In the United States, the prom (short for promenade) has been a high-school ritual since the beginning of the 20th century, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that proms became more than just an end-of-the-year dance. A combination of postwar prosperity and the increased mobility of teens driving their own cars made the prom a rite of passage, as well as a last chance to leave a favorable impression on one’s classmates before everyone went their separate ways to enter the workforce, sign up for the armed services, or attend college.

For 1950s girls attending high-school proms, white cocktail or party dresses were widely embraced, but so were billowy gowns in a range of colors, from pastel pinks to lipstick reds. Regardless of the color, a woven mesh called tulle, usually made from silk, rayon, or nylon and almost always starched, was the prom-dress fabric of choice.

Many prom dresses from this period through the present day have been strapless, held aloft by fitted bodices, some of which were lined and boned. Sometimes a pastel tulle dress would be trimmed with white lace, other times taffeta in a contrasting or complimentary color would be wrapped around tulle at the waist and below the bust to create a form-fitting bustle.

For those not daring enough to go strapless but who wanted the look, prom dresses with thin spaghetti straps were a good alternative. Underneath the skirts of these dresses, young women would often wear petticoats or crinoline. In some cases, cruffled crinoline would be built into the skirt itself to give the garment dimension and body. When worn with ruffled chiffon, the look was a prom classic.

Just about every department store sold prom dresses; you could even pick one up at Sears. Some of the 1950s and 1960s labels that were best known for excelling at the form included Emma Domb, Christian Dior, Mainbocher, and Will Steinman.

Prom dress styles have not changed radically since their heyday in the ’50s, but the colors of the dresses have gotten brassier and brighter since the 1980s, as the social stakes associated with proms have increased.

One reason, no doubt, for the increased attention on this single evening in the social calendar has been the attention Hollywood has paid to the event. Prom setting or proms as plot points have found their way into everything from horror films (“Carrie,” 1976; “Prom Night,” 1980) to sex comedies (“American Pie,” 1999). Still, despite all the manufactured pressure, a lot of kids still manage to have a terrific time.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

While primarily designed to steer buyers to online vintage clothing shops, this blog is chock full of interesting, … [read review or visit site]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]

The Antique Corset Gallery

The Antique Corset Gallery

Take a deep breath, and check out this sparse, simple, and beautifully designed site showcasing 250 years of corset… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Amazing Vintage 50s Silk Chiffon Rainbow Stripe Plaid Cap Slv Prom Tea Dress SVintage 1950's Emerald Green Halter Party Prom Vlv Marilyn Glamour Dress! Sm80s Vintage Purple Sequin Formal Prom Gown Party Mermaid Maxi DressVtg 80's Loralie Reddish Black Full Prom Dress Southern Belle Gown Gothic S 11Pale Pink Vintage 50s Sheer Chiffon Sleeve Jewel Bead Organza Lace Prom Dress SVintage Off White Lace 80s Prom Formal Bridal Gown Dress Size 9/10 GucTruly A Confection! Vintage 50s Prom Wedding Dress Ball Gown, Exc CondVtg 40s 50s Turquoise Blue Brocade Tulle 2 Piece Dress Formal Prom Party Gown SDesigner Sequin Abstract Op Art Print Vintage 80s De Laru Cocktail Prom Dress XsBlue Taffeta Full Skirt Party Prom Dress 80s Vintage Glam Sequins Beads MediumVintage Blue Sequin 80s Trophy Prom Drag Glam Halter Sleeveless Tier Dress SVintage Prom Dress PurpleVintage 90s Frozen Blue Jeweled Fluid Prom Dress Sz Xs Vintage 80's Prom Dress Gown Dance Pretty Homecoming Ruffles Costume Pink 7/8Vintage Prom Dress Pink Chiffon 50sVintage Equestrian Gothic 80s Strapless Black Prom Party Dress Size SmallVintage 50s Cocoa Lace Strapless Party Prom Dress W Shrug Flare S A Beaut Vlv A1Exquisite Beaded Vintage 1950's Net Tulle Lace Party Prom Cocktail Wedding DressVintage 1970's White Chiffon Acetate Prom Wedding Dress Size S/mMetallic Blue Assym Peplum Strapless Wiggle Vtg 80s Dress Foil Party Prom Xs 0 Avant Garde Dress Size Medium Peplum Bow Vintage 80s Cocktail Party PromVintage 70's Prom Dress Gown Dance Homecoming Red Hot Lace Costume 7/8Vtg 80s Pink Satin Blue Lace Cocktail Party Prom Dress Sz SVintage Alyce Drop Waist Ruffle Avant Garde Prom Party Wild Child Glam Dress M LVtg 90s Mike Benet Magenta Black Sequin Lace Cocktail Party Prom Dress S-mMetallic LamVintage Prom Dress PinkGold Sequin Metallic 80s Vtg Prom Mini Party Dress Off-shoulder Steppin Out S