Prom style is ever-changing and is reflective of what is fashionable at the time. But what has remained the same over the years are the customs of prom attire and how the junior and senior proms differ in their dress codes. This goes for both the girls and boys, both of whom are expected to wear appropriate clothing to each of these events. It's important to know the differences so that when you are shopping for your own prom, you pick just the right look.
A Short History
Proms have been a part of the American teenager's life since the early 1900's. They are descended from the Victorian era's debutante balls, when young women were formally introduced to society. Senior proms celebrate a similar rite of passage, when a student is approaching adulthood through high school graduation. Accordingly, junior proms usher a teen into his or her final year of school. In recent decades, junior proms have dipped in popularity; many schools have dropped the event altogether, choosing to focus their attention -- and budget -- on just senior prom. Other schools have a combined junior and senior celebration.
Senior Prom Girls
Senior proms are usually a black-tie affair, therefore making formal wear a requirement. Young women can take this opportunity to get dressed up like a red-carpet celebrity at the Oscars. Floor-grazing gowns are the general rule, with sparkly beads and sequins being totally appropriate. The dresses are often very bare on top, either strapless or with spaghetti straps. Frocks tend to have fitted shapes, like the column or mermaid silhouettes; but princess cuts still are available for the ultimate girly girl. When it comes to shoes, most young ladies will go for high and strappy.
Junior Prom Girls
Traditionally, junior proms are semi-formal and are therefore not as dressy as their senior counterparts, but they're still a chance for a girl to wear a fancy dress. Junior prom dresses are similar to cocktail dresses -- shorter, with a hemline that can hit anywhere from just above the knee to the calf. This style of dress also tends to be not quite as embellished, with less bead work or sequins. Junior prom dresses are meant to be a bit more youthful and fun; but with the growing trend of combining junior and senior proms, these shorter styles are making an appearance more and more.
Just like the girls, boys also have to worry about the differences between junior and senior prom. At the semi-formal junior prom, a teen can wear a nice suit and tie. At some schools, it is even appropriate for a boy to wear a sport coat and trousers. But when it comes to the senior prom, it's all formal and the only suitable attire is a tuxedo and bow tie. The tux can be worn with either a cummerbund or a vest. While black is the most popular tuxedo color, they are available in other colors if a teen boy is daring and confident.
Stacey is a freelance writer and stylist with a focus on fashion, lifestyle, design and pop culture. She has authored two books for Omnibus Press and has covered fashion weeks in New York and London.