05/15/2013 07:53 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Past Proms: 5 Reasons Our Big Dances Were Better

Courtesy of Bonnie Zukofski Delaney

Proms have been the pinnacle social event of high school for as long as dinosaurs roamed the Earth. We here on Huff/Post50 have observed them from both the vantage points of having gone to our own and sending our teenagers off to them dressed in all their finery. Our conclusion: The proms of yore were better.

Here's why:

1. The backseat of a 1958 Chevy Impala provided far more necking room than the backseat of a Prius, therefore nobody needed hotel rooms.

Pulitizer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal auto writer Dan Neil, aka Mr. Rumble Seat, says the old Chrysler Imperial was "practically designed for shacking up," making for another ideal prom night vehicle. He tells us that he personally drove a green '76 AMC Pacer with Navajo blanket upholstery, adding "Those were some groovy days." Indeed.

We're not sure what kind of car Paul Evans and The Curls' were singing about in their 1959 Top 10 hit "Sitting In The Back Seat" ("huggin' and a-kissing with Fred," but by our count the lyrics suggest there were eight of them going at it in the rear seat.

Back seats were a staple ingredient of a successful prom night. You were already feeling emotional about saying goodbye to your long-time school mates and the sense of drama that you would all be scattering to the winds in a matter of weeks was pervasive. The back seat was it -- the place where you went from second base to third in the 1950s and dove for home runs in the 1960s.

Now? Kids have been hitting them out of the ballpark at much earlier ages. It's become commonplace for parents to rent their kids hotel rooms for prom night, with the reasoning that "this is safer than driving home." While there is some logic to the thinking, can't we just spit out what we all know? Sure, teen traffic deaths are higher during prom weekend, like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says, but this is really about making it more convenient for our teenagers to have sex, isn't it?

2. Corsages had actual fragrance.
Yes, children, roses once had a beautiful perfume smell to them. Now, well, they just look nice. I know better than to ask a Master Rosarian "when did roses stop smelling?" The bottom line from a post by Steve Jones, who holds that title with the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society in California is this: People have been complaining about roses' lack of fragrance for about a century. I actually didn't think I was that old.

The wrist corsage I wore on prom night contained my favorite lilacs and filled the evening with the loveliest of sweet smells. Even today, I think of my prom when I smell lilacs. Unfortunately, for the same reason I also can't walk past the English Leather display in the drugstore without gagging; my prom date bathed in it.

3. Proms were the bow and ribbon on the package of our high school graduation.
Proms of yore weren't just another event on the school social calendar, squeezed in between finals and graduation. They were the event. Proms spoke to the closure of our carefree lives as teenagers and the start of what was regarded as the serious pursuit of our higher education. We were going to universities. We were young adults now.

Prom night demanded that we don our finery and we display our best "adult" manners. The "men" came to our front doors all tuxedo-ed up and rang the bell nervously. Our dads opened the door while our moms rushed to make sure there was enough film in the camera. And we princesses descended the flight of stairs like the royalty we felt we were.

I thought the real-est photo that captured the night was of my date shaking hands with my father. Years later when I found it, I thought how old my Dad looked compared to the young "man" he was entrusting his daughter's care to for the evening.

4. Proms meant dancing, not driving around in a rented limo drinking booze.
We had live bands who played sets and the only time anyone sat at the table was when the band took a break. We danced fast dances with our girlfriends while the guys sipped Cokes and watched us twirl; occasionally one of them would venture onto the dance floor hoping he didn't look foolish doing the Lindy. But come slow dances and you rushed off the floor to find the guy who brought you because dancing with someone else cheek-to-cheek would be impolite.

Nobody came in a limo. Nobody left in a limo. Guys borrowed the keys to their dad's car and drove it super slow and carefully. In some cases, parents drove kids to the prom. Limos? Limos were for movie stars, not high school kids.

As for drinking? Well, I came of age when weed did. But the Young Republicans among us carried on the tradition of stashing a six-pack in the trunk for the post-prom make-out session in the backseat.

5. Prom night had a curfew and it wasn't 10 a.m. the next morning.
Call it parents' last stand, or call it kids actually liking boundaries. Mostly, call it keeping a lid on things. With the ink on our college acceptance letters still wet, nobody really wanted to see a celebratory night get out of hand. It was the "just one mistake and your life could be ruined" era. Having a curfew of midnight meant anxious parents weren't phoning hospitals and police stations at 4 a.m. On my prom night, we changed into our bell-bottoms and drove down to the Jersey Shore where we Bohemians all got espressos at the Inkwell CoffeeHouse in Long Branch and heard some bad poetry being read. And yes, we were home by curfew.



Proms Past