Red Carpet Pandemonium: Have Prom Sendoffs Gotten Too Big?

By: Kiana Keys

Red carpets. Strobe lights. Custom backdrops. Photo-booths. Classify these descriptions under “things you may see at a star-studded movie premiere.” Right? But these are actual scenes that I’ve seen play out at prom sendoffs as I drove around my neighborhood this spring.

As a passerby in my car, I would almost crash trying to stretch my neck to see all the commotion clogging the street…. “what the hayle is going on over here?” I would quickly realize that the pomp and circumstance brouhaha was actually a gorgeous, made-for-TV teenage couple headed off to prom. The graceful pair making their way down fancy red carpets overlaying the sidewalk, as they wave to the crowd like Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan.


Now maybe just chalk it up to me being boring. Or quasi-old school (the 90s is officially old school now). But when I went to prom 20 years ago, my prom sendoff consisted of a cookie tray and punch in the fancy glass pitcher only used for guests. I came down the stairs, everyone clapped and awwwed, and my date drove us away as everyone dispersed. Nothing more to see here folks.

So what changed in the last 20 years? Am I missing something? How did proms become these fanciful, extravagant affairs?

Proms are really like junior weddings

I can’t be the only one noticing that prom sendoffs are morphing into junior weddings, complete with the budgets to prove it. Not only are many girls spending $1000+ on prom dresses (they are obviously not shopping in department stores), their families are fronting the bill on these glamorous presentations.

Some are complete with mailed invitations fancier than wedding invites, professional make-up artists (although I approve of a fabulously beat face myself), fully catered plated dinners, acclaimed photographers, flower arrangements and career wedding planners hired to organize the big day. My bad, this isn’t a wedding? Nope, it’s a high school prom!

Proms and the black community

In recent years, especially in the black community, prom sendoffs have become noticeably larger and more extravagant. For many black families, prom has grown into a well-known neighborhood tradition that honors the high school youth for making it through their teenage years and secondary education. It’s a rites of passage into adulthood, so to speak. Family, friends, and the community rally around to see the young couple off. Pull out the bells and whistles, it’s A. Big.Deal.

Some like it, some don’t.

But prom sendoffs aren’t the only things growing…. so are the debates about why this is happening and whether it’s a good thing. As prom season rolls around, posts stream in, and pics go viral of the most creative prom attire. I even saw a pic of kindergartners going to prom in adult attire that was… never mind, I digress.

Anyway, there is also an uptick on social media to debate if this trend is spiraling out of control. Some say it’s “tew murch,” others say it’s a beautiful thang!

But what, exactly, is the issue?

Opposers (many who are from yester-generations) feel that these extravagant displays of celebration are sending the wrong message to our teenagers. And that too much money and planning is being spent on an event that doesn’t contribute to the educational success of the youth. I’ve heard the argument, “I think parents should use this money for a graduation party instead.” Meaning, it’s the actual commencement and diploma that should be celebrated, not a spring dance.

Yet, many people support these fabulous send-offs and believe they are sending positive messages to the youth. They are celebrating because…..why not? Any positive reinforcement for teenagers to have old-fashioned fun is something to be supported. There are a whole group of folk out there who just want everyone to chill and to stop hating on all the fun.

Is it fair to hate? Because let’s be real…people have been celebrating teenagers since the beginning of time. No one complains about cotillions, quinceaneras, and Bar Mitzvahs happening across the country. And some of those events are deep in those pockets! The argument rests that prom sendoffs are an appropriate way to celebrate, be prideful and express gratitude for a high school education. The thought being “congrats, party, have fun!”

Join the debate

Either way, does it matter? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s an interesting debate nevertheless. What do you think?

Are you #teamtewmurch or #teambeautifulthang?