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July 13, 2017

Proms of yesteryear

By Mary Ellen Shaw

As often happens when a group of women get together, phones are taken from pocketbooks and pictures are shared.

One of the most recent reasons for doing that was to show pictures of grandchildren who attended junior and senior proms. Some proms had taken place locally and some out of town. No matter where the event was held there was a common bond of the girls looking very grown up at the young age of 16 or 17. All of us at the table agreed that attending a prom is an entirely different experience today compared to the 60s. Of course, most of the women seated at our table went to a Catholic high school. We wouldn’t have been let in the door with some of the dresses that girls now wear. Showing even slight cleavage as well as fabric clinging to our body would have been reasons to deny us entry to the dance.

The venue for proms has changed since back “in the day” when they were held in the school gym. Today they often take place at resorts and the students go out to a nice restaurant for dinner first. In “yesteryear” we had meetings to select a theme and figure out the best way to transform a room designed for a basketball game into a wonderland for dancing. Crepe paper was our “best friend.” It was everywhere!

Some school proms had DJs and others had a band. The latest dance moves came from watching American Bandstand after school. Dick Clark hosted the show and some of the dancers were “regulars” whom you got to know from their interviews with Clark as they picked the next hit records. One of the transfer students in our high school had been on the show, which was equal to movie star status here in little ol’ Rutland!

There were no tuxes for the guys, just their best suit and tie. For the girls their prom dress needed that “perfect pouf” that was accomplished with a stiff petticoat. The bigger the better when it came to the skirt portion of the gown. I remember the petticoat felt scratchy but you did what you had to do! Pastel colors were the rage.

We didn’t spend a lot of money on gowns compared to what I heard some of the girls paid in current times. A really nice gown back then was well under $100. Today some girls paid around $500. But that doesn’t mean that both eras couldn’t produce an inexpensive version if one looked hard enough.

I remember Wolk’s Tots and Teens had a nice variety of choices. But the best options were those available to one of my friends whose mother made her gown. I thought she was the luckiest girl in the world to have so many styles and fabrics to choose from. I remember going to the Economy Store with her and looking through the McCall’s Pattern Book. Once the style was selected, we headed over to the bolts of fabric to choose the material.

High heel shoes made with cloth fabric were dyed to match the gown color. Most of us got our shoes from Gus Brodowski at Morton’s Shoe Store. He always had a smile on his face and made us laugh. The next stop was right up the street at Woolworth’s to purchase the dye. The cloth shoes had more than one life to them because if your next gown needed a shoe that was a little darker, you could just re-dye the shoes. Were we comfortable in the pointed toes? Not really! No wonder so many of us have bunions today.

I expect that the boys’ mothers told them to ask their date the color of their gown. My senior ball gown was white with pink flowers and spaghetti straps. My date arrived with a wrist corsage of pink roses and white baby’s breath. Perfect choice by his mother!

One major difference in the two eras was the manner in which we were transported to the dance. Very few guys had their own car and half of them probably didn’t even have a license. The fellows who had a car definitely had passengers in it. My date and I went in a car with two other couples. The driver was very responsible but I am sure my parents were waiting for the car to pull up at the end of the evening.

Because school dances ended at a reasonable hour many of us went to Seward’s Restaurant afterwards or if they were closed we went to the Midway Diner. I am sure the waitresses were thrilled to see a bunch of high school students arrive en masse. They did not get rich off the tips that were left.

The phone pictures I saw reminded me more of how we looked for college dances rather than for high school. Are the high school “kids” of today more mature than we were?

Proms are an event in a young person’s life that will always be remembered. The details seem as fresh today as they did 50-plus years ago.

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