From the date to the dress, the rite of the prom has evolved from a simple affair in the high school gym to an elaborate evening at a posh hotel, and sometimes even a hotel room for the night. Yikes, how times have changed! Fortunately etiquette is not stagnant and evolves with our customs. The results? Contemporary prom etiquette dos and don’ts.
Here are 12 guidelines for how to behave before, during and after the big promenade of high school students.
1. Prom status: accompanied or not?
This is a personal choice, best made early so as not to be disappointed, influenced or taken off guard.
All options are perfectly acceptable: stag, with a special friend, a group or with a date.
2. Inviting: does it still mean paying?
The young man or the lady, both are acceptable.
Whoever asks generally pays. These days that means the tickets.
The couple then discusses the transportation payment.
To avoid embarrassment, communicate and plan early. Discuss the situation with your date and your parents, as they often pay the prom bill.
You can even download a free app to keep track of spending. Plan’it Prom app is a courtesy of Visa. Their survey revealed that Canadian parents will pay for 81 per cent of prom costs at an average of $804 per teen.
Flowers, grooming, attire and accessories are individual purchases. If one’s date is paying for the celebration, bills for hairdos, manicure or gowns are not presented to the date for reimbursement. Believe it or not, it has been done.
3. Asking: how, when and what to say?
In person is still the best and most appropriate. The phone is second best. Emailing and texting for a prom date are never appropriate.
Asking once tickets go on sale is best. All the information will be on the ticket. Try this: “Hi, how are you? Great, thank you. Our prom is coming up and I thought it would be great to celebrate together. Would you please be my date?”
If it’s a yes: “That’s great. I know we’ll have a good time together. I will buy our tickets.”
4. Accepting, declining and changing one’s mind
Yes: “Thank you, I would love to be your date for the prom.”
No: “No thank you, but thanks for thinking of me.” A no should be clear, without excuses. If they insist: “Thanks for thinking of me but I don’t think I’m the best person for you.”
No, when going with a group: “Thank you for thinking of me but I’ve already decided to make it a girls’ night out. I’ll see you there.”
Changing one’s mind because of a better offer is not acceptable. It is only one night. You must be gracious and honour your word.
Remember Bill Gates’ quote: “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.”
5. Meeting the date’s family and conversing
Even in our digital era, punctuality is a must. Be on time.
If you are picking up your date, you cannot text or honk to indicate that you are in the driveway.
You must get out of your car or limo, ring the doorbell and meet the parents.
Proper introductions are made by introducing your date to your parents: “Dad, I’d like you to meet John Jones, my date for the prom. John, this is my father, Arthur Allen. Just like you, he was a linebacker on his school’s team.”
When introduced, make sure to stand, smile, make eye contact, shake hands and say: “Nice to meet you.”
Continue the conversation by talking about summer plans, current movies or favourite sports teams.
6. Decoding dress codes
Formal: Tuxedo and long dress.
The tuxedo was born at the First Autumn Ball of the Tuxedo Club, just outside of New York, in 1886 when the young Lorillard son, of the wealthy tobacco family, wore a self-designed formal black tailless jacket. He named it the tuxedo.
Semi formal: Sports jacket and short dress.
Styles should be discussed ahead to avoid surprises: they range from rock ‘n’ roll eclectic to movie star glamour.
To achieve harmony in colours, a swatch may be provided to the date.
7. Wearing a corsage, a boutonnière or your cellphone
A boutonnière or a corsage is worn on the left, close to the heart.
Dads usually prefer wrist corsages, so young men are not fumbling around trying to pin corsages on their daughters.
Cellphones, Bluetooths and iPods are not prom wear accessories. They should not be visible.
8. Dancing dilemmas: to dance or not, with others or not
Fast dancing is done in groups so everyone is welcome.
When asked by someone other than your date to slow dance, most young men and women would agree that the important thing is respect. If you’re in doubt, don’t do it. Decline an offer to dance with a smile and a simple, polite “No thank you.” No need to make up excuses.
9. Dining tips and chivalry
To identify your place setting use B-M-W. No, not the car, but B; your Bread plate is on your left, M; your Meal plate is in the middle and W; your Water or Wine is on your right.
Utensils are used from the outside-in. Circulation of the bread basket or of condiments is counter clockwise.
Gentlemen, not sure about opening doors or pushing a chair in for the ladies, ask: “May I open the door for you?”
10. Taking selfless, tagging and posting
Yes, this is a once in a lifetime moment, you want to immortalize it and you should. But make sure to let others also enjoy their moment.
Don’t block anyone’s view, don’t delay line-ups and ask permission before clicking. Plus, before posting always do the Two-fridge test.
Remember that live face time, not the Apple kind, is the only way to really feel the moment.
11. How to say good night correctly
“Thank you very much, I had a lovely evening,” is the right thing to say.
To turn down a kiss on the lips, offer your cheek and then take a step back. Yes, it’s difficult but it sends a clear message.
12. Thanking gratefully: who and how
“Hello, please, thank you and you’re welcome” are still in style. They should be used generously with friends and classmates, but also with chaperones, school and service personnel.
Sending a handwritten thank-you note to the chair of the organizing committee, and requesting that it be shared with all, is classy. Email is acceptable, snail mail is better.
Remember, as a prom-goer you are an ambassador of your school, your community and your family.