Prom is one of the most anticipated occasions for high-school students. It’s a chance for those in higher grades to celebrate their last years in school in style with friends and peers.
Recently, there’s been some fresh discussion online about if Black prom culture is a bit over the top these days.
We see it most every spring season now: the extravagant sendoffs and arrivals for kids in custom and designer gowns, shoes and three-piece suits who pull up to their prom venues in luxury cars, sports convertibles and stretch Hummer limos. Some parents hire photographers and videographers to capture their kids on this special day.
But is the Black community really doing a lot these days? Is there a tad bit too much pageantry at majority-Black proms?
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Some say yes. Perhaps it’s even worse with how expensive, elaborate and extravagant the sendoffs, dresses and suits are getting nowadays.
Some say that Black prom culture has always been extravagant and over-the-top. There are those who argue that these special occasions serve as coming-of-age events for teens and that they should be allowed to enjoy themselves to the fullest.
There are others who note the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on kids who had to spend the bulk of their high-school years learning in quarantine. Some never even had proms, so these events and experiences are even more treasured.
The thing is proms — no matter the racial demographic at any school — always have been about style, extravagance and celebration.
As far as Black proms go, we’ve always been able to take an ordinary event and make it extraordinarily our own. Proms in the ’80s, ’90s, 2000s and the 2010s prove it.
These days, Gen Z is just taking the culture that’s always existed and evolving it. But the main trends and themes are still there: style, extravagance and celebration.
I went to both my junior and senior proms. I went to my junior prom with a close friend whose uncle drove us in his new Cadillac sedan. For my senior prom, my date and I went with a whole group of friends whose parents split the cost of renting out a standard black limo.
We saw couples and groups who wore custom suits and designer dresses and drove themselves in the latest Rolls-Royce, Range Rover, and yes, those stretch Hummer limos. But that was the real fun of prom — to see who was going to pull out all the stops. It made the night that much more enjoyable and entertaining.
And if a parent and guardian can afford a glamorous and ornate prom sendoff, how they treat their child is their business. Those moments serve as opportunities to make memories, and families can choose how they’d like to make their own.
Besides, when you come to school wearing hoodies, sweatpants and jeans for most of the year, being allowed one night out of an entire school year to dress up in evening wear and look good can be really gratifying.
And while there is definitely pageantry, I never felt like prom carried the technicality of a pageant. There was never this judgmental air. No one actually cared what car others pulled up in or whether the gowns were designer or department-store brands. There was, however, always the risk of arriving at prom just to see someone else wearing the same dress, then exchanging a knowing look with that person that told you she would stay on one side of the room and you would stay on the other (i.e., me at junior prom circa 2009).
The point is no one came to judge. Everyone just came to look good, feel good, and have a great time. It was just about taking one night to show off your own style and creativity.
That’s the vibe of almost every Black function. It’s not about competition. It’s about individual expression. That was the vibe 10 years ago, and that still appears to be the vibe today.