“What’s your favorite memory from your prom?”

5428387 – teenage girl snapping photo at prom

When I speak to groups about generational differences, I have asked the same question of total strangers–from each generation: Traditionalist (born before 1941); Baby Boomer (born 1941-1963); GenXer (born 1964-1979) and Millennial (1980-2000-ish).

It turns out, proms tell us a lot about each generation.Every single generation has a prom story that reflected the generational fairy tale of their day.

  • Traditionalists talk about the simple tea length dress, corsage brought by their date, photos at home with a camera that had film that had to be developed, and the father who drove them to the dance at the festively decorated high school gym. It was a fairy tale of innocence and romance.
  • Boomers talk about the long formal dress, wrist corsages, dinner out on the town, borrowing a parent’s car, professional pictures as a couple, and dancing the night away in an over the top decorated venue. There was often “making-out.” It was a fairy tale of dreamy excesses.
  • GenXers talk about the low necklines or strapless dress of any length, big hair, double dating in their date’s car, dinner at the fanciest restaurants their date could afford, professional pictures taken multiple times with multiple friend groups; dancing the night away in a venue with trancendent decor; with perhaps a hidden flask, and a hotel booked for an after party. It is a group fairy tale where the group is more important than the romance.
  • Millennials talk about the fancy short dress, necklines (as low as allowed), shoes and accessories, the group of people they packed into a limo provided either by a parent or at a shared cost. No dates. Group dinner out–every one just pays for themselves. A professional photographer at the limo loading site. A professional photographer at the venue, with extreme decor, who takes group photos of multiple sets of friends. And selfies. All. Night. Long. They dance the night away–more likely in groups, couples are optional. Many tales are told of the hidden flask, and a few hotel rooms are booked for an after-party. The millennial prom is a fairy tale of extreme possibility.

From one generation, prom has become more complex and expensive. It is less about innocence and romance of a couple, and more about “the pack” of friends and the possibility of extreme fun.

Why is this important for us to know?

There is a similar story of the generational evolution in the Bible. Solomon was the King of Israel and he had grown up in the undercurrent of his father, David, and his excesses. He saw his father and his older brothers make foolhardy choices. Solomon witnessed every generation become worse than the last as a result of poor choices. Yet, Solomon chose excesses too. And at the end of his life, his words were “all is vanity and chasing after wind.”

Prom, a rite of passage, is an opportunity to make choices and memories that may last a lifetime. As a culture, we need to decide: What do we want Generation Z to pass into?

Generation Zers around the world are all aTwitter, literally, about their prom. (#prom2k18)

How can all generations celebrate National Prom Day today?

Today, I am donating a dress to The Cinderella Affair,  along with some accessories and classic costume sparkle-y jewelry that will be offered to girls who want their fairy tale, but would not be able to afford it otherwise. Traci Estenson, from the Cinderella Affair, says “it’s never too late to donate!”

If you are in Phoenix, celebrate National Prom Day with me and donate a clean gently used prom dress or something sparkly for GenerationZ. If you are in another location, could you post website information for a similar organization in your community so others know where to donate too? Let’s gift some of the fancy stuff in our closets to juniors and seniors everywhere for #prom2k18!


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