Middle and high school are the prime years for dressy dances, outlandish invitations and questions about etiquette, fashion and about a million unwritten rules. To make everything more fun, there are different “levels” of events that require teens to find their way in an often confusing system. One of the most common questions parents (and many teens) ask is, “what is the difference between proms and formals?”
The simplest answer is that proms are usually reserved for high school, many times just for juniors and seniors, while formal events can reach all the way down to the middle school level. A “formal” is usually associated with a season (Winter Formal, Spring Formal), an event (Homecoming) or an end of grade celebration (8th Grade Formal). There are, just to confuse the issue, semi-formal dances as well!
Proms tend to be the fanciest, most official and yes – most expensive – of all of the dances. Prom dresses are suitable for the most official of evening gatherings and black tie (or, in the case of teen fashion today some variation on a theme) is usually expected.
Court or No Court?
The crowning of “royalty” at an event is mostly the discretion of the school that is planning the dance, but is most common at Homecoming and Prom. Many schools are abandoning this tradition, viewing it as an unnecessary and sometimes hurtful popularity contest. Many still observe the tradition though. Students nominate then vote for their Homecoming or Prom King and Queen. Runners up are considered princes and princesses. Of course, in a world that looks very different from the 1950s, or height of popularity of these types of events, there can be any combination of genders, body types, personalities and backgrounds represented and there is no longer a “typical” court that can be expected.
Location, Location, Location
Most “formals” are held on school property, often in a gym or multipurpose room. Proms may be held in a school facility, but are also very commonly held at hotels, conference centers, museums, and any other event venue that can comfortably house a large group of young adults and accommodate very LOUD music. The fact that these events are held offsite is one contributing factor when it comes to price.
One thoroughly uncomfortable question is “do I still have to get him or her a ‘flower-thing’”? Frankly, if parents would let this one go, it’s pretty obvious that almost no one would continue to observe this tradition (except maybe florists who have a bit of a vested interest). However, it does endure. At a formal, especially in the younger grades, it should really be considered highly optional, and in most regions only a handful of teens will go to the trouble. They do remain staples of prom fashion, however. For the moment, at least, couples should expect to “gift” each other with a corsage or a boutonniere (corsages are typically for the ladies and boutonnieres for the men – but this is another area where traditions have changed to meet more modern interpretations). If you’re going as a group, you could choose to skip them altogether, draw names for who will buy one for whom, or have a flower-crafting party and make them yourselves as part of your pre-prom prep.
Whether you’re choosing a prom dress, a suit for a semi-formal dance, or something in between for a seasonal formal, the most important thing is to feel great and have fun!