, but as the 1950s came around, schools began to offer more elaborate venues for their proms. These included hotels, banquet halls, and outdoor gardens. This helped to loosen up the traditions of prom and gave it more of a modern feel that is now very much a part of our society.

As the 1950s went on, schools started to make prom more glam and fashionable. They began to serve full dinners and hire local bands to play music. This was a huge improvement and made prom more exciting for everyone involved.

Prom season has always been a time of fun and stress for teenagers, but is it about time we rewrite the hidden rules of prom? From the mean girls to unrealistic expectations, let’s break down the barriers that keep kids from having a meaningful and memorable night. By the time kids reach prom age, they should be fully aware of manners, how to dine in a restaurant and how to behave in social settings.

Let’s create a new version of prom that breaks down the barriers and celebrates individuality.  A seemingly simple event has become very complicated and maybe it’s time to rewrite these hidden rules. To show up and just have fun with a group of friends, without a date.  High school is stressful enough, let’s make prom a fun memorable night for everyone!


Wendy Bjork, founder of is a pioneer in advocacy and mentorship.  Wendy is leading a global revolution of women walking in purpose and peace as she illumines their path ahead with the light of HOPE:  Harmony, Options, Peace & Empowerment.

She empowers women to step into their boldness, stand in their resilience and own their Truth.  Through Wendy’s guidance, they are finally seen, heard and understood.

Wendy has authored two books and co-authored a third, “Fired Up!,” a #1 International bestseller. She is a regular contributor on the digital platforms and to the National MS Society’s Momentum Magazine.  She is regularly invited on discussions, podcasts, interviews as she shares her story and hope to inspire others.

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