For some of us, high school prom is something we’ve decided to permanently erase from our memory; for others, the hideous dresses still hang in the closet and the cheesy photos rest on the mantel. Now as our own kids primp and prepare for the big night, we take a trip down memory lane. From pre-date nerves, to clandestine kissing, to ridiculously dated hairdos, we’ll relive it all! Here, some well-known New Yorkers tell us why, for better or worse, prom was a night to remember:
John Searles, Deputy Editor at Cosmopolitan magazine and best-selling author of Boy Still Missing and Strange But True, had too many prom dates, and now scary images of Tammy Faye Bakker haunt his memory. . .
“I made up my mind that I wasn't going to prom because I was kind of a dork in high school, but then oddly I became the "safety" guy and was suddenly asked by all these girls. Then, in a panic, I accidentally said ‘yes’ to two girls. One was a Norwegian foreign exchange student, and the other I had known for a long time. So I told the Norwegian girl I couldn't go. She was furious and refused to talk to me from then on. At my small school, prom was a big deal, so my date wore this elaborate peach, gunnysack dress with eggshell lace. I remember because I had to go get a white tuxedo with a peach bow tie. It was awful. When I saw her, she had gotten her makeup done at the mall, and I gasped. She looked like Tammy Faye Bakker! Although I told my parents we were just friends, they treated the night like it was our wedding, taking a million pictures. Then, to make matters worse, at the prom, my date informed me she would be meeting her boyfriend afterward.”
Maternity fashion designer and mother of two, Liz Lange went to high school on the Upper West Side and was a fashion queen even back then:
“I went to Trinity. Even though I had an on-and-off boyfriend throughout high school, my friends and I thought it would be so much fun if I went with the Italian sales guy from Benetton, whom we all had a crush on but barely knew. It was at the Copacabana nightclub. The whole evening for me was anti-climatic. It was just like going out any one night in New York. There was no corsage or being picked up. My friends and I went out every night anyway, going to private clubs and Studio 54, so we felt “too cool” for prom. We were all very jaded growing up in New York in the height of the ‘80s. We had seen it all, done it all. It was just something we had to do as a right of passage, not the highly anticipated event like in other parts of the country. I think I wore something strapless and poofy at the bottom, which was very popular back then.”
Karmine Alers plays Mimi Marquez in Broadway’s Rent. Born and raised in the New York area, she first lived in Spanish Harlem, then the Bronx and Manhattan. Starring in Rent for over four years, she was a recording artist before that. Even at her high school prom, she wanted to be the star of the show:
“Prom was a big deal in my high school where there were about 500 people in my class. I had my mother make my dress. It was something I saw in a magazine, and I knew we couldn’t afford it at the time, so since my mom is a really good seamstress, I asked her to make it. It was a princess cut with big poofy sleeves off the shoulder and an off-white color. I had my hair down, curly, and pinned up at the sides. Senior prom was the only dance I ever went to; it was the only one I was ever allowed to go to. It was a lot a fun, acting like a grown-up with your friends. But I had a fantasy about what prom is supposed to be like, and it didn’t really live up to that expectation. I pictured it would be a Cinderella-type ballroom, with someone greeting us as the door and a dramatic staircase. But this was more like, let’s just get dressed up and go to a club. The most exciting part was before the prom when my boyfriend came to pick me up and brought a corsage.”
Gorgeous and successful, best-selling author Adriana Trigiani has a sad prom story, in that she never went. Not once! She was never asked and never asked anyone. Instead, she babysat. Maybe some hunky former high schooler out there needs to change that. Know someone? Email firstname.lastname@example.org about why he would be her perfect date.
Hayley Podschun (below, in green dress) plays Tammy in Hairspray and is in the new Hairspray movie with Queen Latifah, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Amanda Bynes. She tells us about her picture-perfect prom in Kansas, the kind young girls only dream about:
“My senior year, in 2004, I had the perfect prom. I went with my boyfriend at the time of two months, which was really special. We rented a limo, and two of my best friends and their dates came with us. We went downtown and ate fondue at the Melting Pot. My dress was from a thrift store and was bright green like a peacock. It was so awesome and I only paid $40 for it. I plan to wear it to the Hairspray premiere party! We all danced a lot, and we just had a great time. The best part was the post-prom party. They set up activities in the gym with a magician, bike racing, blackjack and roulette. The parents came and acted as the dealers. And we stayed there until about 3 in the morning. Then, after the after-prom, my friends and I had a sleepover at my house, where we watched movies and made breakfast the next morning. It was so much fun. My boyfriend and I ended up dating for a year-and-a-half after that; we broke up because I joined the tour of Hairspray. He doesn’t talk to me anymore, but I would still love to be with him.”
Jane O'Connor: The best-selling author of the children’s picture book, Fancy Nancy, was on The New York Times bestseller list for more than 66 weeks, and recently Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy made #1 on the list. O’Connor was born and raised in New York City, and recalls a very suspenseful prom night:
My high school was so small that the prom was for the entire high school. I only had 36 in my graduating class. Prom was in the Plaza Hotel. In 10th grade, I was absolutely beside myself because I didn't have a date. I had said no to a boy in my class because it was not cool to go with a boy from your own grade. There was a guy whom I had met at summer camp, whom I hadn't heard from in months, but I decided he was the only person I could go with. I was so scared that I had a friend come over to hold my hand. And I threw up, which was my standard reaction in times of stress. But he did say yes! We had a great time. I thought this was the beginning of just a fabulous romance and then I never heard from him again. He was from White Plains, and a year older. I remember the room was terraced, the dance floor was in the middle, and there was an upper part with a balcony. I wore a short Lanz dress, which in the mid-‘60s was really special. I had an "artichoke" hairdo — it was short and layered and highly unflattering. We snuck upstairs to the third floor of the plaza, and I remember he kissed me in one of the conference rooms. I was positive this was my true love for always, and then...nothing. I even had a friend who was Catholic who went into a church afterward and lit a candle for me that he would call.
Jill Abramson: Jill is Jane O’Connor’s younger sister and currently the Managing Editor of The New York Times. Six years apart, they went to different high schools and had very different proms (or lack thereof):
I went to a progressive private high school during the Vietnam war protests, so we didn’t even have a prom. So, unfortunately, I didn’t get to have a hilariously awful dress. But therefore, as a parent, I threw myself into my kids’ proms with enthusiasm, and helped my son find a pink tuxedo on eBay. He even wore it to a dressy event I had to go to for The New York Times. There were beautiful women giving him thumbs up. With my daughter, I got totally into shopping for dresses, though, and was having a little bit of a vicarious experience because I never did it for myself. Although, even if we had a prom, I suspect I would have gone in blue jeans and a flannel shirt. That’s all I wore in those days. It was the early ‘70s. I do remember my sister’s, though, and having our photographs taken. She was more the ‘60s and beehives — and by my time it had become hippy days.
Joe Abraham: As a “swing” cast member of Hairspray, Abraham plays many parts. He has also toured nationally with Cats and Singin’ in the Rain. He remembers an old flame and what might have been…
I went to a high school south of Harrisburg, PA; prom was in 1996. I went with my girlfriend, but I didn’t label her as my girlfriend at the time, because I was a dumb guy and scared of commitment. I showed up in my mom’s Buick that I had washed and waxed in my tuxedo. We had a great time; we danced a lot, we jumped around a lot, we sang a lot. Everyone thought we were perfect together. I think about her from time to time and wonder what she’s doing. There was no baggage, no fights, nothing unpleasant to think about. If I had let myself, I would have really cared for her, but I was leaving for college and just didn’t think it would work. I still love her in that place, that special place. We went to post-prom as well, but we almost didn’t make it because we went back to my house briefly. Nothing happened, but it could have. I was pretty popular because I was the third of three boys who went through the same school, and we were all talkative and well known. I was an athlete and in drama, and music, so everyone knew me. I was cute (laughs).