Hot prom tips from mid-'90s teen magazines


Corsages and boutonnieres, slow dances and spiked punch: Prom is as American as apple pie, if apple pie were a $4 billion industry.

To learn how this beloved (and equally loathed) chiffon-trimmed high school tradition has evolved over the years, we got our hands on the March 1995 (21 years ago!) prom issues of YM and ‘Teen—both publications, sadly, are now defunct—and excavated them with archaeological rigor.

In the timeless words of YM editor-in-chief Sally Lee: “We know that the prom is the biggest bash of the year, but we’re also clued in to the fact that it’s the cause of many mega-crises that freak you out all year long. Who should you go out with? What should you wear? Can you really afford to rent that stretch limo with the built-in Jacuzzi?”

Let’s find out. (Remember, if you encounter the 1995 version of yourself, you risk unraveling the space-time continuum. So, don’t.)

The Dress

Thigh slits and kitten heels are happening in a major way.

Think purple, the color of royalty, or black and white, the colors of royalty in a black-and-white movie.

Honorable mention: pinks and pearl chokers that are juuuust thick enough to constitute a serious safety hazard.

Pairing grunge details like a “flirty” denim vest or an enormous pair of black Doc Martens with your pouffy white skirt is highly recommended. This is the ’90s, after all. (Also, can we talk about the fact that the Sears junior department was called Mainframe, because hackers?)

Also a thing: dark jewel-tone velvet and metallics.

You could shy away from color altogether in a neutral dress with a striking texture, from the floral lace curtain you stole from your grandmother’s house to pleats (???*) to a full-on Renaissance Faire bodice.

When all else fails, dress like a bride—or, like the young lady pictured to the right (who definitely was not paid enough for this modeling job), a flapper bride. If you’re already springing for the wedding dress, you might as well save some cash and get married at prom.

The Hair

Opt for bouncy waves with the assistance of mousse and a curling iron, or gel your hair into submission, then ask a sailor friend to practice his or her extended repertoire of boating knots on your scalp.

Alternatively,  braid some stuff into your updo like a deranged bird weaving random, objectively inappropriate objects into its nest.

And of course, the nuclear option remains.

The Makeup

Soft, shimmery pastels are in, but eyeliner is strictly forbidden.

Keep your lips bright—it’s what science would want.

The Accessories

We’ll make this very easy. If less than 80% of the surface area of your body is covered in sparkling trinkets, climb out of the limo and go back home. You’re not ready for prom yet.

Like this young woman, you will need at least 10 pairs of shoes.

And, between you and your date, at least 1.5 bows per capita.


While we’re on the subject of your guy, he’s welcome to wear a T-shirt under his tuxedo jacket so long as you attach an entire package of bobby pins to your head.

By our count, that is 14 bobby pins.

Everything Else We Learned

In 1995, Jessica McClintock apparently decided its ads should cater to the oft-overlooked demographic of thirtysomethings going to prom for some reason. Chaperone chic!

In case you were wondering…

YM‘s prom sweepstakes promised the winner not only a free dress, but also colored contacts to match.

I’m sorry, but this “cologne” ad is actually about losing your virginity, right? That’s what’s happening here?

We also feel to compelled to inform you that, in the March ’95 issue of ‘Teen, there’s a short story about a high schooler working at a formalwear store whose ex-bf comes in to find a tux for prom.

This precious historical document contains the following line, which we can only take out of archival storage for a few minutes at a time, for fear that exposure to unfiltered air will cause it to deteriorate: “‘Oh, I’m shaking in my Doc Martens,’ Anne-Marie faked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.”

The Single Most Important Pre-Prom Takeaway

Pack plenty of film.


Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion’s Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.

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