Prom Etiquette Tips for Students and Parents

Make the most of your night with these prom etiquette tips.

Updated March 13, 2023
Girl adjusting her prom dates boutonniere

With all the planning and prep, prom etiquette may be the last thing on your mind when it comes to prom - but there are some important things for teens to know. Also, parents want their kids to have a good time, but your teen's well-being matters. Prom etiquette for parents can help you find the right balance between space and safety.

Let these tips serve as a basic etiquette guide, and a starting point for conversations that teens and parents can have before the big night.

Prom Etiquette for Teen Couples

Whether your date is your girlfriend, your boyfriend, a crush, or just a friend, here are some tips that can help you make the most out of prom!

Ask Your Date to Prom in the Right Way

In the past, girls waited for a guy to ask them to prom. Today, anything goes! For those in a relationship, always make sure that your boyfriend or girlfriend is game for the experience. Don't assume anything. Here are some other things to keep in mind as you plan your promposal.

  • Ask at least two months in advance.
  • Get creative with your promposal and find a cute memorable way to ask someone to prom.
  • Don't pressure your potential date to respond immediately.
  • If you are asking someone other than a significant other, make the promposal private in case the answer is "no."

Talk About Prom Expenses in Advance

Prom can be expensive and not everyone has the same budget. Normally, each person will pay for their own outfit and they will buy their date a corsage or boutonniere. However, there are other parts of the evening that can become pricey. Make sure that your date knows what you can afford and discuss expectations for the evening.

Fast Fact

The shared expenses of prom can include prom tickets, transportation, and dinner on prom night. Couples need to discuss who will pay for these parts of the evening. It's not unreasonable for couples to split these costs.

If the person you're attending prom with can't afford what you were hoping for, then consider pitching more into the proverbial pot in order to afford the expense.

Know Prom Outfit Etiquette for Couples

Most couples try to coordinate their outfits on this picture-perfect night. However, just assuming that your date wants to wear purple might mean that you end up mismatched on the evening of the event. Talk about your individual styles and then shop together to get coordinating looks.

  • Choose a color scheme that looks good on both of you.
  • Look for ways to incorporate your individual styles.
  • Choose outfits that have the same level of formality.
  • Discuss outfit choices that could be an unpleasant surprise, such as if one of you chooses a really unusual outfit.
Couple posing for prom with matching color scheme

Be Present and Use Good Manners on Prom Night

Most couples only get one prom night. Make the moment count by keeping these simple prom etiquette rules in mind.

  • Talk about what your ideal prom night looks like before the event. This can ensure that you get what you want out of the evening.
  • If you're going with a group, talk about how much time you want to spend socializing versus having time as a couple.
  • Remember that nothing is perfect. Don't sweat the small stuff. Instead, enjoy the night and brush off small problems.
  • If your date is wearing a dress, make an extra effort to help them out of the car, into their seat at dinner, and by opening doors. These outfits can be hard to maneuver in and this gesture can go a long way in making your evening perfect.

The biggest thing when it comes to prom manners is really to live in the present moment. If you're paying attention to the people you're with and being thoughtful, you can't go wrong.

Need to Know

Prom is a big night, but teens should never feel pressured to engage in activities that they're not comfortable with. Remember that this is one night and you're about to enter a new chapter in life. Don't push away your personal values.

Follow the Golden Rule

This is a big night, but it doesn't excuse bad behavior. Here are some things to remember:

  • Be punctual for photos.
  • Compliment your date's appearance when they first arrive.
  • Be polite to your date's parents.
  • Use proper dinner etiquette.
  • Open car doors for your date.
  • Respect both you and your date's curfews.

Prom Etiquette for Teen Singles

In the past, there were different etiquette tips for guys versus girls, but today everyone is on an equal playing field. Whether you're headed to prom solo or with a group of friends, keep these tips in mind.

Two best friends posing outside for prom pictures

Decide if You Want to Go to Prom Solo or With Friends

Prom night is all about that one last celebration with your class and your friends before graduation.

  • There's nothing wrong with going completely solo, but it can be fun to go with friends.
  • If you're invited by a group of friends, give them a quick response so the group can plan accordingly.
  • Pay for your fair share if you go with a group and pay on time.
  • Don't be afraid to speak up if your friends are planning something that you can't afford.
    • The sooner you let them know, the better.
    • Come up with alternative options to help make the planning easier.

Know What You Need to Pay For

If you go with a group of friends, expect costs to be divided up equally:

  • Each person buys their own outfit and prom ticket.
  • Corsages and boutonnieres aren't required or expected, but it's a nice gesture if each person buys one for someone else. Draw names out of a hat to avoid playing favorites.
  • If you go out to dinner and order your own meal, you pay for your own meal.
  • If you have a potluck or buffet dinner, everyone splits the costs evenly.
  • Extra expenses, like a limo or photographer for group photos, should be split evenly between everyone in the group.

Prom Outfit Etiquette When You're Going With Friends

Since you're on your own, you can wear whatever you'd like. If you're going with a group, though, they may want to coordinate outfits. Either way:

  • Think about checking with friends to make sure your outfit is not the same or too similar to anyone else in the group.
  • Choose your outfit with the goal of looking your best, while not upstaging everyone else.
  • Respect the styles of others and compliment everyone's look.
  • Bring your own jacket and purse or make sure you have pockets; don't expect anyone else to hold your stuff or give your their coat when it's cold.

Use Your Manners Throughout Prom Night

Even though you're flying solo, you want to make sure everyone at prom has a great night.

  • Have fun with your friends, but don't become a third wheel. If it's clear that two people want to be alone, give them their space.
  • Only join in on group photo ops if you're invited.
  • If someone asks you to dance, give them a quick and kind response.
  • If you ask someone to dance and they say "no," move on and don't ask again later.

Prom Etiquette for Parents

Prom is all about the teens, but parents have important roles in this exciting occasion as well. Talk with your teens about all aspects of prom, including how they see you fitting into their plans. Since this is a special occasion, it's okay to be a little more flexible and less frugal than usual, but stick to your overall family values.

Who Pays for Prom: Parents or Teens?

Prom night can get really expensive when teens and parents don't set a reasonable budget. Talk about the costs and what you plan to contribute before any spending takes place.

  • Consider your family's financial situation and then set a budget - parents often help pay for prom dresses and prom tuxedos, but it's up to your family.
  • Expenses other than attire are usually the teen's responsibility, unless you're willing and able to foot the bill.
  • Safety is paramount on prom night. While it can be expensive, ensuring that your child has a safe ride to and from the various locations of the night is a cost worth paying. If there are discussions about a rideshare or limousine, consider helping them with this component of the night.
  • Consider renting an outfit instead of purchasing it. This can many times help to lower costs. Or, look for local organizations that sponsor free prom dress events.

A Parent's Role in Prom Outfit Selection Should Be Small

You may imagine your child in a specific look while they've got their eye on the complete opposite. Talk about styles and budgets before any shopping trips to get on the same page.

  • Shop online with your teen and come to some agreements on acceptable styles. Then, let them shop at a store with friends.
  • Give your teen cash only to buy their look so there's no chance they'll overspend.
  • You want your teen to feel comfortable and confident in this big moment. Keep your critiques to a minimum.
Helpful Hack

If you go shopping with them, take photos of your teen in each outfit that they are considering. If you think that a certain style is a bad choice, simply tell them to put the outfit on hold for a day. Let them look at the photos the next morning and then allow them to make their final decision. A good night's sleep can provide some perspective.

Shopping for prom dress

Do Parents Go to Prom Pictures?

Traditionally, parents have always been a part of pre-prom photos. However, it's important to remember that teens place a lot of value on prom night. Give your kid the chance to have a great time by giving them a little space during this part of the evening.

  • Act normal. Talk to your teen and act toward them how you would on any other day in front of other people.
  • Be a little more reserved. Compliment everyone and wish them a good time, but avoid too many jokes, personal stories, or directives.
  • Be punctual. Arrive on time for the things you're involved in and leave on time, too.

Prom Chauffers & Volunteers

Many teens see prom night as a moment for a little independence. However, there are instances where your presence could be required. Here are some things to consider before making plans.

  • If your kids can't afford a sweet ride and can't drive well in a gown, drop them off and pick them up, but try to keep out of conversations and don't hang around longer than needed.
  • Schools often expect teachers and parents to volunteer as chaperones. Before jumping at this task, talk to your teen. If they give you the green light, make a point to hang with the other adults and avoid stalking your kid all evening.
  • After prom parties thrown by the school, prom committee, or a parent group always include parent volunteers. Again, only sign up if your teen says they are comfortable with your presence.

Discuss Prom Safety Before the Event

Different kids have different expectations of this coming-of-age experience. Even though it's seen as a special event, your main job is to ensure your child stays safe.

  • Consider extending your child's curfew to accommodate the hours of prom.
  • Talk to your teen about drinking and after parties.
    • Make an escape plan should they need it.
    • Discuss the importance of always watching their drink.
    • Talk about never getting into a car with someone who has been drinking.
    • Remind them of the ever-important buddy system.
    • Let them know they can call you no matter what the circumstance.
  • Don't badger your kid all night, but require that they answer your check-in texts in a timely manner and only check in during times you know are transitionary.
  • Know where your teen plans to be at all times during the night.

Make This Your Best Prom

If you manage your expectations, take time to prepare, and talk with friends or family before making any concrete plans, this can be the best prom ever. While you don't have to follow every prom etiquette tip, these suggestions can help guide you to a great night that leaves everyone with lasting memories.

Prom Etiquette Tips for Students and Parents