GREEN BAY, Wisconsin – The last time Ashley Moeller shimmied into a satin dress and glittering high heels for the prom, her father issued a stern warning: Be home by 11 p.m. sharp. He waited at the door, careful to smell her breath for even the slightest trace of alcohol.
This time, she simply dropped the children off at her mother-in-law’s house. Nobody would be waiting up for Moeller, and her husband, Kurt, both 25, to come home from the adult prom.
“Prom the way you always wanted it,” the advertisement in Green Bay called out, an attempt to attract would-be revellers whose high school days have come and long gone. “Where the punch is spiked, you don’t have to hide the booze and the band plays loud.”
This is prime prom season, the time when teenage girls spend hundreds of dollars for what they hope will be the perfect night. But in an increasing number of cities those teenagers searching for their prom gowns are brushing elbows with grown women, some at least double their age. Adult proms have already taken place in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Beverly, Massachusetts, this year. Others are planned in Decatur, Georgia, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
These are not reunions of former high school classmates eager to relive the prom night they had together. A vast majority of revellers are in their 20s and 30s, although a few are in their early 60s and are simply excited at the prospect of getting decked out and dancing – and voting for the night’s king and queen.
But the adult version, as evidenced here in Green Bay, featured much of the same awkwardness as the high school prom, made only more tolerable with the addition of alcohol. Inside a ballroom, there was the woman wondering aloud all night about where her date had disappeared to. At another table sat the cluster who came for a fun girls’ night out but looked rather forlorn. In a corner of the dance floor, a woman had her arms strewn around her date’s neck, while his hands wandered down her waist in a way that would surely make a chaperone blush.
Really, nobody seemed to mind. This was their do-over, another shot at perfection. Or perhaps for some the first chance at an American rite of passage. And for a precious few, a night to re-create one of the best times of their lives.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Moeller and her friend Randa Genke settled into their hairdresser’s chair, comparing notes about what they had each spent on the evening. Moeller had spent $140 on her tangerine knee-length ruched dress, and $50 or so for her gold glittering shoes. Then came the $30 for the spray-tan she got the day before, and she would spend more on her hair and press-on nails for the evening. All that before the martini-and-steak dinner.
“It’s not cheap, but it’s special,” Moeller said, glancing down at the list of what she needed to do next. Her sister soon called, wondering what she was doing. She answered: “Adult prom, I told you. We’re getting our hair done and we’re dressing up.”
She hung up, still surprised that her sister was so uninterested.
“I’ve been thinking about it for weeks,” Genke said. “I could hardly sleep last night I was so excited.”
Indeed, much of the pleasure came simply in the anticipation. Beckie and Brent Sinkula forked over the money to stay at the nearby AmericInn Hotel, giving them a chance for their own private pre- and after party. Their drink of choice? Jell-O shots encapsulated in large syringes like those that Sinkula uses for the cows on his dairy farm.
A few women came with new boyfriends – their earnest eagerness could be spotted by the corsages they donned. Most couples had been married for years, and a few people joked about the relief of not worrying whether they would “get lucky.”
“We’re adults, and we still want to have fun,” Beckie Sinkula said. On nights when they are not with their children, ages 14, 7 and 5, they generally stop for a drink at the local bar. Tonight, with Brent in a shirt and tie, and Beckie in an iridescent purple and blue frock, was bound to feel different. “Every year when I see the prom dresses I think about how much fun it would be to have my own again,” she said.
Fashion runs the gamut at adult proms – though for men, it is mostly an afterthought. A few women recycle bridesmaid dresses, but many more seem to relish the chance to buy a new gown. And at each prom, there is at least one woman who manages to fit into the same dress she wore in high school.
(In Green Bay, that honour went to a young woman who had graduated just a few years ago and gamely re-wore her electric-pink spaghetti-strap gown, a train trailing past her high heels.)
“How you feeling tonight on your prom?” the band leader shouted. A thin sound of enthusiastic shouts echoed through the room. The dance floor was only half full, with the band playing classic rock like “Mustang Sally,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Hotel California” from an era long before most of these prom-goers were born.
Matt Miller, the organizer of the event, which was billed as a charity, initially hoped that 300 people would come. The numbers barely topped 100. Still, he was a picture of enthusiasm – decked out in a white tuxedo jacket. The prom committee always has to be upbeat.
Miller said he was careful to keep intact one of the most vaunted prom traditions: naming the king and queen. It cost a dollar to cast each vote, and while attendees could vote as many times as they liked, men were only to vote for women and women were only to vote for men. A few Polaroid pictures (yes, they had an old model) showed each of the nominees.
When the votes were tallied, the woman in the stunning tangerine dress had garnered far more votes than any other nominee. Moeller gasped as the organizer placed the rhinestone tiara on her head, poufed-up hair still perfectly intact.
She danced with the prom king, and then twirled around with her husband a couple more times. But by 11:30, she was ducking out the door.
“I’m really tired,” she said, with a hint of embarrassment. “I don’t want to drink too much.”