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A rite of passage for generations of American teenagers for nearly a century, the high school prom is usually the first formal event in the lives of young people. For many teenagers, the prom is the most stressful event of their lives. It intensifies peer pressure over issues of inclusion and exclusion. Some common stresses include, Will I get a date? Will my choice of a date change my reputation? Who will be excluded from the prom, and why? The word "prom" was first used in the 1890s as a shortened form of "promenade," a reference to formal dances in which the guests would display their fashions and dancing (see entry under 1900s�The Way We Lived in volume 1) skills during the evening's grand march. In the United States, it came to be believed by parents and educators that a prom, or formal dinner-dance, would be an important lesson in social skills, especially in a theoretically classless society that valued behavior over breeding. The prom was seen as a way to instill manners into children, all under the watchful eye of chaperons. The first proms were held in the 1920s. By the 1930s, proms were common across the country. For many older Americans, the prom was a modest, home-grown affair in the school gymnasium, often decorated with crepe-paper streamers. Promgoers were well dressed but not lavishly decked out: boys wore jacket and tie and girls their Sunday dress. Couples danced to music provided by a local amateur band or a record player. After the 1960s, and especially after the 1980s, the high-school prom in many areas became a serious exercise in conspicuous consumption, with boys renting expensive tuxedos and girls attired in designer gowns. Stretch limousines were hired to drive the prom-goers to expensive restaurants or discos for an all-night extravaganza, with alcohol, drugs, and sex as added ingredients, at least more openly than before. Whether simple or lavish, proms have always been more or less traumatic events for adolescents who worry about self-image and fitting in with their peers. Prom night can be a devastating experience for socially awkward teens, for those who do not secure dates, or for gay or lesbian teens who cannot relate to the heterosexual bonding of prom night. In 1980, Aaron Fricke (1962�) sued his school's principal in Cumberland, Rhode Island, for the right to bring Paul Guilbert as his prom date, and won. Since the 1990s, alternative proms have been organized in some areas for same-sex couples, as well as "couple-free" proms to which all students are welcome. Susan Shadburne's 1998 video, Street Talk and Tuxes, documents a prom organized by and for homeless youth.

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Q: How did the tradition of high school proms start?
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