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]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Pretty Blue 50s Vintage Prom Dress By Fred Perlberg . Size 12Beautiful Lace Navy/maroon Vintage 50s Prom Dress By Gordon's Of Chicago Size 141950s Vintage Sweeping Full Circle Skirt Bust Shelf Yellow Prom Party DressGorgeous True Vintage 1950s Brocade Party Dress, Prom, Wedding. Full Skirt.Vintage Will Steinman Original Strapless Prom Formal Tulle Party Dress 80s Plus Size 20 Teal Metallic Prom Dress/jacket Wild Child, New WaveLovely Baby Girl Pink Lace Chiffon Full Skirt 1950s/60s Prom Party Dress Size 6Vintage Women's Party Dress, Prom Red Satin Top Red/white Skirt Red Satin LiningOriginal Vintage 50s Prom DressVintage 50s Blue Acetate Nylon Chiffon Evening/prom/formal Dress Ruched Beads LVintage Flirtations Alfred Angelo 80s Prom Party Short Dress Metallic Purple 1950s Vintage Strapless Blue Flocked Rose Circle Skirt Party Prom DressVintage 1960's Women's Yellow Chiffon Cocktail/prom DressVintage 80’s Hot Pink Floral Applique Puff Sleeved Ruched Prom Party Dress Sz S Vintage 50s 80s Pinup Bombshell Pink Ruched Chiffon Prom Tea Cocktail Dress GownVtg 80s Zum Zum Black Tulle Stars Satin One Shoulder Long Prom Party Dress Xs-sSexy Vtg 70s 50s Marilyn Pinup Pleated Lame Prom Party Dress S/m Metallic SilverGorgeous Vintage 1950s Formal Strapless Prom Party Dress Tulle Teal Velvet RosesVtg 50s Purple Strapless Pleated Tulle Prom Dress-bust 33/ Xxs-xs80s Purple Moire Jessica Mcclintock Gunne Sax Dress Off Shoulder Prom Party 10 SVintage '60s Off White Brocade Evening Coat-prom Cover-up-large/xl-42-near Mint50s Purple/lilac Strapless Long Prom Party Dress S 34-27-56 As IsVintage 1980s Victor Costa Black White Big Bow Cocktail, Formal Prom Dress SmallVtg Ilgwu Party Prom Costume Princess Dress Royalty Red Velvet Bow Back M/lVintage Mink Stole Brown 6 Pelts Head To Tail! Prom/ WeddingVintage Gunne Sax Lace Strapless Prom Party Dress Bonita Apparel Prom Dress Party Sz Small Vintage 80s 90s MatalicAdorb Vintage 50's Orig. Jr.theme Ny Yellow Chiffon Dress Prom Party Mad Men EraVintage 90s Fuchsia & Leopard Print Boned Bust Hi Low Prom Party Dress Sz SVtg 80s Ivory Satin Sheer Chiffon Draped Pearl Formal Goddess Wedding Prom Dress