The word "prom" is thought to have come from "promenade," the grand march that opened a formal ball.
Author Sallie G. Randolph, in Putting on Perfect Proms, Programs, & Pageants (Franklin Watts, 1991) says that school proms evolved from debutante balls in which young women from prominent families were presented to society, and afternoon "tea dances" held at schools in the 1920s and '30s.
The term "prom" came into common usage in the 1940s, when the dances were moved to the evenings, Ms. Randolph writes. The event was usually held at the school.
Over the years, proms have become more formal, expensive, and elaborate. Today, prom usually includes an elegant dinner before the dance and a night of parties after it ends.
A prom trends report issued this spring by Westin Rinehart, a communications/marketing firm based in Washington, says that a majority of teen girls are spending over $250 on prom (dress, hair, makeup, etc.). Pollsters found 8 percent spending under $100; 23 percent spending between $100 and $250; 19 percent spending between $250 and $400, and 50 percent spending more than $400. The firm surveyed 121 teen girls, ages 15 to 18, from 14 states including Ohio and Michigan.