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Robin Friedman : author and journalist

Will You Go to the Prom with Me?

By ROBIN FRIEDMAN | The Allentown Times | June 9, 2006

My senior prom was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And yet.

Candy colors are back “in.”

Poofy ball gowns are back “in.”

Updos are “in.”

Boys, however, have broken out of their traditional tuxedo mold.

Totally and big time.

Goodbye to merely matching bowties and cummerbunds. Hello to hip-hop-era hats, canes, shiny ties, tails, all-black, all-white and every bright color in between.

But the biggest differences between then and now?

Going to the prom is cool.

Going to the prom without a date is cool.

“Prom night is less of a date night than it used to be,” according to Kate Wood, associate editor of Promspot.com. “It was unheard of to go to the prom without a date in the 1980s.”

Tell me about it. It was a tragedy of Romeo-and-Juliet proportions when my boyfriend, Rich W., and I broke up two months before my senior prom.

Thankfully, two weeks later, I had a new boyfriend, Noel B.— and a date to my senior prom. (This relationship lasted only two months, but, hey, it was the senior prom that mattered, right?)

If you think this kind of dilemma is silly, by the way, you’ve obviously never experienced life as a teenage girl.

Proms weren’t so popular in the 1980s, according to Wood, but they started to get hot again in the 1990s. And so did going solo.

“It’s an event you wait for since high school starts,” said Sean O’Connell, 17, class president at William Allen High School. “It’s a milestone — an ending point — the last social event of the year with your friends.”

Allen teachers Peter Iles and Debra Lakatosh, who are Allen’s prom co-advisors, say groups of single girls — and, more interestingly, groups of single guys — hit the May 13 prom entirely on their own.

“You want someone to dance with for the slow songs, but you can do that with your friends,” explained class secretary Fritzie Manrique, 17.

“You can’t miss the prom because you don’t have a date,” added class vice president Cristina Plana, 17.

And as for the prom being cool?

“Kids get very excited about it,” Iles said. “It’s a classy event, and some of my students may not have a chance to experience another classy event in their lives. Attendance is up every year.”

More than 500 students — out of a senior class of 636 — attended Allen’s prom in a glittering garden-party-themed ballroom at the Days Inn and Conference Center in Allentown.

“People are eager for it,” said class treasurer Rachel Fay, 17. “It’s a big deal.”

Ditto for the senior prom given by Louis E. Dieruff High School. Held on June 2 at the Woodland Hills Country Club in Hellertown with a “masquerade ball” theme, it was attended by 250 students out of a senior class of 350, according to teachers and prom co-advisors Pamela Moore and Leila DeJesus.

“It’s the big closing to four years,” said Dieruff’s class president Joey Younes, 17.

“In formal wear!” added class secretary Asma Alkhouri 17.

“It’s the signature of senior year,” finished class treasurer Loura Kahallouf, 17.

But enough about social trends. Let’s get to the real deal… what everybody wore.

The girls embodied the absolute gamut — sweet to sexy, beautiful to brassy, frothy to flashy, shiny to showy, traditional to titillating — in hues of black, white, orange, lime-green, pink and every variation of blue.

Ah, but the real story revolves around the well-dressed man.

At Allen’s prom, Jamin Rushing, 18, decked himself out all in white from head to toe, and Joshua White, 18, in black and pink, said the hatted head is a look that’s “smooth.”

“I wanted to go all out — the whole nine yards,” echoed James McDonald, 16, in hat, gloves and cane at Dieruff’s prom.

Jarrett Noss, 18, at Allen’s prom in striking white pinstripes with matching hat and cane, and a bright-orange tie and handkerchief to match the gown worn by his girlfriend, Argodella Alford, 16, said he’s “the first” to wear the Fred Astaire-esque design.

Gregory Lopez, 19, meanwhile, also in all-white with hat at Dieruff’s prom, explained, “I wanted to stand out.”

The supreme irony of Dieruff’s prom, in fact, was that only one boy attempted to make the old new again. Milton Figueroa, 19, wore a classic tux.

“I wanted to be different,” he said. “I feel good about it.”

And speaking of different, at Allen’s prom, Brendan Ortwein, 18, and Becky Stinsky, 18, turned heads in matching camouflage. Both plan to join the U.S. Marine Corps upon graduation.

Becky had the dress made from fatigue-material she found and wore her mother’s U.S. Army dogtag around her neck; Brendan managed to find his vest and bowtie in a store.

“We thought we’d have fun with it,” explained Stinsky.

Coraliz Rosario, 17, meanwhile, brought her brother, Corporal Marvin Rosario, 23, of the U.S. Marine Corps, stationed in Folsom, Penn., to Allen’s prom in full dress uniform.

As a matter of fact, it isn’t just okay to be unattached these days, it’s also fine to bring family members to the prom.

At Allen’s prom, Rory Schlamb, 18, brought cousin Amber Dickey, 13, who wore a short, turquoise-colored dress.

“I wanted to look different from everybody else,” Dickey explained of her shorter hemline.

Figueroa, the classic-tux student, brought cousin Suidelsy Vargas, 18, who wore shimmering yellow.

Some Dieruff students definitely decided less was more.

Jahara Hyman, 18, Den’esha Christy, 18, Migdalia Silva, 19 and Annette, Silva, 18 all sported the slinky-skimpy look.

“It’s important to have fun — it’s our last dance,” said Christy of her scantily-clad self. “I think I look bangin’.”

For nearly a century, the high school prom has been an important rite of passage for America’s teenagers.

The word “prom” was first used in the 1890s as a shortened form of “promenade” to refer to the elaborate marches of nineteenth-century formal dances. Adults believed formal dances were instructive in teaching young people social skills, manners and etiquette.

The first proms were held in the 1920s. For many, the prom was a modest affair held in the school gym decorated with crepe paper streamers.

In the 1960s, however, the prom graduated to an era of conspicuous consumption. Tuxedo rentals, designer gowns, limousines, professional beauty services and all-night parties became the norm.

“It’s a day to impress, a day to shine,” said Kahallouf. “People look forward to it all year long.”

Proms are a Big Business. Major department stores such as Macy’s, JC Penney and Bloomingdale’s open “prom departments” well in advance of prom season while teen magazines and websites offer advice on the latest formal wear, hairdos and makeup.

But the prom can also be a lonely phenomenon. If you had no girlfriend or boyfriend in my day, for example, you stayed home—and carried a Cinderella-less scar for the rest of your life.

Today’s generation, though, has clearly—and wisely—rewritten those outdated fairy tales.

“If you have no date, you still go to the prom,” said Brandon Gonzalez, 18, dressed in black at Dieruff’s prom. “It’s the last time we’ll be together. You may have other dances in your life, but you’ll never have another senior prom.”