What a difference a decade makes!
Ten years ago, school-leavers in the UK would do just that - leave school. Despite it being accepted that American kids of the same age would partake in a nerve-wracking ritual known as "the Prom" with all sorts of archaic attributes such as the boy bringing the girl a corsage to wear and the girl's parents greeting said boy rather stiffly at the door as they handed over their Cinderella to be driven off in his "chariot", British kids didn't have any of this. They avoided the nerves and tension in the build-up as to who would go with who – and all of the other Prom rituals seen on movies and television. UK pupils weren't even familiar with "High School" so never formed a committee to create a yearbook from the experience. But all of this has now changed. The "Prom" is now as much a feature of the UK summer calendar as it has ever been in the US.
An industry of its own
In fact, rather like the onset of the whole "Gap Year" ethos a few years earlier, the "Prom" is now a huge and growing field of commerce – and a lucrative one at that. The onus on "Prom" goers is to be seen as lavishly extravagant - not just in the venue but in the entertainment and specifically in how the kids get turned out and how they will arrive. It is not uncommon for girls to spend up to £1,000 on their dream dress, while boys on average spend around £400 for the hire of their black tie and tux. Pulling up in a limo is so "old-school" now that helicopters are even seen landing on school fields all over England, not to mention all vehicle types from rickshaws to Rolls-Royces. Spray-tan salons, manicurists, florists and dress shops are all seeing a big boom in business around June and July. Indulgent parents are honouring the occasion by throwing pre-drinks or after-parties as well. The build-up is not unlike the Oscars!
Americanisation of culture
How this came about is a bit of a mystery - a little like the onset of Halloween, which used to be a few bobbing apples and a penny-for-the-guy but which is now a full-on annual costume party. But like it or not, the "Prom" is here to stay and for many teenagers it is the most important rite of passage in their young lives. Influenced, no doubt, by such cult TV as "My Sweet Sixteen" every girl wants to unleash her inner High Maintenance Princess and strut it in designer heels. And the boys, well, maybe they still want what they always did, a chance to get off with the girl they really fancy! In fact, more than 85% of schools in England now hold school proms.
With the chances for significant celebrations all too few and far between, it is good to see the emergence of a new and charming tradition on our shores. Seeing the girls arrive in their gorgeous prom dresses, the excitement on all the young faces after months of planning and the real feeling of a new beginning in the air, is a welcome addition to the academic calendar.