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

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [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]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 60s Mini Dress Beaded Collar Floral Brocade Bows Mod Shift Retro PromVintage 60s 70s Maxi Dress Metallic Silver Floral Lace Beaded Formal WeddingVintage 50s Dress Fit Flare Full Skirt Floral Ruffle Detachable Shawl Retro PromVintage 60s Mini Dress Green Lining Blue Floral Lace V Neck Sexy Bombshell PromVintage 60s Mini Dress Bolero Jacket Beaded Rhinestone Wiggle Formal Prom MobVintage 70s Maxi Dress Sheer Stevie Nicks Sleeve Pearl Flowing Prom EveningVintage 1950's White Japanese Silk Formal Prom Dress Xs SVtg 80s Gunne Sax Strapless Lt Blue Easter Spring Prom Full Skirt Gown 36 S MVintage 70s Maxi Dress Flocked Floral Shawl Prairie Boho Hippie Formal PromVintage 70s Maxi Dress Peach Floral Lace Billowy Fitted Formal Prom Boho HippieVintage 1980s Prom Party Dress Tea Length Puffy Sleeves Peach Orange Size 6Vintage 1950's Formal Prom Dress Light Pink Silver Tulle Satin Sleeveless Wbones70s Vtg Geometric Maxi Mod Bishop Poet Slv Long Formal Cocktail Party Dress L/xlVtg 80s Rampage Crushed Velvet Purple Micro Mini Party Prom Off Shoulder Dress SWilliam Pearson Avant Garde Vtg 80s Glam-azon Scooter Formal Summer Party DressVintage 80s Prom Party Cocktail Dress M Bust 38, Waist 28Stylish Vintage 80's Green Swirl Brocade Strapless Formal Dress Size 7/81970s Prom Dress Large/xlarge Vtg 80s Party Prom Shoulders Lace Sheer Sequin Ruched Pencil Blue Dress S MVtg 80s Party Prom Nos Nwt Niki Chiffon Off Shoulder Bow Black Lace Dress M 80s Vintage Black/red Lace Trim Princess Prom Party Dress 12-14 1980s Goth80s Vtg Velvet Prom Dress - Strapless Black & Silver Lace Party Evening Sz Xs SEstate Vtg Daval Designs Black White Sequin 100% Silk Cocktail Formal Dress 8