Prom dresses over the years


photo via Wikimedia Commons under creative commons license

Prom dresses of today greatly differ from those of the past.

Heather Suraci, Features editor

As prom season is fast approaching, numerous students here at HHS are scrambling to find the perfect attire for the important evening. Prom has been a time-honored tradition and a sign of growing up since the beginning of the 20th century in America. Since high schools first started hosting proms, the special night has only grown in popularity and doubled over in decadence.

According to,  the average prom-goer spends an average of $919 on the night. For girls, it’s the dress that ends up being the most expensive part of their prom experience, but just how much has the event changed over the years? Popular dress styles have changed over the years; tulle and lace have come and gone…and come back again. Dresses have evolved significantly over the past 80 years , however, one thing hasn’t changed: prom is a big deal.

1930s: Like much of the world, prom was a lot more formal during this time period. In the ’30s, middle class Americans started throwing proms in response to the upper class debutante balls. Dresses were neutral colors and very plain.

1940s: Proms at high schools became the norm across the US. Prom dresses in the ’40s emphasized the hourglass figure that was popular during this period. However, wartime fabric rations put a limit on the fullness of most prom-goers’ dresses.

1950s: This is when the prom industry as we know it significantly took off. Gowns were often sleeveless, and the skirts were full of tulle and taffeta, looking as if they can barely fit through a door frame!

1960s: At this time, huge bouffants, white gloves, and empire waists were most popular at proms. This is also when we start to see a departure from white and light pastel dresses. Instead, high schoolers started wearing bright hues, as well as earthy reds and oranges.

1970s: This decade saw a vast variety of dresses in various patterns and styles. During this decade, girls rocked patterned dresses in plaid, floral, and geometric patterns that weren’t normally used on formal dresses in the past. 

1980s: Girls wore colorful dresses in bright blues and pinks during the decade that was dominated by Madonna. Sleeves and skirts were puffier than anything. The bigger and brighter the better: this was the rule of thumb when it came to prom fashions (and fashion in general) in the ’80s. 

1990s: Slinky, metallic dresses with open backs reigned supreme at the end of the 20th century. Additionally, sequins were everywhere and hemlines were short on girls’ polyester dresses. Also, the grunge trend seeped into formal prom attire. 

2000s: The start of the 21st century brought us form fitting, slinky prom dresses with lots of over-the-top decorations. Dresses had crystals, visible boning, sequins, a corset back, a matching shawl, or a combination of all those things!

2010s: One-shouldered dresses grew in popularity in the 2010s as well as lace appliqués, mesh panels, cutouts, embroidery and two-piece sets. For the first time in a while, families are also spending less on prom. Online retailers with low overhead costs can sell prom dresses for cheaper, meaning the cost of this high school tradition is becoming more manageable.

It is very apparent that prom dresses have evolved since the start of prom in the US. Much of the modern dresses of today incorporate various trends from the past with a contemporary twist. Hopefully, as girls are selecting their perfect prom dress, they will be able to find something that rings true to their personality.