Prom Planning & Protocol – Part 1: The Basics

Planning For a Night to Remember with Class and Style

Proms are tricky.  On the one hand, you want to be a part of one of the milestones of your high school career; on the other, for your own reasons, maybe not.  One thing is certain: proms have changed over the years, and each generation will celebrate in its own way.  So, while it’s still the most popular choice to attend with a date, in many high schools across the country it’s also perfectly acceptable, and in some cases preferable, to attend prom with a group of friends rather than with a single date or – as a sign of our times – with a same-sex date or simply with a friend of either gender.  If you have decided that you don’t want to miss one of the time-honored experiences of a student’s life – your junior or senior prom – then there are some decisions and preparations to be made and some important points of protocol and etiquette of which to be aware.

With Whom Do You Want To Go?

You should decide early on this one, if possible.  If you have someone in particular in mind who you would like to ask, don’t wait.  Prom season is a busy time of year and people’s calendars fill up fast.  Whether it’s someone at your school or at another school, ask early.  You might be turned down because the person you have invited is already going with someone or has made other plans for that date; the latter could be especially true if you’re asking someone from another school.  Allow at least six weeks lead time to allow you and your date to plan.  Alternatively, find out who among your friends want to go in a group, without specific dates, as well as other couples with which you might want to attend.  Groups can also share the expense of a limousine.

If you decide to invite a date from outside of your school, ask someone who is close to your age rather than someone very much older or younger.  Otherwise, you might risk violation of a school rule, embarrassment to you or your date, and / or the disapproval of your parents.

Who Will Pay?

Unless you have saved up enough money from your summer and weekend jobs to cover all prom expenses, another early task for you is to sit down with your parents to discuss the prom budget.  First make a list of all anticipated expenses (see list below); then ask your folks what they are willing to pay for, or how much they are willing to contribute, and which expenses you will be expected to handle.  Once you have your budget clarified, you can decide which expenses are appropriate or necessary to ask your date, your friends, or other couples to share.

Following is a basic list of Prom expense items, and who should pay (barring any extenuating circumstances or special arrangements).  Please note additional items can crop up; in addition, prices will vary depending on where you live.

The Dress

Shoes / Evening Bag



Shop early and often, and search for bargains. The prom dress (and accessories) is an expense that easily can get out of hand.
Tuxedo Rental (or purchase)




Arrange to rent your tux early, as there will be a fitting and decisions to be made on the style, color and accessories.  You might consider buying a tux if you anticipate attending other black-tie weddings or college events that require a tuxedo.  If you do purchase, make sure it’s a classic black tux; otherwise, if you’re renting, feel free to consider fashion colors provided you coordinate with your date’s colors.
Prom Tickets Whoever does the asking should pay.
Dinner If Prom tickets do not include dinner (many of them do but the price of the ticket is proportionately higher), then you will have to budget for dinner separately.
Transportation If you’re planning to rent a limousine, reserve  early as it’s unlikely there will be rentals available as Prom grows near.  If you or your date are planning to drive yourselves, you might reconsider; Prom week will be hectic, and you’ll be grateful for that luxury ride on Prom night.  A parent will probably sign the agreement; but if you’ll be going to Prom with other couples or a crowd of friends, you should arrange to share the cost.
After-Prom Activity Many places offer after-prom packages, including nightclubs, dance clubs, cruises, comedy clubs, etc.  Some schools or community groups sponsor after-prom party.  However, this activity can also run into a big expense, so plan early and carefully.
Hair / Makeup / Manicure (Her) Make appointments (very) early to avoid disappointment.
Haircut / Manicure (Him) Ditto.  And, yes, guys should have well-groomed hair and nails (clipped, shaped and buffed).
Corsage This is presented to the girl by her date.  The color of the corsage is determined by the color of The Dress.  The boy should find out from his date and ask if she prefers a traditional or wrist corsage.  At the girl’s discretion, the former can be attached at the shoulder, the waist or to her evening purse by the boy (so he should practice beforehand!).
Boutonniere (French for buttonhole) This is usually presented to the boy by his date in the form of a rose bud or carnation, often in the color of the girl’s dress.  The girl may attach it to the lapel of the boy’s jacket at the buttonhole (and she should practice beforehand!), or the boy can attach it himself.  See Prom Protocol – Part Two for instructions for attaching boutonniers.
Photos There should be a photographer at Prom, so check to see if you should pay in advance for a photo package or if you must pay at Prom.  Your parents may offer to pay for the photos; in any case decide, plan and budget for this or other photo options well in advance.
Incidentals (Tips, snacks, things you forgot, etc.) Plan to have cash or “mad money” along for small purchases and emergencies.

Planning well and controlling your budget will pave the way for a fabulous experience.  Check back next Tuesday for Prom Planning & Protocol – Part Two!

Until next time,


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