Prom (short for promenade) is a formal gathering of teenagers typically held once a year. It figures greatly in popular culture and is a major event among high school students in the United States and increasingly elsewhere due to the influence of American TV shows and movies.

The first proms came about as middle-class replicas of debutante balls. Thus, proms were created as less expensive, less elaborate affairs where teenagers could meet in their finest clothes to share dinner and sometimes dancing while learning social etiquette together. However, proms today are more elaborate. The cost of prom in the United States in 2012 averages $1,078 per family [1].

Logistics and Traditions

There are three broad phases of a Prom: Selection, Preparation, Prom Night.


Prom centers on the coupling of a teenage male and female in the Junior and Senior high school classes known as “Prom Dates,” although same-sex couples are increasingly more common at proms. Couples that are already paired in a romantic relationship typically attend prom together by default.

Single students ask another single person to be their date. This process sometimes causes tremendous agony because rejection of one person by the other is possible. Single people will sometimes spend months building a relationship with their hopeful date to mitigate this risk.


Males usually dress in black or white formal wear, regardless of the time of the event, sometimes paired with brightly colored ties or bow ties with vests, in some cases in colors matching their date’s dress. Most are rented from stores that specialize in formal wear rentals.

Females wear traditional dresses or gowns and wear jewelry such as earrings and a necklace. Traditionally females wear perfume and make-up such as eyeshadow, lipstick and blush. Girls also wear a corsage, given to them by their dates, and girls give boys matching boutonnières to be worn on their lapel.

Immediately before prom night, the final phase, girls typically get their hair styled, often in groups as a social activity at a salon.

Prom dates then gather at a park, garden, or their own and their dates’ houses for photographs. Prom attendees may rent limousines to transport groups of friends from their homes to the prom venue.

Prom Night

Some schools host their proms at hotel ballrooms or other venues where weddings typically take place.

Dancing is the primary activity. There may be a band or DJ playing a mix of uptempo music mixed with ballads, also known as “slow songs”.

Usually dancing is interrupted so that a Prom Queen and Prom King may be revealed. These are honorary titles awarded to students chosen in a school-wide vote prior to the prom, and are usually given to seniors. Juniors may also be honored, but would be called “Prom Prince” or “Prom Princess.” Other students may be honored with inclusion in a “Prom Court.” Inclusion in a Prom Court may be a reflection of popularity of those chosen and their level of participation in school activities, such as clubs or sports.

After prom, parents or a community may host a “prom after party” or “afterglow” or “post-prom” at a restaurant, entertainment venue, or a student’s home. Other traditions often include trips to nearby attractions, such as amusement parks, regional or local parks, or family or rented vacation houses. Some of these post-prom events are chaperoned and some are unsupervised.

It is also common for teenagers to have sex for the first time to conclude the Prom Night phase.

  1. The soaring cost of prom: By the numbers - Yahoo! News
    Retrieved 2012-07-15.


Translating to “stomach cutting,” and also known as harakiri, Seppuku is the Japanese samurai method of ritual suicide by disembowelment.

First recorded in 1180, the practice eventually became an important part of the samurai honor code known as bushido. Seppuku was often used by samurai on the battlefield as a method of honorable death when capture by the enemy was imminent. Feudal lords, known as daimyo, would also order Seppuku as a means of execution for disgraced samurai.

In time, the practice evolved to include a larger ceremony with many intricacies. After being dressed in white robes and fed his favorite meal, the samurai would write a death poem. With his previously selected kaishakunin, or “second,” standing by, the samurai would reach for a small blade called a tantō, plunge it into his abdomen and perform a quick slicing motion from left to right. Following this, the samurai would bend forward stretching his neck out to be decapitated by his kaishakunin’s sward. This decapitation was known as dakikubi. Dakikubi would occur as soon as the tantō had pierced the abdomen. Eventually, the process became so highly ritualized that decapitation would happen as soon as the samurai reached for his tantō. The samurai’s blade thus became less of a practical implement and was often replaced with another symbolic object such as a fan.

Seppuku as judicial punishment was abolished in 1873, but voluntary seppuku did not completely die out. In 1970, famed author Yukio Mishima committed public seppuku as a means of protest. His kaishakunin, 25-yr-old Masakatsu Morita, tried three times to decapitate Mishima but failed. Mishima’s head was finally severed by another man named Hiroyasu Koga. In disgrace, Morita then attempted to commit seppuku himself, failing to stab himself deep enough in the belly, and calling on Koga to finish the job.

Champagne Ship Launch

The tradition of christening a new ship for good luck and safe travel goes way back. Many ancient seafaring societies had their own ceremonies for launching a new ship. The Greeks wore olive branch wreaths around their heads, drank wine to honor the gods, and poured water on the new boat to bless it. The Babylonians sacrificed an ox, the Turks sacrificed a sheep, and the Vikings and Tahitians offered up human blood.

Ship christening in the young United States borrowed from contemporary English tradition. The launch of the USS Constitution in 1797 included the captain breaking a bottle of Madeira wine on its bow. Over the next century, the ritual of breaking or pouring of some “christening fluid” remained, but the fluid itself varied wildly. The USS Princeton, Raritan and Shamrock were all christened with whiskey. The USS New Ironsides was double-christened, first with a bottle of brandy and then with Madeira. Other ships were teetotalers, and launched with water or grape juice. The USS Hartford was christened three times, with water from the Atlantic Ocean, the Connecticut River and Hartford Spring. The USS Kentucky was launched with spring water by her official sponsor, but as the battleship slipped into the water, onlookers gave her a baptism more fitting of her namesake state and bashed small bottles of bourbon against her sides.

It’s not clear how champagne came to be the favored fluid. The Secretary of the Navy’s granddaughter christened the USS Maine, the Navy’s first steel battleship, with champagne in 1890. The shift to that particular sparkling wine might have been meant to coincide with the new era of steel, or it may just have just come into vogue because of association with power and elegance.

When Prohibition went into effect in the U.S., ships went sober again and were launched with water, juice or, in at least one case, apple cider. Champagne came back with the passage of the 21st Amendment and has stuck around since.