School Formals: A History Lesson

Class is in session! And we're talking school formals! Whether you call it Prom or Formal, we can all agree its definitely a special moment in our lives! So lets learn some stuff, have some fun and get to it!

First things first, in countries like Australia, New Zealand and America, cultural traditions that are carried out by the majority generally come from the history of British society. While the origins of formal/prom culture go back further in different ways, they became largely popular in the 1800’s during what is known as the ‘Victorian’ era (this relates to the reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 through to her death in 1901).

It became a custom for families in ‘higher society’ to send their teenage daughters to finishing school. A finishing school was essentially a form of schooling young women attended to learn etiquette and teaching social graces. After finishing school had concluded and young women had learned to ‘talk, walk, behave and dance like a lady’ they would then be shown off in a presentation to the community as a whole in a special event called a ‘Debut’. A girl making her debut is also known as a debutant and these occasions became referred to as Debutant Balls or eventually prom and formal in varying incarnations. Prom coming from ‘Promenade’ which means “take a leisurely public walk, ride, or drive so as to meet or be seen by others” which pretty accurate describes debutants and formal occasions, which is where it became known as formal, especially in New Zealand and Australia.

Girls who were debutants, attending this formal event, would be accompanied by formally dressed boys who would wear tuxedos while they traditionally wore white bridal style gowns with long gloves that went past the elbow and often accentuated with accessories like tiaras and more.

Some may even refer to a debutant ball or formal ball as ‘Cotillion’ which was a French tradition where debutant girls would also perform a dance pattern as a group of 4 couples as part of a social dance.

As time has gone by, social norms have changed but some parts of the tradition have continued. For example, a formal still has the general theme of dancing and socialising, however it’s not seen as a ‘girls debut into society’ and it’s not just about boys accompanying girls and obviously a ‘finishing school’ isn’t a thing anymore.

Hopefully this blog has given you a bit more depth in the history of school formals ( I know it definitely has for me ) and as always, if we’ve left anything out, please let us know in the comment below or DM us on IG! 

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