Will You Go To Prom With Me?

Tina Lernø, Librarian, Digital Content Team,
Teens crowned prom king and queen, 1961
Senior prom king and queen, Grant High School in Van Nuys, 1961, Valley Times Collection

The prom in all its drama has been around a lot longer than I thought. Originating somewhere in the1870s as a college tradition called the Promenade, it was a debutante coming out kind of thing. The tradition extended to High School after the turn of the century where it has squarely sat as an end of the school year ritual for many a beleaguered student.

By the 1930s, the prom had become part of the vernacular, and by the 1950s, was safely ensconced as a tried and true rite-of-passage for every high school senior. During the 1960s and 1970s there was a backlash against the notion of prom most likely due to the political unrest during that time, but by the 1980s, the prom was back and bigger than ever. The prom was also a popular theme in movies with the original Carrie debuting in 1976. The notion of prom as a horror movie was something that many teens (and adults) could relate to! Many of the original prom horror movies have been remade for a new generation such as Carrie, 2014, and also Prom Night, 2008, and all the many sequels it spawned. Prom is also a popular coming of age theme, usually involving a makeover or a mean girl getting her comeuppance such as Pretty in Pink and She’s All That.

Of course, there are a ton of books written about prom. We've created a list of the best books about prom, including topics such as such as who asks who, getting there, losing it, and everything else you could think up like zombie prom and outer space prom. The library also has a vast collection of yearbooks from high schools all over Los Angeles through the ages in our Rare Books Room. You'll need to make an appointment to view.

There is also this horrible or amazing [depending on who you ask] thing called the Promposal. The term starts making its arrival somewhere around 2001, and by 2007 Facebook, Twitter and YouTube ushered in a whole new era of Promposals including the use of the portmanteau. So what is a Promposal? It’s really just an elaborate way of asking someone to prom and one-upping each other through your social media feed of choice. Some resist the urge and others feel compelled to make that grand gesture even asking out celebrities and professional athletes. I can’t imagine the pressure on students to create these memorable experiences before the pressure of having the actual prom night to remember. Incidentally, that was the theme of my prom: A Night to Remember, and it was held at the beautiful Westin Bonaventure Hotel just steps from the library. I get to gaze at it daily, lest I try to forget.

Libraries and proms also have a strong connection. Many libraries arrange prom dress giveaways or hold anti proms. Just last week ABC’s The Middle had a prom episode where the character of Brick eschews the actual prom for a quiet evening with his date in his favorite place to be: the library.

As May is traditionally the month for most proms to be held, some of us here at the Los Angeles Public Library have dredged up our own memories of prom night. Some relayed to me that they chose to avoid the whole thing and go with friends to Disneyland, or were too embarrassed by their younger awkward selves to share their pictures, but here is a smattering of brave souls including this librarian, who felt compelled to relive that Night to Remember!

Prom Pictures From Brave Library Staff

Prom Picture 1984

Tina Lerno on prom night at the Westin Bonaventure, Royal High School, 1984
Two teens posing for prom with balloons in the background
City Librarian John Szabo, on prom night with balloons

two teens posing for prom, 1970s

Mystery librarian on prom night. Can you guess the year?
Prom Photo 1994Lupie Leyva on prom night at the Queen Mary, Sacred Heart of Mary High School, 1991
Teens at prom 1983Mystery librarian on prom night, Linn-Mar High School, Marion, IA, 1983
two teens on prom night 1970sMystery librarian on prom night, Seattle, WA
formal prom portrait from prom 2000
Anna Avalos on prom night at the Queen Mary, Manual Arts High School, 2000
Winter Formal picture of two teens, 1994
Rudy Ruiz at the winter formal, Phineas Banning High School, Wilmington, CA, 1994
two teens at prom night, 1990Mystery librarian on prom night, Thousand Oaks High School, 1990
Two teens on prom night
Edwin Rodarte on prom night, Chaffey High School, Ontario CA, 2003
two teens on prom night, 1983Maria Novoa on prom night, Eagle Rock High School, 1983

Favorite Books About Prom

Book cover for Prom
Anderson, Laurie Halse.

Book cover for A Prom to Remember
A Prom to Remember
Hall, Sandy (Librarian),

Book cover for Deacon Locke Went to Prom
Deacon Locke Went to Prom
Katcher, Brian,

Book cover for It's Our Prom (So Deal With It)
It's Our Prom (So Deal With It)
Peters, Julie Anne.

Book cover for Promposal
Helms, Rhonda.