Prom Planning & Protocol – Part 2: Gals’ Guide


Planning For a Night to Remember with Class and Style – GALS’ Guide

When shaping your image – or brand – everything you do, say, write and wear will affect how you appear to people and how they feel about you.  Prom is a major event in your life, and should be seen as an opportunity to make your debut as an adult rather than as your swan song as a wild and crazy kid.   For example, will you focus on the trendy, or will you zero in on style and class?  If the latter, read on!

The Dress

When selecting a gown, go for the sophisticated and elegant look rather than a skimpy number that is more appropriate to wear as a costume on Dancing with the Stars.  The former will allow you to present yourself as a savvy young woman instead of an adolescent playing dress-up.  Consider choosing a style that can be worn again, possibly to a college formal or black-tie affair down the road when you start your career.  Some of the best clothing items in a woman’s closet are those classic dresses, pants, suits and other outfits that are so well designed that they never go out of style.

Another reason to select your prom dress with care is due to the movement of many high schools across the country imposing prom dress codes to ensure that proper decorum is observed at this important occasion.   Showing too much leg, midriff or cleavage detracts from and muddies the image you should be trying to create, that of a woman who is attractive, classy and chic.  Think Kate MiddletonSelena Gomez and Taylor Swift. 

Your dress should fit well and flatter your particular shape; so allow time for any alterations, if necessary.  Select the appropriate undergarments to achieve the most becoming look.  And, don’t forget the comfort factor.  To pull off the best overall look you must be comfortable; if your dress is too tight, doesn’t fit well or is complicated, you won’t be able to relax and enjoy the evening.


Shoes – Your shoes should also be comfortable, as you’ll be in them for quite a long time.  And, as this is a formal affair, closed-toe shoes are in order; reserve bare feet and sandals for the beach.  A lower heel will also save on foot strain; here’s an example of a reasonably-priced, lower-heeled pump, but there are many terrific styles that are chic and well-priced.

Legwear – Along with your shoes you should wear beautiful ultra sheer pantyhose; these will not only smooth your curves and provide a foundation for your dress, but will provide a beautiful look and comfort to your feet.  You don’t want sweaty, odorous bare feet inside your gorgeous prom shoes.  No matter how attractive your bare legs and feet are, they are out of place at a formal affair; save them for the beach.

Evening Bag – Your bag should be dressy and just large enough to carry your evening’s necessities:

  • Mad money
  • Cell Phone
  • House key
  • Tickets (for Prom or after-Prom activities, if you are the designated ticket-keeper)
  • Makeup for touch ups (lipstick, mascara, eye shadow)
  • Items for hair touchups (comb, pick, pins, etc.)
  • Fragrance (small bottle for refreshers – it should be subtle; sample sizes are perfect)
  • Small deodorant (for refreshers)
  • Facial tissue
  • Clear nail polish (for repairs to nails, pantyhose)
  • Breath mints
  • Tampon or maxi pad (if necessary)


Your jewelry should complement, not compete with, your dress.  Subtly is the key.  If you have a dressy watch that goes with your gown, by all means wear it.  Alternatively, wear a delicate bracelet.  Earrings and a necklace (if the latter is appropriate with your dress) should complete the number of pieces you will wear, unless you plan to wear something jeweled in your hair.


Some Prom dresses come with matching coats, jackets or shawls.  If yours does not, select something complimentary and appropriate for your climate and time of year.  A large silk scarf can make a lovely evening wrap.

The Boutonniere

If you have a date for Prom, you’ll present him with a boutonniere in a color that matches or coordinates with your dress.  You should attach it to his tux or left jacket lapel.  The most common way is to use a florist’s pin; however, boutonniere is French for buttonhole, which is meant to hold the boutonniere.   Click on these two links to learn both methods; whichever method you decide to use, practice it before the big night!

General Prom Etiquette

Business etiquette and protocol dictate that men and women are treated equally; thus, opening doors, pulling out chairs, carrying packages and the like are shared equally.  However, social etiquette is a bit different, especially with regard to formal occasions such as weddings, black-tie dinners and proms:

  • Allow your escort to open doors for you, including car doors.  When a girl or woman is dressed up in a gown and high heels, she needs this service; expect this courtesy from your escort or the boys in your group, and be gracious.
  • A gentleman will offer his arm to a lady when walking down stairs, stepping off a curb, getting into a car or walking up steps; take his arm gratefully, smile and look into his eyes.
  • Wait for your date or one of the boys to pull out your chair; as you sit down and arrange yourself, he should help you push your chair up to the table.
  • Your date, or another boy, should help you off with your wrap and either check it or drape it over the back of your chair (taking care that it is not touching or dragging on the floor to become soiled or damaged, or trip another guest or waiter who is walking by).
  • Don’t ask your date or any boy in your group to carry your evening bag or to carry your belongings in their pockets.
  • Compliment your date, or any of those in your group, about any arrangements they made.  Keep complaints to a minimum; if there is a problem, let your date take care of it or discreetly find the person in charge and have a quiet word with him or her.
  • Avoid criticizing your date or anyone in your crowd, even if it’s deserved; this is an important evening; keep it light and pleasant and address any issues the next day or at some later time.
  • Don’t show possessiveness, verbally or physically; it’s unattractive and embarrassing.  Carry yourself with grace and confidence.  If a problem should occur where you need extraordinary assistance, place a hand gently on your escort’s shoulder or arm and explain the problem privately or in a low voice and request his assistance.
  • Whenever your date does something for you, thank him by saying so or simply smiling and touching his arm and making eye contact.  A boy likes to feel appreciated; doing so will encourage gentlemanly manners.

Table Manners – A Brief Primer

You’re wearing a gorgeous dress, your hair, makeup and nails are perfect and you’ve likely spent a good deal of time and money on the evening.  You should want to make this a positive and memorable event with your date and friends.  So far, so good; but now you’re at dinner.  You don’t want to be mistaken for a kid playing dress up but rather a young sophisticate who is attending a formal event and who knows what to do.  Thus, you should pay special attention to your table manners by observing the following tips and dining etiquette:

  • Napkin: Once you are seated, remove your napkin, open it gently (don’t shake it) so that it remains folded in half, and place it on your lap with the fold toward your waist.  Use it to blot your lips frequently during the meal and for nothing else.  If you must leave the table briefly, leave your napkin loosely folded with the soiled side in to the left of your plate; when you are finished dining, leave the napkin in the same manner to the right of your plate.
  • Dropped items: Should your napkin slip off your lap at any time during the meal, do not pick it up; simply ask the waiter when he or she returns to your table for another one.  Ditto for forks and other items that you might drop.
  • Bread Plate: If there is one, it will be located to your left; break off a bite-sized piece of your roll, butter it and eat it; repeat.  Don’t cut the roll or break off a large piece that you bite and return to the bread plate (no one wants to see your teeth marks).
  • Salad Plate:  This will be placed on the charger (decorative plate) for the first or second course; after which the charger will be removed for the main course.  The salad plate may also be placed to the left of your dinner plate.
  • Glassware:  This will be on your right of your plate.  If your water and beverage glasses have stems, hold them by the stem; if you are afraid that you will spill, hold the stem right under the bowl of the glass.  In doing so you will avoid placing your finger prints on the glassware.  Take sips; don’t drink or gulp your beverage.  If you don’t wish to drink anything, don’t turn your glass upside down; simply tell the waiter, politely, that you don’t wish anything, or just don’t drink what he or she pours.
  • Flatware: Select from the outside in; forks will be on the left and knives and spoons will be on the right of your plate.
  • Eating Styles:  There are two styles of eating with your flatware:

The American style: The fork is held in your left hand, tines down to hold your food while you cut it with the knife, which you hold in your right hand, index fingers extended; cut two or three pieces of food, lay down the knife at an angle on the upper right of your plate (blade in) and switch your fork to your right hand while turning the tines upward to spear each piece that you have cut and transport it to you mouth;  hold the fork as you would a pencil (never grasping the handle).  Rest your left hand in your lap.  Repeat.

The Continental style:  The fork is held in your left hand, tines down to hold the food, knife in your right hand – with thumb and fingers grasping the handles and your index finger over the tops; cut one piece of food and transfer it to your mouth with your fork; keep the tines turned down and do not switch hands.  Continue to hold your knife so it’s ready to cut the next piece.  Repeat.

  • Eating and Drinking:  Take small bites, don’t talk with your mouth full; swallow before talking or drinking.
  • Removing Items from Your Mouth:  If you must remove an item from your mouth – olive pit, gristle, etc. – remove it with your fingers and place them on the side of your plate, covering them with a lettuce leaf or something else on your plate; wipe your fingers on your napkin.  You may cup your other hand over your mouth while you are removing the item.  Do this quietly and do not draw attention to what you are doing.  Do not use your napkin to deposit the item!
  • Passing:  Don’t reach; ask to have items passed to you.  Don’t intercept items being passed to someone who has requested them. Pass the salt & pepper shakers together and place them on the table near the person who requested the salt, or both.  Dishes of food or baskets of bread are passed around the table to the right.
  • Wait Staff:  Treat your waiter and other members of the wait staff with the utmost respect.  Thank them when they serve you, and ask them politely when you need something.  Note that waiters will serve from your left and removedishes from the right.  The exception is when they serve and refill your beverage from the right.
  • Primping:  Never freshen makeup or fix hair or nails at the table; don’t even take out your mirror to check your face.  Excuse yourself and go to the aptly-named powder room to attend to these tasks.  Consider wearing smudge-proof lipstick or lipliner to avoid leaving unsightly lipstick smudges on your glass or napkin.

Same-Sex Prom Goers

Female same-sex couples should follow the same set of etiquette rules that opposite-sex couples follow.  If you are the one doing the asking, you should pay; moreover, you and your date should decide which expenses each should assume and which you will share.

If your date will be wearing a dress, but you prefer to wear a tux, you might select a classic tux with a cummerbund in a color that will match your date’s gown, and — instead of traditional boy’s shoes — pair it with high heels in the same color to add flare that will set you apart.

Alternatively, if you and your date both will be wearing dresses, you should coordinate to see that they complement each other, but do not necessarily match.  The challenge with both of you wearing dresses will be to ensure that you are able to get through doors, in and out of cars and up and down stairs smoothly.  Decide ahead of time who will open doors, pull out chairs and who will escort whom.  You will also need to determine whether you both will be wearing corsages and who will order them.  And, you should practice slow dancing together in your gowns to ensure a smooth presentation.  Aside from these issues, you should proceed as usual.

For more ideas on tuxes, as well as instructions on how to attach a corsage, check next Tuesday’s post

A Final Word

While you are honing your brand, please keep in mind that using Prom as a setting to indulge in drinking, drugs and sex is a bad idea.  It always was, but in our modern age any regrets you might have could haunt you forever, thanks to the Internet.  And, after all, you and your parents have spent a good deal of time and money on Prom; you owe it to yourself and to them to conduct yourself as someone who is looking forward to a bright future, rather than creating a past you’ll regret.

Follow these tips and guidelines throughout your Prom evening and you’ll set the stage for a night to remember with class and style.

Until next time,


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