In the United States and Canada a prom, short for promenade, is a semi-formal (black tie) dance held at the end of an academic year. In the United Kingdom, the term is more widely understood to be in reference to a season of classical concerts or "proms", which have been held between July and September since 1895, today run by the BBC. The British synonym for the North American event would be Leavers' Ball, Leavers' Dinner, Leaver's Dance or informally Leavers' Do, closer to the Australian description, although in the UK, many schools have called the above events prom in imitation of the North American tradition. In Canada the terms Grad or Formal are most common and the event is usually only held for those in their graduating year of high school or middle school.
While proms at smaller schools may hold a school prom open to the entire student body, large high schools may hold two proms, a junior prom for those finishing their 11th grade year and a senior prom for those who are finishing their high school years. When the junior and senior prom are combined, it is sometimes traditional to have the junior class plan and organize the prom. Proms are mostly attended by juniors and seniors, but some schools allow all classes to attend, usually requiring that one of the couple be an upperclassman.
The name is derived from the late nineteenth century practice of a promenade ball. The end of year tradition stemmed from the graduation ball tradition.
Boys usually dress in black tie (a dinner jacket and bow tie), sometimes with brightly colored cummerbunds or vests, though any sort of formal wear can be worn. Traditionally, girls give boys matching boutonnières to be worn on their tuxedos or waistcoats. Girls traditionally wear formal gowns or dresses adorned with a corsage given to them by their dates.
As described in the introduction, in British English, such an event might be called a ball. In Australian and New Zealand schools the terms used are either School Formal or simply Formal. If the event is not relegated solely to the final year, it is sometimes called a Dinner-dance, Leavers' Dinner, Debutante Ball or also Valedictory Dinner, usually so when the night includes a meal and is in the final year of high school.
In Sweden this kind of event is usually known as Studentbalen. The word "Studentbalen" is in this case a proper noun meaning "The Student Ball", while the word studentbal is a common noun that can refer to any formal dinner and dance at a Swedish university. Studentbalen is usually held during the last weeks before graduating (Swedish: "Ta studenten") after three years in secondary school (Swedish: Gymnasieskola) and can be a quite formal, white tie event though the practice differs greatly between schools.
In Austria the last year in Gymnasium is celebrated with a ball (the so called "Maturaball") usually in January or February. This dance takes place before the exams are written. Normally the ball is pretty formal, so that all the students come either with dress or with a tuxedo or suit. Often the students invite their parents and other relatives to come to the ball with them.
In Ireland, this formal dance is called the Débutantes' Ball, or informally, the Debs. This is also a formal dance for students who have just graduated from secondary school (high school) and is traditionally held at some stage during September and October, after the students have finished exams and may have already entered university or employment. The same formal dance is also occasionally known as Grads among students in all-male schools, but who would therefore invite girls from other schools and is, therefore, the same as a Debs. Though "Grads" can also refer to a less formal dance mid-way through the school year.
In the U.S. a "formal" is typically a similar dance that is held by a fraternity or sorority affiliated with a certain college or university. In Australia and Britain, the term "prom" has also come into usage because of the influence of American movies and television.
In the UK the School Prom was unheard of until the late 1990's. It was believed to start in Cambridge where every School in the area had a special "School ball". As the idea proliferated throughout the UK from 2000, The name changed to a "School Prom".
In Germany students celebrate their graduation from High School or Gymnasium with an Abifeier (from the graduation certificate or Abitur), "Abi Party" or an "Abi Ball" - although most British or American students would fail to observe any of the traditional formality found in their own events. Students are not compelled to wear Tuxedos and the women students are rarely in ball gowns. Apart from the "Abi-Ball" where students have to wear tuxedos and ball gowns. The event often follows a very rigid running order, with welcome, introductions, an award ceremony for students and then a series of student organised activities that tend to make fun of teachers usually with a joke about their bicycles or an extended hagiography about the favourite teacher. This is followed by the school's own band or bands or even an extended demonstration of all of the artistic outpourings of the students and staff. The event normally ends with a DJ playing music. Alcohol is available at these events since the legal drinking age in Germany is 16 (for beer and wine) and most graduating students are 18 or older.
In Colombia many private schools usually have "proms" as well, in Medellin for example hotel rooms are booked for this purposes and alcohol is usually available.
In South Africa the equivalent is a Matric Dance, taking place during the matriculation (i.e. final) year of high school. In most schools it takes place on the Friday evening that schools close for the spring break before the Matriculation Examinations commence. The tradition is, however, very similar to the American one.
In Malaysia proms are gaining more and more popularity, and being held by more schools, especially in the bigger cities. However, these gatherings are usually fully organised by students only, and the school administration is not involved.
In Pakistan the equivalent is farewell dinner & farewell function that takes place at the end of the college academic year. In farewell function one lady is appointed as "lady of the evening" and one guy is appointed as "Gentleman of the evening".
In Poland the more-less equivalent of prom is called Studniówka, which is happening around 100 days before final high-school exams (from sto dni -- hundred days), which is organized mostly for people who are just about to graduate. People from other years cannot come by themselves, but are often invited by their older friends.
In India the equivalent is a farewell party or farewell gathering. The outgoing students are given a warm send-off by the junior students and staff. All the seniors are felicitated with souvenirs and best outgoing students are given awards.
In Slovakia the closest thing to a prom is Stužková, an occasion when the seniors get together with their parents and teachers to celebrate their upcoming graduation. It takes place in November or December. Each of the students receives a green ribbon with their name on it (thus the name Stužková, i.e. the Ribbon Ball). Many of the students will wear this ribbon on their jackets/shirts for the rest of the year. Stužková typically includes a banquet, skits and songs prepared by students, and, of course, dancing.
In Slovenia the equivalent is Maturantski ples after graduating from high school. Students can bring dates and/or close family to the ball. It is a custom that each student dances the first dance of the night with his mother/her father.
In Turkey the equivalent is called "Graduation Ball". The type and the rules of the organization is completely up to the school board.
In Italian military schools the equivalent is known as "Mak Π 100" because it takes place 100 days before the students' graduation in high school. In civil schools a party called Mak Π 100 is usually held every year (thus it is not restricted to graduates), sometimes in place of one of the final school days or in a discos; it is not a formal event, and the students will often perform cabaret shows in which they make a parody of their teachers.
In Peru, proms/ "Fiesta de Promocion"are usually held at hotels, convention centres or big residences (at the house of a graduating student, for isntance). The dress code is formal, some parents and teachers are often invited, but they don't stay the whole night. Dinner is served as well as alcoholic drinks and delicatessen; breakfast is often served the next day, at around 6-7 am in the morning.
In Chile, proms or "fiestas de graduación" (graduation parties) are usually held at convention centers or hotels after the "licenciatura" or graduation from High School, and sometimes after taking the PSU (Chilean University Entrance Exam) in December. Students are expected to dress with evening dresses and tuxedos. They are allowed to go with a date, whether it is their significant other, a friend, or a relative. It usually starts by dancing a waltz with the opposite sex parent, and a dinner. After the dinner, the parents leave, and the dance starts until the next day. Food like hors d'oeuvres and a small breakfast and alcohol drinks are available during the party.
In Brazil, bailes de formatura are usual at the end of high school and at college graduation. There's no crowning of a king or a queen in any fashion, but nightgowns and suits are required. Family may or may not be included, and there's usually a live band playing in a rent ballroom, or at least a DJ is hired to command the music. Youngsters often drink heavily at these balls.
In Lithuania, prom is held after final exams usually the same day when high school diplomas are presented, the event is called išleistuvės. The more-less equivalent of prom is called Šimtadienis, which is happening around 100 days before final high-school exams (from šimtas dienų -- hundred days), which is organized mostly for people who are just about to graduate and is orginized by junior classes.
In Egypt most private schools have proms similar to the USA.
Anti-prom is an alternative social gathering, usually held to protest a prom.