A prom, short for promenade or promotion, is used to describe a formal dance held at the end of the high school academic year. In the United Kingdom, the term is more widely understood to be in reference to a season of classical concerts or “proms”, which have been held between July and September since 1811, today run by the BBC. The British synonym for the North American event would be Leavers Ball, or Leavers Dinner, closer to the Australian description (see below.) In Canada the terms Grad or Formal are most common and the event is usually only held for those in their graduating year of high school.
While proms at smaller schools may be open to the entire student body, large schools may hold two proms, a junior prom for those finishing their 11th grade year and a senior prom for those who are finishing their high school years. The name is derived from the late nineteenth century practice of a promenade ball. The end of year tradition stemmed from the graduation ball tradition.
Boys usually dress in black tie (a dinner jacket and bow tie), sometimes with brightly colored cummerbunds or vests, though any sort of formal wear can be worn. Traditionally, girls gave boys matching boutonnieres to be worn on the tuxedos. Girls traditionally wear formal gowns or dresses adorned with a corsage given to them by their date. Often, boys and girls will dress according to the theme of the prom – e.g. pastel suits for a Miami Vice-themed prom.
Some high school students feel that prom is the most romantic night of their lives. They may go in a group that includes a person they have known for years; other times, students just try to find a date that they like. Many find it to be just as fun to attend with friends, not worrying about the dating aspect of the prom. The occurrence of inappropriate conduct and occurrence of violence or alcohol/drug abuse is common though discouraged.
Common prom activities include dining, dancing, the crowning of a prom King and Queen, and socializing. In some cases, high school students accumulate funds for their class prom through fundraisers over the four years they attend their high school. High schools in or near large cities may rent ballrooms at expensive hotels or, to be unusual, venues such as a pleasure cruise boat. Many students group together to take limousines to their proms. Often costs are cut by using the school gym, which challenges the decorating committee to somehow mask the gym odor and drab surfaces. Music played during the dance portion of the event is normally the genre(s) most popular with the attendees.