Karen Belz
May 14, 2014 4:00 pm

Prom can be an anxiety-ridden nightmare, if your images of prom all stem from movies you saw as a teenager. My prom might have been 900 years ago, but I still remember the night quite fondly. And while it was fun, I realized way too late that all of my prom-anxiety was for nothing. Here are a few things I wish I was able to tell 18-year-old Karen, hoping that at least one of our high-school readers can gain more insight before dressing up and partying.

1. Stop with the dress anxiety! There was a store by our house that kept a log as to which girls bought which dress from your high school – they pretty much guaranteed that nobody would show up in the same gown as you. They refused the sale! And no, online shopping wasn’t a big thing back then, especially when clothes were involved. (I kind of wonder if they also chart your siblings, and give them a call in case you’ve decided to wear a hand-me-down. Hmm. I found a loophole.)

I tried on this absolutely stunning dark blue dress, which featured a bit more poof than I envisioned. My parents told me I looked truly amazing, but something wasn’t right. The price tag. Five hundred bucks?!

My parents figured that the key to having a magical night of glory was this dress, and didn’t freak out over the price tag. Which is strange, as they aren’t the type of people to drop a ton of cash on clothes. Or anything. Thankfully, the dress list saved me – some other sucker bought the dress before me, and I ended up finding a dress that I absolutely loved for about fifty bucks.

It wasn’t this one.

The truth is, it’s not the end of the world if someone else shows up in your dress. It won’t ruin the night, nor will your classmates do a mental “Who Wore It Best?” tally. Find something in your price range that you love, that you can dance in, and that will let you sit down comfortably.

If you are wearing the same dress as someone else, expect to take a picture with that person some time during the night. It won’t be a “How dare you steal my dress!” moment as much as a “Hey, we have the same taste! We’re both awesome” photo.

2. There won’t be a synchronized dance routine. What is it with prom movies and synchronized dances? Sure, they’re fun to watch – but in my years, I’ve never actually seen one happen. My school was more focused on academics and less on having Usher as a DJ, so maybe I’m wrong here.

There will be dancing, of course. And you’ll probably be expected to dance. If it’s not in your nature, remember that you can always sit a few songs out. Also, the most memorable dancers are the ones who are comfortable being themselves. If you’re Elaine Benes out there, people won’t notice anything but the fact that you’re having an amazing time.

3. There won’t be drugs and alcohol there, unless you run with the crowd that does that kind of stuff. And hopefully you don’t. There shouldn’t be any pressure to drink before or after prom, and it won’t make prom “more fun.” If you get pressured, consider defriending these toxic buddies before you make your way onto college. You should be you at prom, and not a false version of you that’ll risk getting you kicked out of the party.

Or worse! According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 676 students under the age of 21 were killed in alcohol-related traffic crashes in 2005. All of those deaths could have been prevented. I didn’t mean to get grim there, but it had to be said.

4. Wear shoes that feel great all night long. Back then, it was tough to find a size 11 shoe that “matched” my dress. So I settled for a plastic pair of heels that were not only uncomfortable, but made a distinct clicking noise on the dance floor that I can still hear today. The clicking, it haunts me!

You’ll want to find something that looks good, but you also want something that won’t cause blisters and pain the next morning. Also, make sure to break those shoes in well before the big night.

5. Prom probably won’t be the best night of your life. It’ll be a really fun night, for sure. But if you fill your head with ideals that it’ll be absolutely perfect, you’re bound to be a little disappointed. Prom is what you make of it. Get in that room, feel the vibe, and have a blast. If you’ve told yourself that your crush will finally recognize you and propose right there in the center of the room in front of all of those bullies who treated you wrong years ago, make sure you recognize that the situation is an ideal fantasy, and not a probable outcome.

Prom is just a great night to be with your friends while wearing dresses you’ve probably never worn before. Sure, big things can happen at prom – but that shouldn’t be your key focus.

6. There’s no such thing as too many pictures. Back then, digital cameras were a futuristic idea. I got my roll of 24 shots developed at CVS – One Hour Photo, if I was feeling sassy. (And of course I was feeling sassy after prom.)

Sure, my cheap little photo album might be falling apart, but those photos still exist. And I wish I had more of them. The sad truth is, I never saw my friends after high school as much as I envisioned. We all went to different colleges and moved on in life, later to form Facebook relationships that were based more on curiosity than actual close friendship. Savor the moments where you’re all together and looking your best, since they’ll be cherished memories years later.

Also, if you look back and think your fashion looks dated, don’t worry – everyone will feel that way eventually. Just remember you rocked it the night of.

7. It’s okay to go solo. I took a good friend of mine who had graduated a year before me, and had an absolute blast. However, a few of my friends wanted to go solo, and were shamed into bringing someone for “balanced photos” of the table. How terrible is that? Years later, and I’m still mad that friends were pushed into something they didn’t want. I think I’m still holding onto silent anger, while they’re way over it by now.

When you look back at those photos, you won’t be thinking of picture aesthetics. But you will remember if you had to essentially babysit someone who you didn’t feel comfortable around for the entire night. If you are unattached and still feel strange going alone, consider bringing a really great friend that’ll enhance the night.

8. Not everyone loses their virginity on prom night. Seriously – if your date feels like prom night is “the night” simply because of a dance, they should realize that the most important factor is you being ready. Seventeen Magazine did a study which revealed that only 14% of girls had sex on their prom night, and out of those 14%, 5% were virgins prior to. Only 3% of men surveyed lost their v-cards on prom night.

We need to stop making it seem like having sex on the night of prom is something that’s either expected or “the norm.” You know when the time is right for you, and hopefully your date should understand that.

9. It might look dorky, but a clutch with a strap is what your 18-year-old self truly needs. Yeah, it’s a clutch with a weird string that turns it into a pocketbook. And sure, the only thing in there are my driver’s license and some Altoids. But truthfully, I just wasn’t old enough for a no-strings-attached clutch. I’d lose that thing in the bathroom within five minutes of arriving to the location.

Note to self: Don’t bring too much cash, since when you lose the clutch, you’ll probably never see it again.

10. Don’t have prom fashion regrets. To this day, I wonder what prom would have been like with a different dress, or contacts instead of glasses, or with waves instead of an updo.

I have to remind myself that it’d be absolutely the same. These were all elements to one big night, but the only thing that made a difference was my attitude going into it. I was having a nice meal with my friends, who all looked fabulous. What more could I have asked for? Usher as a DJ? Okay, yeah – that would have probably been pretty nice.

Image Credits: , Elaine, Never Been Kissed, Romy and Michelle

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