Prom Again, This Time Without Curfews

Prom againWhen AmberDawn McCall got her invitation to the prom in Tri-Cities, Washington, she jumped at the opportunity. "A chance to dress up and go out dancing with my husband? Sign me up!" she told WalletPop.

Yes, you read that right. McCall has a husband -- and six children -- and is part of a growing trend of people who are happy, well-adjusted adults with prom memories that don't have to be dusted off.

The Washington event, a benefit for a non-profit that provides practical services to breast cancer survivors, was almost as well-attended as a local high school prom, with about 100 attendees.

"I think everybody had a great time," says McCall (pictured at right with her husband). Except for maybe those she pegged as having been the high school cool kids: "They were spending too much energy trying to look cool."As a high school student, your prom must meet a formidable raft of expectations. First, there are the rituals: of the last big formal occasion of your high school years and the pinnacle of the high school social scene. For some young people, proms are the only chance, outside of a wedding, to spend a day pampering and prepping and dressing for a party, leisure-class style.

And then there's the scary, frightening, exhilarating part: the milestones in love, friendship or risk-taking, for many a first ride in a limo or status car, a first grown-up, fancy dinner out, a first taste of alcohol, a first overnight trip with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

With all that pressure for the day to be perfect, can it really live up to the fantasy? If yours didn't and you could do it all over again, would you? Over the past several years, in cities all across the United States, people way past drinking age have been finding out just what it's like to go back and live through the prom experience.

The New York Times'piece on the trend starred a prom in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was a for-profit event billed by organizers as "prom the way you always wanted it" (evidently, with legally-spiked punch). The now-annual Portland, Oregon prom is described as "another shot to experience the glory of prom, without all of the teen angst" -- and indeed, the stylish photos look far less angst-y and way more fun than my own 1991-era prom.

But at a cost of $15 to $40 for tickets plus all the usual costs of a prom -- tux rental, fancy gowns, hair, makeup, limos, the obligatory steak dinner and, a change from the teen version, babysitters -- is it worth it? Does being an adult change your prom experience?

Not all that much, says McCall.

"It was uncannily like prom in high school," McCall says. "You saw the same sorts of cliques and freaks you would expect in high school. There was the very creepy guy with two women -- I think some sort of free love situation was going on there. There was the guy who must have been captain of his football team; he was loud and obnoxious, and he had to win all the auction items."

There was even the obligatory dress faux pas -- three women showed up wearing the same hot pink, satin ruched-skirted, ruffly gown. "It was just like you would expect at the high school prom, but they had the maturity as adults to laugh at it and pose for pictures," says McCall, laughing.

Despite never having gone to a prom when she was in high school, Beth Caldwell has been to two this year. The first was an 80s-style prom her partner invited her to in place of a workplace holiday party. "A bus picked us up at our various homes and took us to Old Spaghetti Factory. We were quite a spectacle. Then we went to a coworker's house for dancing and prom photos."

Was it fun? "Totally a blast!" Caldwell says.

The second prom was a fundraiser for the student chapter of the American Library Association. That's right: a librarian prom. "You might think of librarians -- or future librarians -- as a quiet introverted bunch, but they know how to have a good time. We even did prom photos with props, like cat-eye framed, librarian glasses," says, Caldwell, who is studying to be a librarian herself.

While the stereotype is true -- most of her fellow celebrants hadn't been to their own high school proms -- Caldwell says, "I am sure this was way more fun."

And every prom -- even the ones attended by folks who left behind their high school years some time ago -- must have its king and queen. But in a group of mostly-strangers, how do you pick? The Decatur prom gave revelers the chance to nominate themselves, with Polaroids of the candidates to help attendees choose. The Washington prom was more of a draw-out-of-a-hat thing; you could vote for anyone, but the winners were picked at random from the votes.

And unlike proms of old, this one actually worked out rather well: The woman who was selected to be queen was a friend of the family, a woman who was about to go to her last breast cancer treatment. "If I had to have anyone as queen, it would be her," says McCall, far more generously, perhaps, than a high schooler in the same situation.

As a rite of passage, it's unlikely many teenagers would forgo their senior prom. But it's nice to know that if anyone should, whether voluntarily or not, there's still a chance to experience prom with all its highs and lows, no matter how old you are.
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