Prom Planning & Protocol – Part 3: Guys’ Guide


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

For a guy on the brink of adulthood, prom can be an excellent showcase for your adult behavior.  It’s a time to demonstrate your sophistication, savvy and character, and an opportunity to impress your parents, teachers, classmates and especially that special person in your life with your social skills.

Invitation Etiquette and Commitment

Your preparations for prom begin with your asking someone, being asked or making plans with friends. Although it’s acceptable for girls to invite boys, tradition favors the boy-ask-girl model.  However, modern customs also allow for a group of friends to go together to prom, with no dates designated.  Whatever you decide, show consideration of others’ feelings.  Whoever you wish to ask, do it as early as possible.  If she accepts, understand that you are committed to that date.  You are also committed to the date if someone invites you and you accept, you are committed to that date.  It’s a serious breach of etiquette to break a date in order to ask – or accept an invitation from — someone else.

So, what happens if the person you have asked to prom breaks the date?

Your date calls in sick.  If your date’s illness is contagious, preventing you from being with her, it’s acceptable to attend prom with a group of friends with her blessing – which you will request — but not with another date; further, you should avoid pairing up romantically with someone else at prom.

Your date has had an accident.  If your date is laid up or is ill with a non-contagious ailment, you should consider her feelings, do the honorable thing and keep her company on prom night, if she is feeling up to it.  If you have already paid for your suit or tux rental, consider dressing up, bringing her a corsage, ordering take out, renting some movies and having a cozy celebration for two.  You might even wish to connect briefly with your friends at prom via Skype.  Whatever you do under these circumstances, demonstrate kindness and concern for your date.

Your date has canceled for an unacceptable reason.  If your date cancels at any point for a less-than-honorable reason, feel free to attend prom with your friends, or ask someone else — with an apology and explanation for the lateness of the invitation.  If you feel more comfortable ask a good friend who attends your school or another school that does not have its prom on the same night.

Conversely, you should not cancel a prom date unless you are medically or physically unable to attend, such as illness, an accident or a family emergency.

Your Tux

With many high schools imposing a dress code that sets a level of formality for guy-wear, as well as running the risk of showing up in a bow tie when everyone else is wearing a regular tie, when selecting a tux consult with your date, buddies, parents and prom committee to determine the style, rules and trends for your particular event.

If you have the leeway and you’re a confident individualist who can pull off a different look, there are alternatives to the traditional tux, such as the black velvet jacket; check out Justin’s Bieber’s formal look, for example.   But keep in mind that there are few more powerful looks for a man than a classic tuxedo.

Once you’ve decided on the look you want — and can afford — get fitted and purchase or order your rental tux as early as possible, including your all the accessories.  Below is a tux checklist to discuss with the store attendant who assists you; the checklist is based on a black tux, but your tux can be black, white, brown, etc.  I would advise black, but it’s your decision; whichever color you select, ensure that your accessories match and coordinate appropriately.

  • Jacket is usually a classic single-breasted, satin / notch lapels or cutaway jacket.
  • Buttonhole should be checked to see if it’s open to hold the boutonniere.  There should be a thread behind the lapel to anchor the boutonniere; if not and the tailor cannot sew one on, your date will have the option of using a pin; there are two schools of thought regarding which is the better way to attach your boutonniere.  If you are part of a same-sex couple who will both be wearing tuxedos, you should attach each other’s boutonnieres (check out last week’s post for instructions on how to attach a boutonniere). 
  • Pants (not cuffed) should have satin or braided stripes on the outside of each leg.
  • Shirtstyles are wing, laydown or mandarin collar.
  • The cummerbund is the most common accessory to the tux, followed by the vest, but there is a trend toward eliminating both for a modern, uncluttered look.
  • Shoes – While the black patent leather is theclassic shoe, it is worn only with a very formal tuxedo;   however, for prom regular lace-up plain leather oxfords that are polished to a high shine are acceptable.  Avoid the trend of wearing athletic shoes with a tux; it’s an adolescent look.
  • Socks should be black, of good quality, cover your calf and be comfortable.
  • Jewelry should be limited to your watch (which should be dressy enough to compliment, not clash with, your tux), a ring or two and perhaps a bracelet.  If you wear an earring, I recommend you limit it to one and keep it simple and elegant and non-dangling.
  • Overcoat – If your prom is held in early spring or in a cool climate, you’ll want to wear a knee-length wool black dress coat (this is a good investment for the future).


A shave (or trimmed facial hair) and a haircut are the minimum requirements.  Guys also need clean, short and buffed nails, a shower, deodorant, clean teeth and fresh breath before donning that tux

Emergency and Other Items

Guys in tuxedos need to use the available pockets to stow their items for the evening.  To avoid ruining your sleek silhouette, plan carefully.  And, remember that if you wear the cummerbund the pleats should face up, as traditionally they have been used to hold tickets.  You should carry the following items to prom:

  • Mad money (folded bills, no change)
  • ID
  • Prom tickets (check that you have these before walking out the door.
  • Cell Phone
  • Credit card (to pay for dinner, if necessary; if you are splitting the bill you can collect from you date or friends later, but it’s smoother if one person pays with a card.
  • House / car keys (remove  these keys from a bulky key chain for the evening)
  • Tickets (for Prom or after-Prom activities, if you are the designated ticket-keeper)
  • comb
  • Deodorant wipes (LaFresh makes these in travel packs)
  • Facial tissue or handkerchief
  • Breath mints


The safest and most enjoyable arrangement is to rent a limousine that you share with friends.   Sharing the cost with others will make this option more affordable.  As there will be many other prom-goers on the road, this ride will make you and your parents more comfortable, and allow you to party with your friends rather than fighting the traffic and finding parking.

The Corsage

After learning the color of your date’s dress and what type of flowers she would like in her corsage, as well as the style (shoulder, waist, wrist or armband), place an order with the florist two weeks in advance.  On the big day, place the corsage in your refrigerator until you are ready to meet your date.  When you present the corsage, open the box, remove the corsage and attach it yourself.  Check out these instructions; if you’re nervous about this ritual, practice first with your mom, sister or a friend.  Try not to cop out on this because it will really impress your date if you do this yourself, rather than making her do it or, worse, her mother.  As a last resort, her father should do it; if you are well acquainted with your date’s parents, arrange a corsage contingency plan with them.  Now, if you want to knock the socks off her parents, as well, show up with a small bouquet for her mom.  This applies to same-sex couples, as well, of either gender.  So practice!

General Prom Etiquette (Check last week’s post for additional tips)

As I mentioned in last week’s entry, 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 different, especially with regard to formal occasions such as weddings, black-tie dinners and proms:

  • Open doors for your date, including car doors.  When a girl or woman is dressed up in a gown and high heels, she needs and expects this level of service from her escort – don’t disappoint her.
  • Offer your bended arm to her when walking up or down stairs, stepping off a curb, getting into a car or walking up steps; as you do, smile at her and look into her eyes.  These acts will do wonders for your relationship!
  • As you open the car, or limousine, door for her, take her hand and help her into the car, gathering any part of her gown that is trailing and tucking it into the car.  Wait patiently until she, and her gown, head arms, evening bag, etc., are safely and comfortably settled in her seat before closing the door.  Don’t forget to look directly at her before you close the door.  This attentiveness will make you an exemplary date.
  • Help your date remove her wrap and either check it (if that’s what everyone is doing) or drape it over the back of her 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).
  • At the dining table, pull out your date’s chair; once she is seated in the chair, help her to push the chair up to the table.  If you see another girl standing nearby whose chair has not been pulled out for her, help he as well.   Your points will be racking up on the “Exquisitely Cool-O-Meter).
  • Your date should not ask you to carry her items in your pockets; if she does and it’s easy and possible, agree with good humor; however, if adding another item to your pocket is going to make them bulky, kindly tell her that you have no room.  This is something that you and your date should discuss beforehand.
  • Compliment your date, or any of those in your group, about any arrangements she or they have made.  Keep complaints to a minimum; if there is a problem, make light of it and vow to address it later.  Keep things light and pleasant.
  • Avoid criticizing your date or anyone in your crowd, even if it’s deserved; this is an important evening and you want to keep things pleasant for yourself and everyone else.
  • 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 date’s shoulder or arm and explain the problem privately or in a low voice.
  • Whenever your date does something for you, thank her by saying so or simply smiling and making eye contact.  A girl likes to feel appreciated, and will appreciate your attentiveness, manners and gallantry.

Table Manners – A Brief Primer

You’re wearing your expensive rented (or owned) tux; you’re well groomed and likely have spent a good deal of time and money on the evening.  You 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 savvy guy who is attending a formal event and knows what to do.  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:

One is the American style, in which the fork is held in the 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; you’ll cut two or three pieces of food, rest 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; you’ll hold the fork as you would a pencil (never grasping the handle).  Rest your left hand in your lap.  Repeat.

The other is the Continental style, in which you hold your fork 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; do not turn the tines up and do not switch hands.  You may continue to hold your knife so it’s ready to cut the next piece.  Repeat.

  • Eating and Drinking:  Take small bites and 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.  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, but you may use your napkin in your other hand to cover your mouth while removing the item.
  • Passing:  Don’t reach, but asked 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 by the person who requested the salt, or both.  Routinely pass dishes to the right.
  • Wait Staff:  Treat your waiter and other members of the waitstaff with respect.  Thank them when they serve you; signal them silently by raising your index finger, and ask them politely when you need something.  Note that waiters will serve from your left and remove dishes from the right.  The exception is when they serve and refill your beverage from the right.
  • Texting or making or taking a phone call:  This is a major breach of etiquette; you are expected to pay full attention to your date and other companions for the evening.  Tuck your phone away and use it to make or take necessary or emergency calls only.  When you step away to the men’s room or other more private area, check for messages in case your parents have called or there is another important call.
  • Paying the Dinner Bill:   If you are dining at a restaurant before prom, arrange in advance who will take care of the bill (I’m not talking about who will ultimately pay for it, but rather who will be physically handling the payment of the check at dinner).   If it’s you, let the waiter know beforehand that you will be paying so he or she knows to hand you the bill.   If it’s just you and your date, you may pay at the table (be sure to add a 20% tip); if you are putting the dinner expense for a table full of friends on your – or your parents’ card, step away from the table and take care of the bill with the waiter quietly.

Same-Sex Couples

Same-sex couples should follow similar etiquette rules as opposite-sex couples, that is follow the dress codes and proceed with good taste, observe the rules of etiquette and conduct yourselves with dignity.  If you are the one doing the asking, you should pay; and you and your date should decide which expenses each should assume and which you will share.  Whether you will open doors and pull out chairs for each other are options that depend on your relationship; decide how you will handle these niceties and then proceed with whatever makes you comfortable.

One Last Piece of Advice

Be aware that anything you do in public – or even in supposed private – could and likely will end up on the Internet either in words or photos; if it does it will be there forever for college admissions officers, future employers, future in-laws, your parents, teachers, friends, neighbors, relatives and the world to see.  Even worse, the wrong activities could kill you; car crashes are the number one killer of teenagers, so don’t drink — or text — and drive.  Moreover, Prom is not an excuse for sexcapades or drug fests.  Behaving maturely and intelligently will allow you to look back on your prom not with bitter regrets but with fond memories.  

Until next time,


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