In My Own Shoes: The prom is an age-old rite of passage

In My Own Shoes: The prom is an age-old rite of passage

The Westerly Sun

Growing up, I always swore I would never, ever say those things my mother and father had said to me.

You know what I mean. The “when I was your age I ...” and “we never did it like that when we were young.” But that’s the great lie we all tell ourselves, because as each generation ages and looks at the ones coming up, we can’t help but be a bit surprised, mystified, and downright shocked at the way things are today versus how they were when “I was your age.”

Take the prom, for example. It was always a rite of passage for every generation, but in the ’60s when I went to the prom, the emphasis was on the prom itself … not on tanning beds, hair salons and spas, limos, after-parties, false eyelashes, and high-priced photo shoots.

Ours was pretty simple … think “Grease” or “West Side Story,” minus the violence. It was a dance in the school gym. Horrors! You mean you didn’t go to a country club or a fancy hotel with a ballroom? Nope. We were there in the gym … the same gym where we played dodge ball, learned basic gymnastics, and sweated in our Keds. But now it was gussied up for the evening. A prom committee came earlier that day and hung crepe paper from the backboards and hoops, blew up balloons, and somehow affixed some lanterns and special lighting to make it look like ... well, a more “special” gym. 

Getting ready for the prom was fairly simple as well. The boys would rent tuxedos from the local men’s shop, not unlike today; but … and this is a big but … they didn’t ask what color their date was wearing so they could match it with a red satin vest or blue cummerbund. They asked their girl the color of her gown so they could buy a simple wristlet corsage that wouldn’t clash with the dress itself, borrowed some money from their folks and maybe the car as well, and that was that.

The girls always had a tougher job, picking out just the right outfit and then going to the local shoe emporium, finding white satin heels that didn’t hurt like hell, and having them dyed to match the dress. Some young ladies could afford to have their hair done, others got together in groups and did each other’s hair and makeup, borrowed some of their mother’s jewelry, and poof! They were Cinderella, ready for the ball.

Prom food was also simple. The big deal of the day was Wise Potato Chips with Lipton Onion Dip. There were several stations of that, along with soda, some other junk-food items, and colored napkins to match the crepe paper on the basketball hoops. Kids today would roll their eyes and perhaps stage a protest march over the abject simplicity of it all, but we thought ourselves very grown up indeed.

There was the usual coronation of the prom king and queen, a little-anticipated event because just about everyone knew in advance it was going to be the football star and his date, the perfect little blond cheerleader who didn’t sweat. Of course you may recall the infamous prom queen, “Carrie,” from the movie of the same name; but that’s another column, and ours is a family newspaper.

When the prom was over (that meant the football coach had spun the last 45 of the night), some went home (yes, really). Some went to the local ice cream shop for hot fudge sundaes, or to a house party, and some canoodled in the backseats of cars and said “long goodnights.” Yes, that was prom night. We looked forward to it, loved it, and never thought ourselves deprived.

USA Today now estimates the average cost of going to the prom to be somewhere in the range of $700-$1,000, with partygoers here in the Northeast on the high side of that equation. With the high price tag also comes social media peer pressure targeting those who simply can’t afford it.

I wonder, when today’s kids look back on prom night 30 years from now, will they even remember what they wore, or who their date was? As for me, I’m glad I grew up when I did, enjoying the simplicity of that long-ago special night, dancing with whatever-his-name-was, amid the colored crepe paper, when I was sure nothing again would ever taste as good as Wise Potato Chips.

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 16 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She is the author of three books and can be reached at or 401-539- 7762.


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