Prom Etiquette Advice for a Great Evening

Detail of a woman pinning a corsage to a jacket lapel, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Tobias Titz / Getty Images

The prom is something many teenagers look forward to every year. Although some high schools have opted out of this event, many of them still consider it part of their tradition. If you decide to attend, there are some things you can do to make it a fun experience that will leave you with positive memories for many years.

High school proms have changed over the years. No one has to worry about whether or not they'll be invited to the prom. If you want to go, it's your decision to make. And you now have a choice of going with a date, with friends, or even by yourself.

Also long gone are the throw-back formal dances where boys picked up their dates in the family car and presented her with a corsage that her mother had to help with. There are now quite a few prom variations, but it's still important to remember that you still need to follow some time-tested school formal etiquette guidelines.

In the past, there were different rules for girls and boys, but that's changed too. The same etiquette rules and guidelines apply to both. The main thing to remember is to treat others with respect, follow through with the plans you agree to without flaking out on your friends, and follow the rules set forth by the host school.


Although many high schools have held onto the tradition of hosting a prom during the school year, these events have changed a tad from decades ago when girls waited for boys to invite them and cried when no one called. Now anyone who wants to attend this high school dance can—with or without a date.

Going With a Date

That said, it's still fine to go with a date, but it isn't completely up to the boy to do all the asking. There is nothing wrong with the girl choosing who she wants to go with. Whether the girl or boy decides to go with a date, go with a group of friends, or go alone, there are certain etiquette rules that should be followed in order to have the best time and not infringe on the fun of others.

Good Manners Make Good Memories

While it's wonderful to be in the moment, don't forget that you're making lasting memories. Remember that this night can be magical in a good way as long as you don't do something to embarrass yourself and your friends. Here are some general prom manners guidelines and tips to ensure more good memories than bad ones:

  1. Be respectful of the invitation. When someone invites you to go to the prom, either accept or gracefully decline. Remember that rejection is painful, so let the other person down easily and with a smile. You can say that you already have plans for prom or that you're unable to attend.
  2. Know in advance who pays. Each person should pay for his or her own clothing and accessories. If you're going with a group, you may want to share expenses for a limo (including the tip). If you have a date, be clear with expectations from the beginning. Due to the high price of everything, it's not out of line for each person to pay his or her own way.
  3. Wear flowers. Girls still wear corsages and boys wear boutonnières. If you have a date, it's nice to purchase flowers for the other person. If you go alone or with a group don't hesitate to get your own flowers to go with your outfit.
  4. Dress appropriately. This may be a formal affair, but don't forget that it's still a high school dance. Girls, be youthful and flirty but don't show too much cleavage or leg. Guys, if you don't have a tux (and most of you don't), rent one at a reputable place where they can advise you on what looks best.
  5. Indulge the parents. Mom and Dad may want to greet your date or friends at the door. Let them. And when they whip out the camera, put on your best smile and say, "Cheese."
  6. Don't keep others waiting. Being fashionably late is very much out of style and shows a lack of respect for others. Be on time for your date or group of friends.
  7. Use proper cell phone manners. Be in the moment and enjoy the special night without constantly calling, texting, or checking messages on your cell phone.
  8. Mind your manners. Good manners will always be in style. During prom night, being on your best behavior will help you make memories you'll want to share for years to come. Acting disrespectful will do the opposite and give you a reputation that you'll never be able to live down.
  9. Dine with grace. Learn proper table manners before the special night and practice them until they come naturally.
  10. Follow proper dancing etiquette. If you don't have a date, you may dance the night away with anyone you want. If you do have a date, don't forget who you're with. You may still dance with other people, but discuss it with your date and make sure he or she doesn't mind. You may want to suggest finding another couple and swapping partners for one dance. That way your date won't be left on the sidelines watching.
  11. Be respectful while taking pictures. Take as many snapshots and selfies as you want, but never catch someone in an embarrassing situation, thinking it will make a great post on social media. Everyone wants to look good at prom.
  12. All good things must end. As you leave the prom, thank the organizers, hosts, and chaperones for their time and hard work. Respect the curfews of your date or friends you came with and make sure everyone gets home when they're supposed to.

Prom Memories

As you have fun at your prom, don't forget that you're making memories. Using alcohol and doing anything else that can lower your inhibitions will do the opposite. You'll have a much better experience and avoid cringeworthy moments if you follow the rules, enjoy your friends, and dance the night away.