Did Your Prom Suck? 7 Ways to Reclaim the Tradition

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Photo: United Artists
Photo: United Artists

Something just feels different this time of year. There's that thickness in the atmosphere of hairspray hardening an up-do or peekaboo curl, the frantic huddles of teenage girls and gay best friends stalking stores for the make-or-break dress, and masses of adolescents crowding hotel lobbies and perfuming the corridors with the scent of boutonnières and corsages that fails to mask the stench of their anxiety.

It's May, the month of a million prom nights. Next to politics, religion, scientific consensus on climate change and reactions to the new Batfleck photo, how people feel about their prom experience is one of the most divisive issues in our culture. I get it; high school wasn't an easy time for everyone. While some people have a spinning disco ball montage of happy prom memories, others were the kid in the corner hoping the football team wouldn't soak them with pig blood. But those things are behind us now.

Every May, I like to take the opportunity to relive the things about prom that I loved. I don't do it in a How I Met Your Mother Season 1, Episode 20 way; I like to incorporate little elements of prom into my every day life. Whether you loved your prom and still occasionally put on your court crown while watching the coronation DVD or you can't sit through the dance scene in a Freddie Prinze/Julia Stiles rom com without breaking a sweat, there's no reason you can't find a little joy in sticking your head out the sunroof of a stretch limo or cramming sixteen people into a hotel suite that sleeps five. It's been said it's never too late to have a happy childhood. With that in mind, maybe you can make up for some of the shortcomings of high school by, to paraphrase Dickens, keeping prom night all year long with these tips.

Embrace Tissue Paper



One of the hallmarks of the high school dance is that very specific very disposable decor. Whether your theme was jungle boogie or an evening at Versailles, it was up to prom committee to create an entire world out of streamers and tissue paper that would disguise the hotel ballroom/country club/gym and transport you to a highly flammable wonderland. Surprise your roommate by turning the living room into a replica of old New Orleans made from plastic table cloths or the gardens of ancient Babylon entirely from the discount bin at Joanne's Fabric. For extra credit, add a strobe light and slow dance solo. Who knows, you may even get fresh with yourself!

Play DJ


Songs are one of the most powerful ways to evoke memories and every prom has its soundtrack. For example, I can't hear Sarah Mclachlan's "Ice Cream" without magically being swept back in time to the ballroom of San Francisco's Palace Hotel (I went to an arts high school and I'm pretty sure our DJ was a radical lesbian slam poetess) and into the arms of my teenage dream (which is also a worthy enough prom ditty). What songs reminds you of prom? Did the DJ spin Journey, Pearl Jam, Hanson? Are there any songs you wish were the soundtrack to that night? Now is the time to rewrite the set list!

Rock the Floral Trend


Nothing ruins a good evening look like a corsage or a boutineer. Why dates even bother to try and match them to each other's wardrobe is beyond me; no matter what you end up looking like the Mothers' Day brunch crowd at the local Holiday House. Alas, they are tradition and mandatory. But what about perking up your average work day with a floral accessory? What if everyone in your office had to bring a buddy a corsage? Even if the day ends up being terrible, you're still wearing a corsage so how bad could it be?

Get into the Limousine Scene



Talk about a way to get a little extra bang on a week night: instead of just going out for happy hour, why not rent one of those vulgar, white-on-white limos and ride around for a few hours bumping the sound system? Anything you can do at a happy hour, you can do in the back seat of a limo, plus, you know, other stuff... If you've never had the prom limo experience, this one is a must. It's also mandatory you leave at least 1/6 of your outfit in the backseat so your friends know you had a good time.

Raid Mom and Dad's Liquor Cabinet


You want a real blast from prom past? How about siphoning a little bit of liquor from each bottle in your parents' bar for one unholy flask of underage hangover? Sure, you can legally drink now, but wasn't there a little fun in the risk of getting caught? One friend of mine made the unfortunate mistake of opening a bottle of his dad's 40 year old Scotch. Even worse, he mixed it with seven other liquors and his dad was incensed he went to all that trouble without being able to taste the peaty single malt goodness.

Seek Out That Hot Chaperone


Remember that good looking student teacher who was only a couple years older than you but worlds away? Remember how they drew the short stick and had to chaperone prom as a newbie? You pined while they rolled their eyes at the teenage antics around them, but you always knew they liked you because you were cooler than the other kids. It would have been wrong to try anything then, but hey, you're both adults now and we live in a world of Facebook. Look them up and see if they're single. Whether you loved or hated prom, make a great new memory by finally landing that coveted hot teacher. Just don't make a move under the bleachers; we don't need to relive everything from high school.

Declare Yourself Prom King or Queen


So what if, at your actual prom, the biggest football team jerk and the mean girl won King and Queen. It's time to declare yourself the Prom King or Queen of your own destiny. Buy that tiara, practice the rotating wrist wave, treat yourself like royalty every day of the year. Or just remember this: many members of prom courts past peaked that night. Their lives veered downhill after the moment the crowns touched their heads. Unless they grew up to become pop culture bloggers for their local public television affiliate; then it was just part of an overall upwardly curving life trajectory.


Happy prom season!