How to Get a Prom Date (and Other Important Matters of School Dance Etiquette)

A podcast from Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of How Rude!® The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out.

First in a monthly series of podcasts from Free Spirit Publishing.

With prom season just around the corner, teens across the nation are totally freaking out! How does one go about asking someone on a date? Is the asker supposed to pay for everything? And what are those fancy flowers that people keep mentioning?! Etiquette expert Alex Packer is here to calm your qualms so you can prom with aplomb.


Podcast transcription:
Are you wondering if all the fuss over prom is really worth it? While that’s an individual choice, I’m generally in favor of attending super fun parties, especially when none of the usual prom dilemmas are as difficult as they seem.

A prime example lies in finding a prom date. When working up the courage to ask someone out, remember that before you plant, you must prepare the soil. Similar groundwork must be undertaken before asking someone for a date. Here are some tips that will increase your chances of success:

1. Get to know the person first. Invitations out of the blue are usually rejected because most of us are taught never to go anywhere with strangers. So take the time and make the effort to learn about the other person—and give him or her a chance to learn something about you. Talk in class (but not during class). Sit together at lunch. Hang out in the same group(s). See if you have things in common and if you enjoy each other’s company. If all systems are go . . .

Prom couple vector free images public domain2. Ask early, but not too early.
Give the person advance notice—at least a month, maybe longer if prom is a big production in your town. If you’re not sure about timing, issue the invitation when your school announces that prom tickets are going on sale soon. This allows plenty of time for your date to check with parents, earn some extra money, reschedule an appointment, decide what to wear, and, of course, look forward to being with you.

Last-minute invitations are likely to be rejected. Either the person has other plans, or the person doesn’t have other plans and wants to hide the fact, or the person assumes (rightly or wrongly) that you couldn’t get anyone else to go.

3. Choose the right moment. You know how important timing is when asking your parents for permission to do something. The same holds true for asking someone out on a date. You don’t want to pop the question if your intended is upset, distracted, surrounded by other people, or rushing madly to class. Wait for a calm, private moment.

4. Do the asking yourself. Obviously, rejection is easier to take if it comes secondhand. If you don’t do the actual inviting, you have what’s known as plausible deniability. When the rumors of your rejection start to fly, you can say “What do you mean? I never asked him out.” Despite this advantage, using friends as proxies can backfire for three reasons:

  • Secondhand invitations make you look like a wuss.
  • Secondhand invitations promote miscommunication.
  • Secondhand invitations encourage gossip and rumors.

So resist the temptation to use friends as social secretaries. Issue your invitations face-to-face, phone-to-phone, text-to-text, or in writing.

If your invitation is accepted, fantastic! If not, don’t take it personally. Consider asking someone else. Even if you just go with a friend, prom is a teenage rite-of-passage and you’ll be glad you went.

Once you find a date for the dance, it’s time to hash out the details.

CA Ballroom 029free clip art public domainBe up-front about money. Prom can be pretty expensive. Let’s say you want to invite someone out but you don’t have enough moola. Should you forget about asking? Or, you’ve been invited, but buying a new dress or renting a tux costs too much for you. Don’t let money keep you from extending or accepting invitations. It’s normal for teenagers to be flush one week and broke the next.

If you’re doing the inviting, you can signal your intentions with certain words and phrases. For example, if you plan on paying, you can say things like, “My treat,” “Would you be my guest for . . . ?”, or “I just got my birthday money, and I’d love to take you to . . .”

If you don’t have the bucks to pay for everything, you can mention that you’ll have to “go Dutch,” which means each person pays his or her way. You might say something like “I can cover the tickets if you want to spring for dinner.”

If you’re on the receiving end of the invitation, don’t be embarrassed about raising the question of who pays. If money isn’t an issue, you can just bring some to cover your expenses should the need arise. If it is an issue, say “I’d love to go, but I’m short on funds right now.” That will get things out into the open, and you can figure out a solution that will work for you and your date.

If possible, should you spring for extras like a limo or a corsage?

Here, too, it’s a personal choice, but limos cost a lot of money when you aren’t going to be spending much of the evening in a car.

dance_clipart_couple public domainAs for purchasing a corsage, you certainly don’t “have to” partake in this prom tradition. You’re perfectly free to bring your date unadorned. Let her look like a patch of crabgrass while the other girls burst forth in the blossoms of spring.

If, however, you wish your relationship to flower, a corsage is just what the gardener ordered. Before the dance, ask your date the color of her dress so you can order one that matches. If she’s wearing a plaid dress, you won’t want to bring a polka-dot corsage.

“But,” you say, “won’t knowing about the corsage ahead of time spoil the surprise?”

No. Tradition demands that the young lady act surprised when she receives it.

Some girls—perhaps those who don’t like mutilating their dresses—prefer to receive a wristlet (a corsage worn around the wrist like a bracelet) or a nosegay (a little bouquet of flowers meant to be carried). If you want to know which your date prefers, ask.

Your date may present you with a boutonniere—a small flower to be pinned on your jacket lapel where the buttonhole is (or would be if your jacket had one).

HowRudeThe nice thing about formal dances is that all of these stress-inducing details are hammered out before the big event. When prom day finally arrives, the most important thing you can do is enjoy your date’s company and have a good time.

Until next time, this is Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of How Rude! The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out.

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