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How our grandmothers used to dress for proms vs. prom dresses we wear today

Proms are important social events in the life of every teenager. At proms, you can get to dress up in beautiful gowns that make you feel like a real woman and have the chance to dance with that classmate you secretly have a crush on. And, who knows, you can even get to be elected Prom Queen!

Although this tradition goes way back in history, proms are still popular amongst high school students all over the world. In theory, they are semi-formal gatherings where teenagers meet to mingle, dance and celebrate the last year of high school. Boys dress in formal suits with ties or bow ties, black, white or in colours matching their date’s dress. Girls wear evening gowns and, traditionally, a corsage received as a gift from their date, while boys wear matching boutonnières on their lapels.

Our grandparents surely had to follow this formal dress code, but these days rules are flexible and adaptable. As fashion tends to be more and more contrasting and nonconformist, the matching colours, corsage and boutonnière requirements are optional, and while boys still dress in formal attire, girls are not bound to follow the evening dresses style our grandmothers used to display at proms. Cocktail gowns, even mini and tight-fitting dresses are suitable from proms nowadays, as long as the whole appearance remains classy and elegant.

Simply put, back in those days, prom dresses were formal and fashionably elegant, while these days they are more bold and sexy than elegant, but still stylish and respectable, without any tacky vibe. Even in the heyday of the mini-skirt, during the ’60s and ’70s, wearing short dresses at proms was inappropriate. The retro prom dress ended at least below the knee, the heels were dignified and gloves were popular accessories for prom outfits.

The modern prom dress, on the other hand, can go from classic gowns such as mermaid style and empire waist dresses, to the sensual and trendy bodycon dress. Bright colours, silver and gold are appropriate for proms, while the most popular accessories are stilettos or strappy sandals, statement jewerelly and metallic clutches or satin small purses.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular dresses and see which ones are still suitable for proms and which ones should remain in our grandmother’s wardrobe.

Empire dress – then & now

It seems like empire dresses never go out of fashion! They were fashionable for our grandmothers, they are for us too. Their feminine and romantic allure helps accentuate the bust and lengthen the body’s appearance. They look great with pumps or high heels and statement jewellery such as long necklaces, dangly earrings or thick bracelets.

Mermaid dress and baby dolls – now

Tight-fitted to the bust, waist and hips, the mermaid dress is bold and ultra sensual, not something one would wear at a ’50s prom, but definitely a “hit” for these days’ weddings and proms. This is the dress to wear if you want to dazzle everybody with your killer curves and glamourous sense of style!

Baby doll dresses, on the other hand, are romantic and flowy, but they end above the knee, therefore reveal too much skin for the strict and formal dress code women needed to respect at proms in the past. But one can definitely wear baby doll dresses now, especially since their shape and cut are very flattering, creating the illusion of more fullness and curves.

Strapless dress – then & now

This is another type of dress that never goes out of style. Very popular amongst old Hollywood actresses, the strapless dress is still the perfect gown to wear at evening and formal events. Revealing the neck, collarbone and shoulders, and fitted from the bust to the waist, this dress can flatter all body shapes. If it’s long, it creates a glamourous lean look; if short, it’s sweet and feminine. Either way, the strapless dress was and still is suitable for proms.

salmon pink strapless dres

Princess dress – then

This A-line dress with a cloche folded skirt is very popular amongst brides, but seems a little over-the-top to be worn at modern proms. It’s voluminous and difficult to handle, so one cannot move around too easily, not to mention dance, when wearing a princess dress. But chances are Prom Queens in the ’50s or ’60s wore this kind of classy elegant dress (probably paired with stylish opera gloves).

Bodycon dress – definitely now

A figure hugging and above the knee-length dress is something our grandmothers could not conceive to wear at their prom. But these days the bodycon dress is one of the most popular choices when it comes to sensual and feminine outfits, even for more formal events such as proms and weddings. Of course, one should have a killer body with perfect curves in order to pull off this audacious look. Paired with high heels, statement clutch and metallic jewellery, the bodycon dress will always make a bold statement of body confidence and self-esteem.


Alina, Romanian fashion contributor and creator, always connected to the latest fashion runway trends and in love with the modern elegance and versatility of Molly Dress collections.

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