Vintage Master Class // Prof. Brigitte on Prom in the 60s

Here she is again, friends, Professor Brigitte with another tale from the vaults. She’s already dazzled us with her Vintage Hair 50s/60s and Vintage Hair 60s/70s and now my sassy mama takes on….THE PROM! Friends, I love this story and I just know you will too!

About Vintage Master Class: My mother has always been very stylish and taught me everything I know. Back in the 70s when most of the moms around my elementary school were wearing double knit, polyester stretch pants, I was extremely proud to have a fashionable mama. I know you all love vintage as much as I do, so I thought who better to tell us about it than someone who actually lived it!  This week’s episode takes place in the early 60s. My mother had just moved from Germany to Michigan and was living with my Aunt Maria and Uncle Max who were like parents to her.

Presenting the Vintage Master Class with Professor Brigitte!

image: Mall of America

A white sport coat and pink carnation!
I’m all dressed up for the dance
A white sport coat and pink carnation!
I’m all alone in romance

Once you told me long ago
To the prom with me you’d go
Now you’ve changed your mind it seems
Someone else will hold my dreams
— Marty Robbins

While I went to the prom in the 60s, this song by Marty Robbins (from 1957) spilled over into our days. When prom time approached, radio stations began to play it almost day and night! I would say the lyrics more or less summed up my experience!

image: Digital Huckle

That song really typified what was at stake here: white was the standard tuxedo worn by most of the guys, and having a date was a must! My teenage students nowadays have it so great: they either go with a boyfriend, they go in a group, or they opt, perfectly happily, not to go at all. It’s their choice.

In the early/mid 60s, it was clear-cut. You either had a date and went to the prom, or you stayed at home….alone, devastated. It was still a sign of your school popularity! So prom time brought a bit of anxiety as you asked yourself the question: will I be going to the prom or not?

image: Groovy Marlin

I was lucky (or not??) to have gone to both my Junior and Senior proms. Very early on in my Junior year, Tom asked me to go with him. We weren’t a couple, but it took no consideration, I accepted immediately. Not that Tom was a heartthrob. On the contrary, he was a very non-descript- but pleasant fellow. He was NOT like Ed, the school football and basketball star, on whom we ALL (including myself) had tremendous crushes. Frankly, going with such a perfect specimen of a boy would have been nerve wracking. The thought of “Tom and Prom” sounded very comfortable and fun. It gave me a certain amount of freedom to go with someone unattached and I knew he wouldn’t object to my girlfriends hanging around us.

No one could have been more delighted than my older sister Maria. I heard her on the phone bragging to her friends: “Oh yes yes, she will definitely be going to the Prom!” pause. “Oh, not yet? Well don’t worry, I am sure she will get asked!”

Maria whisked me off very early on to the best store in town, The Elaine Shop.

image: tiffbunny

As a little reminder: fashion changed in the 60’s as drastically as did the hairstyles. My prom was during the early 60’s look. Girls in the latter part had entirely different prom styles, the long, empire waist, “Jackie Kennedy” look. Ours was a cocktail- length (mid-length) poofy dress. Not much show of skin was allowed. They varied in color combinations, but the basics were the same: a chiffon-rayon skirt, with a very wide, sash around the waist, usually of  very contrasting color. The ensemble was made complete with elbow length gloves, extremely high open-toed plastic heels, an evening purse /clutch or with small chain handle and satin shawl for those cool June evenings. The Elaine Shop came through!

{image: Prof. Gitte’s Archives}

Maria and I were VERY satisfied with our purchases. Neither one of us cared about the cost, we just wanted it to be special. The next step was to IMMEDIATELY make that hair appointment. You wanted, no! You needed, an early Saturday appointment. Sitting under the hair dryer (no hair blowers yet!) took usually a good 45 minutes, depending on the length of your hair. And that’s not including the time for wash and style. You knew that every girl was coming to Franco’s, the best hair dresser in town.

One by one my girlfriends landed a date, and as prom approached, excitement grew by the hour. I must mention here, that Maria and Max were very pleased that Tom was to be my escort. He came from a VERY large Catholic family, there were 12 kids, and was considered a “nice boy.” They also probably knew how I viewed him more with practicality rather than as romance, and were very happy with that.

The night of the Prom, I was putting on my finishing touches when Tom arrived. As I opened the door for him, I was stunned. Remember the song: “A White Sportscoat” ? Well there he stood in a flaming red tuxedo jacket. Stunned I let him in. I realized that if this was sign of what was to come, I should go run into my room. Even my Maria and Max blinked when they saw him.

image: jkerssen

image: Patrick Q

“You are wearing RED??” was all I was able to say. “Yes, yes!” he answered excitedly, “My cousin wore this at my brother’s wedding. It fits me perfectly, don’t you think?” He took my speechless face to be one of admiration!

He then pulled out his box for the flowers. We had discussed that a wrist corsage was probably best for me, due to the delicate material of my dress. Curiously, the box was on the rather small side. As he opened it, he said enthusiastically, “My sister-in-law, who works at the flowershop, got this ORCHID for me with a discount!” “An Orchid??” I thought. No one wore orchids at the time. And this one was soooo small! I swore I had seen violets that were bigger and I hated the little purple thing. Give me a big fat rose, or even a carnation! I thought. Maria threw a stern look at me.  She compensated for my lack of enthusiasm by oohing,  “Imagine, Tom getting a real orchid!” Tom beamed.

And so off we went. His car was borrowed from another relative (of course). He actually cracked a joke as he held the door for me, “Isn’t this nice? I didn’t think you would want to use my pick up truck, haha!” I just grunted an answer.

image: bjebe

When we arrived at our high school gym, I could have predicted the outcome. There was actually a lull in the voices, as we walked in! A bullfighters entrance could not have been more spectacular than Toms red tuxedo. Quickly we separated, he to his buddies, me to my girlfriends. Or course every one of them died laughing at the red jacket. “What’s this on your arm?” Norma inquired, looking at the tiny orchid, as they gathered around. I only shook my head. “Well it’s not as bad as mine,” said Kitty. “Mine looks as if his mother cut them out of her garden!”

Then Diane chimed in, “The rubber band on mine is cutting into my arm. I think he must have gotten a child size!” She held up her arm. Sure enough there were already signs of swelling.

“Well did you see Michael’s coat??” said Bonnie, “It’s so big on him I feel like I’m out with Charlie Chaplin!”

image: daddy sold shoes

We continued this banter, laughing and it put us in a good mood. Besides we were all happily satisfied with our own dresses. Huddling together was hard with the wide skirts, but we allowed enough room not to crush the precious chiffon. Soon the music started, our dates rushed to get us, and the dancing started. By now I was very reconciled and in a splendid mood. I preferred a bullfighter to Charlie Chaplin!! The evening promised to be great after all. Until…

Suddenly, large floodlights flashed on, throwing the gym into broad daylight. Blindingly so! Gone was the muted, romantic atmosphere. And there came the most mortifying moment in my ENTIRE 16 years.

Rushing up to us came two of the chaperones of the evening: Maria and Max! Max with his new Super 8 home movie camera, followed right behind him by Maria holding up in one hand a large, monster of a floodlight, which was connected to an equally enormous extension cord she held up high over her head with the other hand. They headed straight towards us, “Continue, continue!” said Max enthusiastically, trying to get us out of our frozen stance.

image: victoria bernall

These were the days of home movies, and in all fairness, we were thrilled with them. There was no sound, but we loved posing for them, running up a hill in the park, twirling around, running back down the hill and then waving happily into the camera. Keep in mind, the movie cameras were not inconspicuous iPhones you kids use today, but large, bulky cameras. The biggest drawback was that they were not well equipped for indoor shooting. Hence the huge floodlight. And my utter embarrassment.

Maria whispered loudly into my ear,  “Cooperate! We checked with your Principal who thought it was a terrific idea. In 20 years you will be  happy to have this!!” Actually it has been over 40 years and I have yet to enjoy seeing it.

Then Max, who must have had grander thoughts of movie directing, actually told the band to start playing again, and motioned everyone to start dancing. And believe it or not, they all cooperated, warming up to the idea of being filmed!!!

The movie concluded with Tom and I walking slowly across the little Japanese-style bridge, that had been built by the prom decorating committee. My smile is painful. Tom is blinking badly, due to the bright lights. We approach a group of kids, smiling awkwardly, except Norma, the show off, who tosses her hair and smiles coquettishly into the camera and gives me a hug. Behind my back you can see my hand, waving desperately to PLEASE stop.

When they finally shut the devilish contraption off, everyone in the gym broke out in laughter and wild applause. Embarrassed beyond belief, I could have crawled into a hole. Maria and Max just beamed proudly! Despite my embarrassment, I had a fun time. Thankfully Senior Prom went a little more smoothly….but that’s another story!

Whoo hoo! Another great story. Thank you mama! Oh, and as a fun little tid bit…every year my family would celebrate Fasching (the German version of Carnival/Mardi Gras). It was a big costume party. The first year we did it, I went as Scarlet O’Hara….and wore my mom’s prom dress! I felt sooooo glamorous!

11 thoughts on “Vintage Master Class // Prof. Brigitte on Prom in the 60s

  1. this is CLASSIC! I WANT that dress! you BOTH looked so cute in it!!

    i wanted a LARGE tulle skirt for my wedding dress and that is exactly what i got, so the fashion is back! i can’t imagine what my daughter will think of it or what SHE will wear for her wedding? can you imagine if those huge 80s dresses came back?

    and actually, my prom dress skirt was HUGE as well. what a nightmare 🙂

  2. Why is it that some boys go fashion rogue for prom? Perfectly normal guys morph into Glamour don’ts at the absolutely worst possible moment. For my senior prom, the boy I went with showed up in a white three-piece suit a la John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. And my daughter had a similar experience for her junior prom, her normally cute date showed up with an awful winter tweed fedora to go with his black tux — and it stayed on all night. What????

  3. Amazing story! It makes me wish, in a way, that I’d grown up in another time. I was born in ’75 and my main adolescent years were in the late 80s, early 90s and things were just so, SO different. And not always in a good way. Ahh, anyway, thanks for sharing this cute story!! xx

  4. oh i loved this! and it’s so true about guys going ‘rogue’ for the prom. At mine, 2 boys showed up in safari suits and one guy wore a bright purple suit and carried a walking stick all night. weird.
    your dress was so lovely, i’m sure plenty of girls would love to wear something like that today.

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