Prom fever floods schools with glee

School end-of-year parties have changed. Inspired by US TV shows, the UK has 'gone American' with prom dances. But does the world need more celebrations?

'You can get married as many times as you want, but there is only one junior prom,' says Glee's all-American cheerleader Quinn Fabray – and Britain has taken note.

In Essex, for instance – dubbed the party capital of England – nine out of 10 secondary schools in the county will be hosting a prom or a graduation ceremony for their students in the next six weeks.

And they won't come cheap. End-of-year events in schools used to be a sweaty disco and a packet of crisps. But as this American tradition sweeps the UK, it's now about swanky hotels, stretch limos, spray tan and super-smart evening dress.

'The days of the school disco are long gone,' says Mark Farrell, who runs 1st Event Limousines. 'Proms are a huge event on the social calendar, and our research shows parents are spending an average of £415 on their kids, including the dress, limo hire, hair, make-up, nails, spray tan . . . not to mention the cost of the prom ticket.'

Junior proms are the largest events, held at the end of Year 11 and after GCSEs. But there are senior proms for departing sixth formers. And the fastest growing area of the market? The 'kiddy prom' for those leaving primary school.

18-year-old Essex girl Tara Dein is well aware of their growing importance. 'It's an event that everyone looks forward to for the whole year,' she says, 'gossiping about who's going with who and what we're going to wear.'

Proms first began in the elite colleges of Northeast America, following on from the debutante balls of the rich and upper classes. Middle class parents admired these events and began to organise formal dances of their own to instil social skills and etiquette in their children.

England's debutante ball was even older, launched by Queen Charlotte in the 18th Century, for upper class 17-year-olds entering society. Royalty only stopped attending them in 1958.

But it's American TV programmes like Glee, My Super Sweet 16 and High School Musical that have sold the idea to Britain today.

Stretching the limo

Proms have become an important rite of passage. They offer young people a taste of adult glamour and mark the end of an era in their lives.

But is it just another costly celebration in a world already over-filled with them? Bernie Taupin, lyricist for Elton John, said: 'All life is precious and every day a prize.'

Humans however have always craved special events. Sometimes, it seems, only the stretch limo will do.

You Decide

  1. 'Spending loads of money on something makes it more significant.' Do you agree?
  2. What's the most important celebration in your year?


  1. Design a prom poster for your school or college.
  2. Some American High School dramas celebrate cheerleader girls and sporting hero guys; others celebrate the misfits – Glee, for example. Write a scene for your own favourite US teen film or TV show, demonstrating its values.

Some People Say...

“Money spent on a prom is a complete waste.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Proms must be big business.
Oh yes. Retailer Claire Arksey, told the Financial Times: 'We have definitely noticed an increase in evening dress, clutch bag and suiting sales as a result of the rise in prom events,' while Brian Brick, of Moss Bros, says sales of suits to teenage partygoers now form a 'colossal' part of its business.
Do all countries do it?
Pretty much. Egypt, Malaysia and the Lebanon have proms similar to those in the US. In Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia it's called 'Graduation night' and in Denmark the event takes place before exams and is called 'Galla' which refers to the dress code: long dresses for girls, suits for boys.
What matters most at a prom?
According to one advertising executive, 'what motivates young people at a prom is what their friends think about what they're wearing.'

Word Watch

Debutante ball
An event with upper-class origins where a young female or male is formally introduced into the world of adult society. Also known as 'coming out into society.'
A code of social behaviour that a society or social class reckons appropriate. This means that etiquette changes as you move around. What's polite in Dubai might be rude in Norway.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.