What's the big deal with Homecoming?
November 27, 2006 10:10 PM   Subscribe

Are Prom and Homecoming really such big deals in American high school life as they appear on TV?

The girl and I live in Canada, and we're always just a little bit mystified when Prom and/or Homecoming or whatever are featured in television and movies. (Most recent of many, many examples: watching Heroes this afternoon.)

Is it really the big deal that it's made out to be, with the limos and the $500 dresses and everything? And is it prevalent everywhere in the US? According to wikipedia, it's common in Canada too, but we've never heard of a school actually having them (we're in Alberta though; it might be different out east).

I say it's mostly an artifact of Hollywood, or at most a manufactured tradition a la Valentine's Day. She says there's got to be more to it if all the teen magazines have super-special prom editions etc.

At the risk of descending into chatfilter, please help me understand this bizarre phenomenon and tell me what's it like where you live.
posted by Kwirq to Society & Culture (58 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Prom is huge. With $500 dresses and limos and everything. That's at least where I grew up (northeast). Homecoming is a bigger deal at colleges where there is no prom, but also big at high schools. Homecoming is about the school, prom is much more about the people attending.
posted by null terminated at 10:18 PM on November 27, 2006

It obviously depends on location and school, but for me, prom tickets were $50 each, it was held at a relatively upscale downtown hotel, and guys were expected to take the girls to a fancy dinner ($100/couple in today's dollars) and to rent a limo. We got a limo for 4 people for 6 hours (minimum rental time, not cheap). The girls split the cost of the limo.
posted by underwater at 10:20 PM on November 27, 2006

Hollywood might gloss it up, but truly - its a big event, from a highschooler's perspective. Having gone out of mere curiosity, as an adult, it was certainly pointless. But that's perspective for you, eh?
posted by unmake at 10:20 PM on November 27, 2006

yes. and no.

The importance of these events is largely locally influenced, but I don't think the MTV version of the USA prom experience is typical. But you never know... I'm an NYC school teacher and I've seen some REALLY crazy things so I guess anything is possible!
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:23 PM on November 27, 2006

Depends on the region of the country and not to generalize too much but social-economic status also plays a part in it.

You can basically draw a color map with the intensity starting in the southeast corner of the united states and going north with its importance less and less important especially going west.

Anything with tradition is more valued in the South, the East, the Midwest and pretty much not so much in the West.

In the south you still have coming out parties, cotillions and the Spanish Quinereella (wrong speling - I'm too lazy to look up) and so the prom is an important coming out event to indicate you're an adult - still important but less so in the East - more of an excuse to drink and have a showy (ie: my daddy's really rich) graduation party than the real need to dress up (this is also true of areas like the OC) where the prom is almost ironic.

For many in the midwest, it's the adulthood party and other than the wedding, your first and perhaps last chance to get dressed up - since even if you go to college, there's no real party in graduating college.

So, I would say for 85% of the country, it's a big deal and the culmination of youth and entering adulthood - in the south more so celebrated with traditions but in more affluent communities, it's really just an excuse to drink and show off daddy's money - since their weekend parties are much more extravogaant than a dance at the school gym or hall ...

Again, a generalization but yes, for most, a big deal and an important milestone ... it might be one of the few times in life they have to dress up and of course, there's always the cliche of making the night 'extra special' with your girl or guy but since most people do not wait until 'that night' anymore, it still might be a nicer than usual night (not standing, actually in a hotel bed, longer than 2 minutes ... :-)
posted by jbelkin at 10:27 PM on November 27, 2006

Suburban public high school from food stamps to upper middle class reporting here.

Prom was a big deal, sure. To an extent. We held it at a nice venue and some people got limos. Certainly, everyone dressed up. Not everyone went. It's an occasion that exists, in part, to be an occasion, so all the dresses and limos and such sort of spirals into a vicious cycle.

Homecoming, though? Ennnh. Not so much. I mean, people showed up, but it was just an event. There was a dance in the gym. Woot.

I was nominated for Homecoming King. I didn't bother showing up to see if I'd won. I think there may have been something on TV that night. I mention this not to illustrate what a too-cool-for-school stud I am, but just that the whole Homecoming Royalty thing had no campaigning or drama such, like you see in sitcoms. It was an event that many but not all kids enjoyed, and there didn't seem to be any overkill.

But anyway, yes, prom was an event, but obviously Hollywood makes a huge deal out of it, but in the real world not everyone else does. The most extravagant thing I saw at my school was just the fact of kids getting limos.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:31 PM on November 27, 2006

First I will state that I come from Central Texas, out in the country but near to Austin. My recollections put a pretty big importance on prom. As a school with a poor populace, we only got as fancy as nice dresses and tuxes. But Prom was held in Austin (the City!) in a nice hotel.

It was important socially to the upper echelons (athletes) of the High School pecking order. Us lower rungs didn't sweat it so much, but I remember it as an opportunity to finally get to dance with the girl I liked. Oi... her mother even rented us a room at the hotel so I didn't have to drive home. I think she wanted us to have sex. Honestly, I do. My ma freaked out and forbade me from staying. It was a wise move.


Now I've heard of crazy prom rituals from my friends in San Diego, California, and how the guys would go to extraordinary lengths of coming up with imaginative ways to ask out their dates. Stuff like huge posters or more romantic things like a cake (a cake??) with the question on it. Same thing for some friends in the Bay Area. But I'm not Californian, so I can't really say if it's all true or not. In my neck of the woods in Texas, there was quite a bit of nervousness over getting a date to Prom, but there was never really any fancy way to do it.

Yeah, it really is a regional thing, ain't it? I'm given to thinking it gets crazier the more money the kids at the High School have. I certainly wasn't going to spend my meager savings on anything fancier than pho for dinner. But that was kind of a big deal to us country dwelling kids, you know? Here in California I have pho for lunch at least once a week. Funny stuff...

Homecoming was huge. There was a parade for it once with my Ballet Folklorico group. Tough thing dancing in boots for a mile and a half down Main street. Fun stuff.
posted by Mister Cheese at 10:32 PM on November 27, 2006

I went to high school in the mid-late '80s in Colorado. Both prom and homecoming were fairly big events, but not -- to my social circle, at least -- Big Events. I was part of the whole alternative music/drama club crowd, and though we all usually went to prom and homecoming, we did so with the strict but unspoken caveats: A) we NEVER went to the football games, ever, ever, EVER; B) we NEVER voted (much less ran) for king or queen, and indeed found the whole king/queen thing eminently mockable; C) we went out to dinner and got dressed up, but NEVER went the whole hog with limos, etc.; and D) we ALWAYS cut out of the dance and went to some sort of after-party by mid-evening.

In other words, they were basically twice-a-year backdrops to my social world -- excuses to dress up and go out for a fancy meal, then to all get drunk afterwards. The events themselves were wholly secondary.
posted by scody at 10:40 PM on November 27, 2006

Yes and no, I suppose. I'm American and I'm always just a little bit mystified when prom and/or homecoming or whatever are featured in television and movies.

I went to a large enough high school, and I didn't go to any of these events and didn't know anyone who did. I never heard of anyone riding around in limosines. Inasmuch as I understood it, there was a dance, which was tame and low-key, and then afterwards, once the adults were gone, all sorts of private parties at hotels and rich kids' parents' second homes where everyone got sloppy drunk and had sex. Mind you, like I said, I don't know anyone who went, so it's all third-hand rumour.

Sounded ridiculous, then and now.
posted by baklavabaklava at 10:41 PM on November 27, 2006

Best answer: I've lived in the midwest, east and northwestern US, and prom has been one of the big events of the high school year in each region. How big depends on the culture of the community.

It's important to note that prom and homecoming are two very different events.

Homecoming is a dance that's open to all students. The dance is held in the fall, usually following "Homecoming week" and the "Homecoming football game." Homecoming week is generally a friendly competition between the grades. Each grade is told to dress according to a different element of school spirit on Monday, for example, and the grade with the most kids turning out gets "points." Other events throughout the week allow kids to win points for their grade. The most points may be awarded for homecoming floats, which are displayed during halftime of the homecoming football game. This game is also a big deal for recent graduates of the high school, who are welcomed home (hence "homecoming") to hang out with their younger friends. And in more rural areas and smaller towns, the general community turns out for the homecoming game, too. The dance is a big deal because of all the excitement that preceeds it. It's fancy dress. But most kids don't break the bank or rent limos or anything.

Prom, on the other hand, is held at the end of the year. Often, the student-elected government spends practically the entire school year designing the event. There may be a theme, there may be a song (perhaps voted on by students), there may be a prom king and queen (also voted on by students). Prom tends to be more exclusive than homecoming. Some high schools allow every grade to attend. Some have junior prom and senior prom. Some only allow seniors and their dates to come. Many schools have one or two other fancy dress dances during the year, too, so it's not the only time that kids get to dress up.

At my high school, in a fairly affluent suburban area outside Washington DC, there may have been a few girls who spent hundreds of dollars on thier prom dresses. There were a few rich kids that got limos, and a few less-rich kids who pooled their salaries/allowances to get limos. Most of us spent more than we could afford -- but less than hundreds -- on dresses and suit or tux rentals, then borrowed our parents fanciest cars.

Prom and homecoming are really only a huge deal to a certain subset of American teenagers. The same teenagers who make a big deal out of peer approval and popularity, and who care about school spirit, who join teams and squads and run for student body government.

There's often a reactionary group of kids at many high schools who are utterly, utterly disgusted with prom for various rebellious reasons, too. At my prom, one boy wore a kilt in protest. A girl wore a gas mask to demonstrate how noxious the event was. Others boycotted and didn't go at all.

Most of the kids who didn't go just didn't go because they didn't have a date, they didn't care that much, or they had something better to do. Most of the kids who did go went because they had a date, they were curious about the experience, or they had nothing else better to do. There's a feeling when you're in high school that prom is one of those experiences you're "supposed" to have, but I'm not sure it's a bigger deal than early sexual exploration, rebelling against parents, sneaking alcohol and weed, passing AP Calculus, or any other minor ritual of the teen years.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:45 PM on November 27, 2006

I grew up in British Columbia, not the US. And prom was a pretty big deal at the end of the grad year -- 15 years ago. Fancy dresses, shoes died to match, professional hairstyling, professional make-up application, etc. My boyfriend wore a tux with a cumberbund and bowtie that matched my dress. We didn't rent a limo, but a lot of kids did. We went out for dinner at what we termed a fancy restaurant, but the more middle class and upper middle class kids went out for even fancier meals. Afterwards, everybody went to the beach and got rip-roaring drunk and, uh, you know, the stuff you do at bush/beach parties.

We also had a drygrad -- the second in my school's history. That was a pretty huge deal, too. The idea was that they would eventually drop the prom. The school was really concerned about drinking and $500-$1000 dresses. And we were a mostly working class district.

I think now my old school has a prom a little earlier -- say April -- to discourage partying. It's too cold! But they still have the prom and dry grad.
posted by acoutu at 10:46 PM on November 27, 2006

Prom in my school, back in the early 90s, was attended by absolutely everyone except the geekiest geeks. Tickets were about $200/couple. Girls all wore fancy dresses, guys all wore tuxedos.

Almost everyone either had a limo, or at minimum borrowed some sort of upscale car. Very few drove their regular cars.

Afterwards, there were innumerable parties.

So yeah... pretty much exactly like the movies.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 10:48 PM on November 27, 2006

Hollywood gets the emotional intensity of prom right, but then they go way overboard on the flashy aesthetic.

High school relationships peak at prom, all of that hormone-fueled drama coming to a head in one all-too-short night. The weeks leading up to prom are rife with rumor, awkwardness, a sort of hyper-reality where every answered question in class and all those sidelong glances at lunch take on significance like Yogi Berra takes on life. The dynamics of group, individual, and couple are fighting for prominence, allegiances are tested, and broken, and formed anew. It is an incredible social phenomena. Overacted Hollywood can do the sexual tension/fireworks, and can usually get the blood pumping to some extent, but it's a pale shadow to the tense fervor of real life prom.

Now, the adornments are another issue. As mentioned above, they vary on any number of factors. For some limos, tuxes/princess dresses, corsages, fancy dinner, etc. are the norm. Others, not so much. I was pumped to take my bitchin' Camaro to prom. In the movies you're watching, I bet the proms are totally blinged out (She's All That). Or at least highly stylized (Napoleon Dynamite).

Now, as for Homecoming, nobody really gave a crap about that where I come from. It's hard to give a crap about penguins riding around the football field on the back of golf carts.
posted by carsonb at 10:54 PM on November 27, 2006

I grew up on the east coast of Canada. We didn't have a prom. We had the ceremony one evening (followed by house parties) and what we called the "grad dance" a couple of nights later (followed by hotel parties.) I'd say it was all a big event but nothing like in the movies. Mostly it was a prelude to excessive drinking. Then again, everything there is.
posted by loiseau at 10:56 PM on November 27, 2006

Australian here. What does "homecoming" mean? I mean, you're already at home, aren't you? (I get that the prom is short for promenade etc.)
posted by b33j at 11:13 PM on November 27, 2006

I total echo what croutonsupafreak said.

I went to a midwestern lower class - middle class high school and prom wasn't a huge deal. People bought $60-$100 dresses. Homecoming was a big deal for freshman (first years) because it was the first dance, but after that it wasn't a big deal. Those were $40-$80 dresses.

Boys didn't rent tuxes for homecoming, but did for prom.

I was an alternateen, so going to prom was more about laughing at the other students, wearing a vintage dress, and smoking pot before and after.
posted by k8t at 11:16 PM on November 27, 2006

Also, homecoming was held at the school gym. Prom is held at a hotel or conference center or other alternative location, hence the price hike.

Oh and to add, no limos - just cars, usually people's owns, occasionally someone's parents.

And it was often the only night EVER that parents lifted curfews for all. Usually one or two houses, or sometimes cheap hotels, served as a crash pad for lots of friends.

High schools in my area had "alternative after prom parties" in the gym for kids not to get drunk. These were viewed as extremely lame.
posted by k8t at 11:18 PM on November 27, 2006

was much bigger back in the 80s when I was in school. Now? more acccepted to go as 'pals'; not so much of a sexual component (seem so, at least, to this teacher)
posted by tristanshout at 11:18 PM on November 27, 2006

mind you, they still spend an absurd amount, and taht really limits the number of kids who feel comfortable about going- can they afford to do it right?. In my area, it's more acceptable to spend big on a daughter's 15th birthday (quicenera or 'quince') party.
posted by tristanshout at 11:27 PM on November 27, 2006

Beej: I think, homecoming refers to what alumni do - it's the big football game of the season, so a lot of alumni come visit for the game (even if they don't give a shit about football - just an excuse for a reunion, right?). Depending on the school, the outer limit of "alumni" could range from "people who are still in college" to "current students' grandparents". The dance, though, seems to be limited to current students and their dates.

My school didn't have too many alumni past college age visiting for the game, but did use it as an excuse to push school spirit (which had the obvious result on the teenage population, of course). The football team did their thing, the cheerleaders did routines at an assembly, etc, etc.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 11:30 PM on November 27, 2006

Think of the modern prom as a "dry" run for every good little American consumer's wet dream: the obscenely overproduced, limo-laden, florally engorged, tulle-choked walk down the aisle. The fancy wedding, much like the prom, starts in a starched and carefully groomed manner, and is followed by the gradual shedding of inhibitions and formalwear.
posted by rob511 at 11:38 PM on November 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "Homecoming," in my understanding, was the first football game at home after several weeks of away games. The team was coming home.

Croutansupafreak got the exact tone of prom and the homecoming lead-up for me (high school in the early 90s in suburban Atlanta). The one thing missing from that response was the back-to-school excitement of Homecoming. It's not a great dance, but it's in the fall and near the beginning of the school year and so there's a hopefulness and optimism and enthusiasm for the year that the idea of the dance can bring out. It's all the back-to-school excitement bottled up and put in formal wear.

Prom feels like an end, a nostalgic look at the year past, a last fling. Homecoming feels like an entrance into a world you want to be a part of, a movie world of New England autumn leaves and football players in letterman sweaters and Dead Poets' Society earnestness. The hype is actually part of the allure.
posted by occhiblu at 12:03 AM on November 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

so is it a lot of peer pressure to go there with a date? From the opposite sex? Were there ever same-sex couples?

I always found it strange how it was hyped in hollywood movies, and tried to imagine how I as a gay kid would have dealt with it...
posted by kolophon at 1:57 AM on November 28, 2006

I didn't go to my prom, but a buddy and I went to watch the people arriving to it. The guys with the most bling (in my mid-80's suburban prom) were the dudes who hung out in the smoking area wearing Van Halen t-shirts. They all arrived in powder blue tuxes with top hats and canes. Well worth observing.

The only thing I regret about not going to prom was not being able to see if "off like a prom dress" was merely a colloquialism or a simple statement of fact...
posted by maxwelton at 2:46 AM on November 28, 2006

So is it a lot of peer pressure to go there with a date?

It's generally expected, at least (or, it was when I graduated 11 years ago from a fairly standard suburban high school in Texas). I was actually planning to go to my prom alone, but an acquaintance called me a couple of days beforehand looking for a date. There was no romantic intention (as far as I know, at least)... she just wasn't comfortable with the idea of going alone. Nice guy that I was, I said yes, and that was that.

Once we arrived, however, she spent much of the time with her friends, and I with mine. I was already looking ahead to college by that point, so I just treated it as a final get-together with friends. It was a pretty warm atmosphere, best I can remember.

Anyway, it was a fancy affair, but only a certain crowd bothered with the whole limo/super-expensive dress/super-expensive dinner/hotel room/drunken after-party routine, best I can tell. I remember attending an after-party, but it was pretty low-key.

Some people made it out to be the MOST IMPORTANT LIFE EVENT EVAR, no doubt, but most everyone in my social circle (which was fairly wide) were pretty relaxed about the whole thing.
posted by jal0021 at 2:58 AM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: I've often gotten the impression that the producers, directors, and writers who generate these shows/movies featuring expensive proms that are the absolute center of the social universe for every kid in the high school are basing their stories not on current high school culture but, rather, on the high school culture that existed when they were that age, anywhere from ten to thirty years previous. I strongly suspect that prom and homecoming have been declining in importance in contemporary American culture. Hollywood, though, is showing us the way it used to be and lots of people are mistaking it for the way it is.
posted by Clay201 at 3:25 AM on November 28, 2006

So homecoming is all about football?

My high school didn't even have a football team... nor cheerleaders. We had other teams but I guess football just isn't as big a deal where I grew up. So we definitely didn't have homecoming.
posted by loiseau at 3:55 AM on November 28, 2006

My Canadian friend (from Toronto) said that at her high school it was exactly like the movies.
posted by jacalata at 4:20 AM on November 28, 2006

(about three years ago, to clarify)
posted by jacalata at 4:21 AM on November 28, 2006

In my high school [a private school full of rich or scholarship kids in Ohio], Prom was the biggest dance, but it certainly wasn't anywhere near as important as it was in the movies. I didn't bother going, though most people did - they did pay for expensive dresses/tuxedos, corsages, prom photos, and limos, and a meal beforehand, but then most of that happened for Homecoming as well. There was pressure to go with a date, though some people went alone [others went wth friends who were their dates in name only.] There was a mandatory afterparty that lasted very late, to try to minimize drinking and sex, but most students went to after-after-parties later on to make up for that. Homecoming, at least, was held in the gym; I believe that Prom was as well, but I didn't pay enough attention to really be sure. I think that the ticket price might have been $25 per for Prom? Nothing hugely expensive.

So yeah, as people have said, it varies a lot by school, by region, and by the crowd of people you hang out with. There certainly was a Prom in my school, but [perhaps because the students were mostly rich and could afford to dress up for other dances, eat at restaurants, etc.], it certainly didn't seem to have the sort of mythic intensity that other posters are talking about. It was just another dance - an expensive one, near the end of senior year, but that's all.
posted by ubersturm at 5:22 AM on November 28, 2006

I grew up in the Midwest. Homecoming was not that special - it was semi-formal, you'd be more likely to go with a gang of friends than to stress out about having a date and it was in the school's cafeteria. Prom was a bigger deal, with the limos, the expensive dresses, the tuxes, etc. That said, I think I expected prom to be like the movies (with spectacular dramatic events?) and it turned out it was just like HC, only more expensive and in a different location.
posted by srah at 5:47 AM on November 28, 2006

It depends. Where I'm from, Homecoming and Prom were a Big Deal. They're an excuse to dress up and look pretty--girls got hugely fancy dresses, guys got tuxedos, people went in limos, you had to pay for tickets, there was an election from Homecoming Royalty, yadda yadda yadda. According to my friends at college, Prom (Homecoming not so much) was also a Big Deal, and even the most "alternative" went. I didn't go, as I had no identification with the high school I was graduating from (I only took one class there, long story).
posted by Anonymous at 6:04 AM on November 28, 2006

My friend says it's mostly used as the first time to "strut your stuff"--it's the first time for most kids that they get the chance to go whole hog and really clean up and look super-fancy.
posted by Anonymous at 6:05 AM on November 28, 2006

I grew up in the midwest and graduated from high school in the late 90s. Prom was definitely a bigger deal than homecoming, but still not as big of a deal as they make it to be in the movies and on TV. Our prom tickets were really cheap ($15 or $20). It was held in the school gym. Some people got limos, but most went in their own cars. I would guess that most people spent $100-$200 on their dresses. I'm sure there was a theme, but no one seemed to care what it was.
posted by whatideserve at 6:10 AM on November 28, 2006

Just to add the Eastern Canadian perspective here, since you mentioned it: we do have proms out here. Here in Ottawa, it wasn't a big deal, although some people still went all-out.

I do know (of) some rich Montreal friends who did the American-style prom with all the extravagance and limos and dresses.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:17 AM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: I grew up in New England -- not in a part with a whole lot of extra money, comparatively -- and in my small high school, both prom and Homecoming were just about as big a deal as Hollywood shows.

Girls definitely had to have a new, expensive dress for prom (a cheaper new dress would do for Homecoming). Tickets were pretty expensive. For prom, I think almost everyone rented limos -- you'd split one with two or three other couples so it was cheaper and so you could have fun riding together. Girls would leave school early or miss school that day to get their hair, makeup, and nails done professionally.

The usual student-government people were all dying to be on the committee, and there was plenty of drama about picking a theme and decorating. The prom was held at a banquet hall about forty-five minutes away, and there was also a lot of drama about exactly which banquet hall would be rented.

Our junior and senior proms were separate, and only members of those classes could get tickets; you could also get in if your date was in the right class. There were plenty of seniors at the junior prom, but fewer juniors (all of them female) at the senior prom. You bragged a lot if you were a female non-senior who got a date with a senior guy so you could get to the senior prom.

We also had a lavish post-prom, meant to decrease the likelihood of drinking, doing drugs, driving, and hooking up (okay, maybe not in that order). When the dance at the banquet hall ended, everyone went home for a little while to shower and change into comfortable clothes; then they went to the school, where the top floor had been set up for a 24-hour party. They wouldn't let you in after a certain time or if it looked like you'd been drinking. Some rooms had movies playing, and there were a lot of games in the gym. I'm not sure about all the other stuff they had, but everyone really loved the post-prom -- more than the actual prom, I think.

On preview: There was one gay couple in our school at the time, and because our class was so small, everyone was used to them. I think they didn't attend the prom because they weren't interested (I didn't go either, for the same reason). They did go to a couple of other dances, IIRC, but not formal ones.
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:36 AM on November 28, 2006

I went to a private school in Southern California known for its students being rich & bitchy. Because it was a girls school, we had homecoming and prom with a boys school and another girls school, but winter formal was held just by us. Therefore, no one cared about homecoming, winter formal was huge, and prom was just big. But yes, there was drama about being asked, expensive dresses, corsages, expensive tickets, &c. I can't think of anyone who didn't take a limo. You know the Newport Club or whatever they call it on The OC? That's where we had our winter fomal (though weirdly, prom was at the Nixon library).
posted by dame at 6:46 AM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: Yeah, croutonsupafreak's experience was pretty much the same as mine. However, I went to a tiny rural high school, where prom was held every other year. It was only for juniors & seniors, but they could have dates from other grades, or even dates that were already out of school (but the older kids had to be approved, I think). It was a BIG deal to be asked to the prom. I went with a senior when I was a freshman. Although, that particular year, the prom was on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, so my date & I didn't stay out too late. He was the one with the 1 a.m. curfew! :) There was no king or queen because it was determined to be "unfair" to have a senior queen & king and a junior prince & princess. *shrugs*

The Homecoming week-long competition was a much bigger deal. Each class float was the highlight. And being Homecoming Queen was a huge deal (king, not so much). There were only two contestants for each office, seniors, voted on by classmates--although my senior year, there were three contestants because there were only three girls in my class (including myself). The whole school then voted for the winners. No one campaigned outright. Each class voted for a Homecoming Attendant to be in the Court, a girl, and the girl had to find her own companion to go to "Walk-in," where usually junior & senior athletic team members also dressed up, got dates, and participated. Each couple was announced, walked to the center of the gym, and turned to take their place in line. People in the audience scream and cheer. Then the court is announced and take their places on the stage. Then there is usually someone singing a musical selection. Then the court, sans king & queen, join the line of people and walk around the gym, forming rows. The rows break apart, and the king and queen walk between the rows, are re-announced, and everyone has a dance. Then it's picture time after that. Later, everyone changes out of their semi-formal attire and there's a dance, which is mostly for current students.

Getting to go to Walk-in was a big deal, especially if you were not an athletic team member (football, volleyball, or cheerleading because Homecoming was a Fall event). Generally people considered to be a couple went, but sometimes friends went to Walk-in as well.
posted by cass at 6:52 AM on November 28, 2006

I always found it strange how it was hyped in hollywood movies, and tried to imagine how I as a gay kid would have dealt with it...

Just spitballing here, but you likely would have had an ostensible opposite-sex "date," although in reality you would have just gone with a gaggle of other girls and boys from your social circle who didn't have real "dates." This may be more or less true depending on the relative openess and acceptance of homosexuality at your school.
posted by pardonyou? at 6:53 AM on November 28, 2006

so is it a lot of peer pressure to go there with a date? From the opposite sex? Were there ever same-sex couples?

Yes, good lord, yes. Awkward for those of us who weren't so much dating. I took guyfriends who went to a different high school. Being asked was a big deal. And for me (suburban MD upper-middle-class high school) there were no gay couples -- it was unheard of.

Another vote for "pretty much just like the movies." Blech. I passed on the prom and was earnestly told by fellow students, moms, and teachers that I would regret it for the rest of my life. Seriously. (I didn't regret not going, in fact.)
posted by desuetude at 6:54 AM on November 28, 2006

Yeah, homecoming and prom are the big social events in high school. That said, you have to remember that MTV (and US media in general) are going to focus on the more extreme elements. Thus you have a bunch of rich, spoiled brats dropping thousands of Daddy's dollars on all sorts of over-the-top crap that the vast majority of school kids simply aren't going to bother with. Ever see MTVs series on Sweet-16 parties? Disgusting.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:58 AM on November 28, 2006

Homecoming was not a big or important event at my New York State high school. It was kind of an oversize pep rally.
Senior Prom was an event with fancy outfits, but not everyone had limos or Big Plans for before and after. My date and I drove ourselves to it in his little beat-up Toyota. It was a banquet with dancing, essentially. Like a wedding reception.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:21 AM on November 28, 2006

and tried to imagine how I as a gay kid would have dealt with it...

I'm gay and I went to my senior prom last year. I didn't have a date, and I didn't want to go for the longest time, but a few days before, I figured what the hell. One of my buddies and his girl invited me in their party bus, where there were two or three other couples. I sat at a table with friends (I was friends with almost everyone in my class), I danced with a few girl friends (what's that dirty dancing called?) and my favorite teacher and then danced alone. I even mistakenly was rubbing up against another guy (My classmate's date). That was embarrassing. Apparently I was dancing like a maniac because on our senior trip a week or two later, we were cruising around Manhattan looking at the island and my classmate spotted people sitting in a park and blurted out "Dan, dance with these people!"

I had a blast, date smate, glad I went.
posted by daninnj at 7:29 AM on November 28, 2006

Oh and to answer the question, homecoming wasn't really that big in my school. The prom was, everyone had fancy suits and dresses (including me) and rented party buses and limos. It was held at a fancy smancy reception hall. That year, the juniors also had their first prom, but I'm not sure how that went.
posted by daninnj at 7:31 AM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: In my high school (eastern U.S.--Hamilton, NJ, to be very specific), homecoming wasn't a very big deal. The whole theme of it is "school spirit", but by and large, students didn't care all that much about that. As some others have said, there were some competitions between the various grades (which can get the most of their students to wear the school colors one day, which can collect the most coins, etc.). There's also a dance, though it's not really a big deal; it's held in the school's cafeteria, people got dressed up, but expensive dresses and tuxedos were very much the exception and not the rule, and no one really took limos.

Maybe this was because the school had other dances during the year. The freshman and sophomore classes each had an annual "social", which was basically the same as the homecoming dance, and juniors and seniors each had a "semi-formal" toward the beginning of the year and each had a prom near the end.

Prom, on the other hand, was somewhat more of a big deal, though not like I've seen in the movies. Among the people I hung out with, there wasn't a lot of anxiety about 'being asked'; most of the people already had boyfriends/girlfriends, so their choice was obvious, and for others, they/we'd be "hooked up" with other people who were interested in going but didn't have a date (I ended up going to both "semi-formals" and the junior prom that way, and I'd been "hooked up" for the senior prom, but before it rolled around we were officially dating).

Senior prom was the much bigger of the two; it was held in a fancy hotel in Princeton, cost about $50 a ticket, and included a full meal. Girls went out to get new dresses, and guys went off to rent tuxedos for the evening. Limos were all over the place, though most people pooled together with three or four couples to a limo. As for the actual event, while everything is nicely decorated and everyone is dressed up, it's mostly just a chance to hang out with friends outside of school for what might be the last time. The group I was with spend most of the evening sitting around the table, having a good time. We'd usually get up to dance to the slow songs, and some of the others.

The after-prom experience was changed starting with my class. Before, the school had people meet back at the school, where they had buses waiting to take people down to an aquarium (which I assume had stuff to do set up). Starting my year, though, they moved the after-prom to the school itself. They had one of the bigger classrooms set up as a casino, with games, tokens instead of cash, and prizes. There were other classrooms set up with other stuff, though I've forgotten what, and at the end of the night (around 5am now), they started calling names for prizes (everyone went away with something, but the stuff was better if your name was called). This attracted a fair number of people, but I knew of other people who had rented houses down at the shore for the weekend, and spent their time getting drunk/doing drugs/whatever.
posted by Godbert at 7:43 AM on November 28, 2006

Prom was a big deal at my high school. Homecoming was only important for those who played football (first big game of the season for the team), cheerleaders (who performed at the game), the popular kids, and the marching band (cuz they performed). Everyone else didn't care. There was a dance and we'd all go and either get thrown out for not dressing properly or for harassing the dj with weird song requests.

Everyone at my school went to Prom (I went to high school in a suburb of Denver in the late 90s) ; it didn't matter what social economic background you had or what group you hung with- the freaks, the geeks, the whitehats, we all went. The tickets were expensive, all the guys wore tuxs, and the girls either went with vintage dresses or bought new ones. We went out to dinner, I was with a group of 8 who pooled our money to rent a limo. Everyone else either borrowed their nice parents car or rented a nice one. Our prom was held at a recently converted brewery and had a new york, new york theme.

Most of the kids in my group of misfits paid for everything themselves. Some of the richer or more popular kids had their parents front the bill. The majority of kids headed to the after-party at our high school after getting drunk while we went home to change our clothes. The after-party lasted till dawn and then we all went home.

In regards to getting a date, that is a pretty big deal. I ended up going with a female friend that I worked with after getting shot down half a dozen times or so. Most guys/gals did go through some elaborate asking ritual - big banners, hiding parts of a note in someone's room, putting signs up along the road, etc etc. Me? I just asked. Maybe that's why it took so long to get some girl to say yes.

On the same night as our prom, and in the same location, the local gay and lesbian teenage support group put on their own version of Prom. I didn't know anyone who went to that but I think the idea was a good one. I do remember all the socially conservative parents freaking out about it though. If you ended up walking towards it on accident, the parents/chaperones would panic and act like you were going to walk into a mine field.
posted by Stynxno at 7:44 AM on November 28, 2006

I went to public high school in a nice area in Southern California, and prom was a big deal for most people, homecoming was nothing for anybody. My son went to a large public high school in central Florida for one semester, and was voted Homecoming King (much to his amusement.) It was a huge deal -- he was required by the school to rent a tux for his appearance on the field before the game and the yearbook photo shoot, he had to lead the dance with the Homecoming Queen... Back in SoCal the following year, he didn't bother to go to homecoming.
posted by Methylviolet at 7:50 AM on November 28, 2006

_The_ Prom (not "Prom") wasn't that big a deal in my school. There was certainly all the drama a high school can provide (who's taking who, who broke up with who, who got drunk in the parking lot, etc) but nothing too outrageous. A hundred dollar dress and a rented tux seemed to be the norm.
That was a while ago though, so things might have changed.

As far as homecoming, my experience observing different schools in different states indicates that the importance of homecoming is in direct proportion to how important your football team is.
In my HS, where people on the team where generally met with "We have a football team?", homecoming was not important at all.
In towns I lived in in the Midwest, where football teams are minor deities, homecoming was the most important part of the fall, for the town, for the school and for the alumni.

The U.S. being such a big place, I don't think there is a single right answer to your question.
posted by madajb at 7:54 AM on November 28, 2006

One of my high school teachers (also my friend's dad) referred to prom once in class as "the anual deflowering ritual".
posted by baphomet at 8:09 AM on November 28, 2006

Like Acoutu, I grew up in BC. I graduated from high school in 1994, and the prom experience there was pretty similar - girls got their hair and make-up done, wore nice dresses (but not gowns) and went out to nice restaurants with their dates who wore suits. Some groups of people rented limos, some groups of people did not. Probably as much as anything else because there was a limited supply of limos to be had in Prince George, and that supply wouldn't have covered all the people going by a long shot. Prom was followed by a big party (in my year, it was a campout on an island in Summit Lake). I didn't attend any of it, mind you, but I heard about it.

What seems different is that in movies, prom is often depicted as being on the last day of school or on graduation. Our prom was in May, I think, and our graduation ceremony was in June (and we got our actual diplomas in the mail in August when the government was finished marking our exams) and was followed by another dance. People dressed up more for graduation (think bridesmaids dresses for girls, tuxes for boys) but the dance was actually less of a focus. A lot of people didn't really go to the dinner or the dance at grad, because they had out of town family to deal with. We did, though, have an all night official 'dry grad' party after the dinner and dance, followed the next night by a 'not even vaguely dry' grad party that was mostly attended by the cool kids (ie, not me).
posted by jacquilynne at 8:19 AM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: Homecoming and prom were both a big deal at my high school (private, east coast), but prom was definitely much bigger. Homecoming involved a pep rally, a football game, a parade with floats, Homecoming King and Queen, and a homecoming dance. The game (was pretty well attended by alumni (I think there are also various alumni events throughout the week - I have never been back for this stuff). The dance was in the school gym and semi-formal. Definitely no limos. People went out to dinner before - nice dinners, but not crazy expensive ones.

Prom was for juniors, seniors, and their dates only. Formal dress, corsages, slightly fancier dinners than homecoming, some people took limos, etc. My school came up with what I'm sure they thought was a brilliant idea - having prom on a boat. This prevented people coming and going as they pleased, and meant that everyone was pretty closely supervised. This lessened, but did not completely end, the practice of sneaking alcohol into prom. After prom there was a school-sponsored afterparty. I think that people's parents signed them up for this thing, and if you didn't show up the school would call home. After the crappy school afterparty, you went to a friend's house and had a really party with alcohol.

Another common practice at my school was for a group of kids to go to a friend's house to get dressed up, and then your parents would come over to take pictures of everyone in their prom-wear. This was always pretty irritating.

I only went to prom senior year. I had an expensive (but untraditional - not the sort of thing you see in Seventeen's prom issue) dress, but my friends and I all took our regular cars, not limos. In 11th grade I went to my boyfriend's public school prom (at a hotel) and it was a bit more like movie proms - more limos and big sparkly dresses and fancy dinners, etc (although we just took his car) - compared to my school, which, while it treated prom as a big deal, had a relatively understated attitude toward prom. Showing off too much would be trashy. I think this is a preppy thing - at my sister's boarding school, all the girls just wore cocktail dresses to prom because formal dresses were seen as tacky and trying too hard.

Only a few people have mentioned the important element of sex, something that is often a part of prom movies- a lot of high schoolers really are set on losing their virginity on prom night. My 11th-grade boyfriend wanted us to get a hotel room but I said no - not because I didn't want to sleep with him, but because I thought the whole prom/hotel setting was totally cheesy. I think I've rambled on for long enough now.
posted by naoko at 8:54 AM on November 28, 2006

My sister and I both went to upper-middle-class suburban high schools in Florida. All these dances were held at hotels in the area. I did go to homecoming and prom both junior and senior years and I did have one expensive dress, but I never went in a limo or got my hair did. The hotel afterparty is very much a reality, though it was less about sex than drugs/alcohol. Not that people weren't hooking up - just that there weren't many couples who got rooms solely for themselves. The hotel rooms generally had 10 kids ending up sleeping on any available surface.

My sister, on the other hand, had four $300 dresses, one for each homecoming and prom, went in Hummer limos with a million other kids, and got fancy updos and makeup (and she continues to bankrupt my parents even post-high school.) I assume that her afterparty experiences were similar to mine.

In conclusion - it's pretty similar to the movies, except no one cared about the prom queen/king thing.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 9:09 AM on November 28, 2006

I'm from rural Vermont and my private school's prom was such a big deal that we rented out a ballroom in a hotel in *Boston* (that's a three and a half hour drive to another state).

It's the middle of the freaking woods and still, kids were shelling out hundreds for dresses and tuxes.

Also, senior prom is thrown by the junior class, so it becomes a BIG DEAL as a class - how much money can you raise for the prom? Our class sold pizza during lunch for months to raise money.

And the agony of finding a date for prom in May when tickets go on sale in March! Oh, the agony!

So, yeah, I'm from the boonies and it's STILL pretty much exactly as portrayed in the movies.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:18 AM on November 28, 2006

To really understand "Prom" as a component of American culture, watch Pretty In Pink.
posted by mkultra at 11:01 AM on November 28, 2006

Were there ever same-sex couples?

Kings and Queens: Queers at the Prom.
posted by ericb at 12:08 PM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: You can basically draw a color map with the intensity starting in the southeast corner of the united states and going north with its importance less and less important especially going west...In the south you still have coming out parties, cotillions and the Spanish Quinereella (wrong speling - I'm too lazy to look up) and so the prom is an important coming out event to indicate you're an adult.

Disagreeing on that, at least from my own experience. None of us had "coming out" (debutante parties), sweet 16s, quinceneras, cotillion, etc. Sure, I later met a few southerners that did that stuff, but growing up I didn't know anyone that did.


Middle/Upper-middle, southern, large-ish public school in state's capital, suburban, mid-to-late 90's, snobby high school.

Anyway, Homecoming was nothing. It was a football game followed by a dance at the gym. My friends and I were all in jeans and I got chased around by some guy who swore he loved me. It was usually preceded by a week of "spirit events" and fun things like "buy a homecoming flower" where we bought flowers for our friends and crushes for a dollar or two. Getting a flower was more of a highlight than any football game or dance (unless it was from that guy that swore he loved me, which, it was.)

Prom was a bigger deal, but even then not what it is hyped up to be. I don't remember anyone having a limo and only knew one person that went crazy with a dress (like maybe $400). Tix were about $100 a couple, we went out to a really nice dinner first (~$100) and then arrived in our cars and danced and hung out. Afterwards there was a party at someone's house and then we all went to another person's house to party more and spend the night. We were relatively good kids so there wasn't really any hard partying in terms of alcohol and stuff like you see on tv. I'm sure it happened though. Some kids went to a local hotel, which would make the night more expensive, but I don't know anyone that went crazy like you see on tv in terms of cost or behavior. Also, we had photos taken at prom and later bought those, which is another $100 or so. I spent ~ $100 on a dress each year and borrowed a pair of my mom's shoes both years. I think my date's boutinierre (sp?) was less than $20 and my corsage was probably less than $40. Actually having a date was a bigger deal than how much you spent. Only like six people went without dates.

Now that I'm a little older, I look back and think that for the people that did go more "all out" this was really "it" for them. High school was the pinnacle and prom was a celebration of high school life and everything it stood for. These folks have gone on to mediocre lives afterwards and I sometimes wonder if they knew that was going to be the case. Not that I'm a superstar or anything, but now that I look back on everyone, you can tell that for some people, high school was when they were at their peak, and prom was treated accordingly.

Overall, it was more of a last hurrah of high school for all of us, not an occasion to see who can outspend everyone else. As to whether its an artifact of Hollywood, I have never known anyone (besides some international friends) that didn't have a prom.
posted by ml98tu at 1:18 PM on November 28, 2006

It was the budding tradition in my school (it was a magnet and my class was the fourth to graduate) that no senior would show up at school the day of the prom--which was held at the then-Palace in Hollywood. I found out later that someone had been talked out of asking me because I was the class psycho(if he actually had, I would have accepted, but would have made it clear that I didn't feel romantically about him). I didn't want the humilation of everyone knowing that I wasn't asked, so I refused to go to school. It was two days after I turned 18, but my vampire cunt of a mother dragged me around like a two year old on her errands.
posted by brujita at 1:14 AM on November 29, 2006

Response by poster: Wow. Everyone, thank you so much for your comments. I understand Homecoming a lot better (read: at all) and get the significance of the two a little more.

Here we have grad in place of prom, which is pretty much the same in substance but much less in degree. I.e., with the rented room banquet dance thing, and the official afterparty, but the self-decorating and transportation are not particularly extreme and no one counts it a major event to obsess over. Basically it's an opportunity for the social people to be social, and the other people not to care.

So, I guess like lots of other places but not like most other places.

I was amazed (and a bit taken aback) at the response my first AskMe got. Thanks again and I will try to go through and mark some "best answers", but please don't feel neglected if I don't mark yours; all of these are great and really helpful.
posted by Kwirq at 10:42 AM on November 30, 2006

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