Prom throwback: The rules to follow in the 1970s

When I went to the junior prom, in the long-ago decade that was the 1970s, it was no longer (in today’s vernacular) “a thing.” The 1960s had happened, and a lot of the more traditional celebrations associated with high school were seen as a wash. You could go, and that was fine. You could not go, and that was fine, too. Especially if you were not dating anyone, but the attendance did not increase or decrease your social status. But the rules. Oh, the rules.

1. Longtime and serious couples were expected to go the prom, as if it were a duty to the community. The boys complained about this mercilessly, but went anyway. If you were in a couple that was doing well, attending the prom was, well, not obligatory, but if you didn’t go, people would wonder if there were problems in the relationship.

2. There were no amazing prom-posals. My boyfriend asked me at lunch, after our friend Tom Cole, who was class president said, “Since you two can’t even be bothered to work on the prom, you better buy tickets.” My boyfriend looked over and said, “I guess you want to go the prom?,” and I said, “Sure,” as nonchalantly as I could. I went into the girls’ room and jumped up and down in a stall. When I got home, I informed my mother that we had to go to the mall immediately for dress selection.

3. I never saw a boy not in a tuxedo at the junior or senior prom. I don’t know if that was dress code, but I do not think boys were allowed to wear regular suits to the prom. Regular suits were for the Junior-Senior Dinner Dance, which was nearly as cool as the prom. Well, not cool, exactly, because as I just explained, prom was not considered cool.

4. For the boys, the prom was a huge financial commitment: My junior prom tickets cost $25, which was a huge amount of money back then. My boyfriend at the time complained incessantly about that, and the cost of his tuxedo, which was a lovely “vanilla brocade” trimmed in black velvet, but he did buy me a beautiful bouquet.

5. Girls wore long, or below the knee, dresses. I went to the junior prom in a dress made by Gunne Sax, which was a popular designer of formalwear for high school students at the time. Lucy asked if she could someday wear one of my prom gowns – I told her that I still have them, up in the attic – and I explained that would be fine with me, but we would have to do considerable alterations. “Why,?” she asked innocently. Not only am I almost five inches taller than my daughter, even back then I was wider.

This has made me think, though, wouldn’t it be great to do a vintage prom one year? It would be a great way to re-use all those gowns and clean out your attic at the same time. And mine, in a few years, will be antique.

6. Boy-girl couples only. Lucy once asked me if there were gay people back then, and I said, “Of course,” and then explained how truly unenlightened we were.

7. So, after I explained that, she said, “What about people going stag?,” and I had to say that it just was not done back in our day.

Lots of things were not done in our day, and I have to say that Lucy’s generation is doing prom (the writer in me cannot help but flinch at not using an article in front of that noun) better. Everyone can go, with the partner or partners of their choice. She went with a group of friends – boys and girls – which seems to be a common thing. They danced. They talked. They took tons of pictures and ended up at Denny’s.

Lucy had a fabulous time, from what I could tell. And this morning, my Facebook feed is filling up with pictures of Lucy and her friends – another vast improvement on the formal pictures we had taken at the prom.

We’ll talk about it more when she wakes up.

June Lemen is a freelance writer from Nashua. Her column appears the second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Email her at june@junelemen.com.