From “promposals” to the promenade, it’s all about the runup to the big night
Pittsfield High’s Max Tabakin (class of 2017) and Grace Heimann (class of 2019)
Photos by Jake Borden
In the 1960s, prom-goers arrived in black tuxes and simple dresses to enjoy a party in the high-school auditorium that celebrated the winding down of that phase of life. It was a relatively simple event, where even last-minute attendees could be accommodated. Today, prom is anything but impromptu.
Prom became more intricate and illustrious during the ’80s after the wedding of Britain’s Princess Diana and Prince Charles. The ceremony was viewed by more than 750 million people and set the new standard for proms across the Pond. The lavishness hasn’t diminished, spurred by ever-more posh televised awards ceremonies. The extensive glitz and thorough documentation of those events have reshaped prom from a light-hearted farewell to a grand ceremony with its own entourage of spectators and high expectations.
This is the season for proms in the dozen or so Berkshire high schools—stretching from April 28 at Lenox High and wrapping up June 8 at Pittsfield High—and it keeps getting more involved, more of a commitment, much more than a ticket, a date, a party. It is not only time consuming, but fiscally demanding.
“It’s one of those things where you know it’s expensive and nonessential, but you still want to go,” says Monument Mountain High senior Brendan Chee. Some teens say everything leading up to the event is what’s most important: purchasing the dress, giving or receiving the perfect “promposal,” arriving in a limo or Porsche or pickup truck, and, of course, promenading past crowds and flashing cameras during the walk-in.
This fittingly termed “promposal” has taken on an increased level of importance. The goal is to come up with a unique way to ask out that special person for that big night, and approaches vary widely. There’s the sports approach (“You intercepted my heart. Will you tackle prom with me?”) or the grand, public gesture (Appearing during band practice dressed in a black suit jacket, he hands a dozen red roses to that special girl as he sings, with instrumental backing, “Cheek to Cheek” ala Fred Astaire, after which a curtain opens to reveal five placards with the letters P-R-O-M-?) or a simpler, more intimate approach (Over dinner, the young man pulls chicken nuggets out of the oven, arranged on the pan to spell, yes, “P-R-O-M-?”).
Social media has been inundated for months with promposals from across the spectrum, and Instagram is a popular platform and offers up a good reference for those looking for inspiration, or amusement. Once the date is secured, the prom-goers must then pick their attire for the big night. For some, it is as simple as renting a tux or borrowing a dress; for others, it is an intricate and tedious process. There are a few favorite dress shops in the Berkshires, such as Deidre’s in Pittsfield, but many teens find themselves leaving the county, or the state, for Springfield, Albany, even New York City.
Once the fittings begin, young women can expect to try on an average of 40 dresses. Some may opt to order online, a lot easier but a bit riskier—in hand, it may be a completely different color from what appeared on the computer screen, or made with different materials than advertised, or simply not the right fit. Last year, a Facebook page named “MMRHS Prom Dresses” ensured that young women wouldn’t see their doppelgänger at the walk-in. The first post back in February read: “Hey guys! Prom is coming up so here’s where you can post your prom dresses so there hopefully won’t be people with the same ones!”
When all the hair is styled, nails painted, makeup done, corsages pinned, it is finally time to take pictures—as a group, individually, the couple, with friends, with one friend at a time, with mom, dad, with mom and dad, “candids” with a dog, on a bridge, against the red background of a Berkshire barn, leaning casually on a balcony as your boyfriend just happens to pick you up bridal style and you just happen to throw one hand and one foot into the air and smile at the camera. Most of the pictures are never seen again. Squinty eyes, awkward hands, a dress hiked at the wrong angle—deleted immediately the day after. No worries, though, with 800 pictures taken, there are still a solid 75 keepers to post.
The social media aspect of prom shifts the focus from the actual experience to its perfected documentation. “It feels like everyone isgoing just for that,” says Mount Everett 11th grader Shi-Anne Phillips. All of the buildup adds a new level of pressure and glamour, and opinions on the hype break down into two groups: One sees it as a way to showcase the best of their experience; the other sees it as way too superficial.
Finally, the red-carpet moment arrives with the walk-in, focusing the spotlight on decked-out teens. Underclassmen, families, and prom groupies from around the Berkshires line up to watch. The audience claps as the couple walks by and, at a turn in the path, the couple stops to pose for a photo. In fact, the selection of a prom venue is often based on the availability of an ideal walk-in location—the Cranwell, Crowne Plaza, the Mount, Hancock Shaker Village all fit the bill.
For Pittsfield and Taconic high schools, some couples bypass the traditional limo and arrive at their destination in a sports car. For smaller schools, walk-ins are somewhat anticlimactic, with fewer spectators and lower attendance. “There’s no need for a limo when I can show up on my bike,” says Mount Everett High School junior Abby Busch.
It all happens now, from simple dresses to elegant gowns, a private night to a public affair, an intimate photo album to full, uncensored coverage on Snapchat. But prom itself stills holds the same significance. It’s a rite of passage, a final stretch to graduation, a celebration of high-school achievements and memories—and future successes. The extensive preparation and new additions are all done with the same traditional intent: to make an unforgettable night even more unforgettable.
STEPPING OUT on the firetruck, Rosaliz Hernandez (left, PHS ‘18), Lauryn Rogers (Taconic ‘18), Mark Brites (left, PHS ‘18), and Mark Puskey (PHS ‘19); Emma Wheeler (in truck, PHS ‘18); Caitlynn Drosehn (left off truck, PHS ‘17), Mackenzie Ellis (PHS ‘17), Luke Dallembach (left, PHS ‘17), Hunter Phair (Taconic ‘17); (Laura Burgess (PHS ‘16) with David Desjardins (PHS ‘17);and Jon Bile (PHS ‘17) helps his date off the school bus.
RED CARPET –– A look back at last year’s prom as we look forward to this year’s. The two photos directly above are from Monument Mountain Regional High School. All other photos from Pittsfield High School’s walk-in.