Prom: Then and Now


Courtesy of Theresa Hefel

BSM alums dressed to the nines for prom night.

With prom on the minds of many students, it is important to remember the beginnings of this infamous dance at BSM. Prom has been a time honored tradition for the junior and senior classes since the merger of Benilde High School and St. Margaret’s Academy in 1974. Historically the junior class advisors planned prom, but this year there is a small group of students who are in student council who are in charge of planning prom.

Unlike homecoming and holiday ball, prom is always held off BSM property. There have been quite a few memorial locations for the dance including the Twins’ Stadium and a boat on the river. One exceptionally memorable location according to Mike Jeremiah, long term prom chaperone and BSM staff member, was an old mansion in St. Paul. “This was in the 2000s but we were in a big mansion and the dance floor was up above and I was on the lower level and you could feel the house shaking from the dancing that was going on. And that’s kind of scary,” Jeremiah said.

Monica Weir and Mary Seppala were on the planning committee for prom for a few years and both have a lot of insider information about what goes on behind the scenes. Their favorite location to host prom is the Huntington Stadium, formerly the TCF Bank Stadium because of its simple layout. Another thing they learned over the years is the importance of taking buses to prom venues. “A must have, I would say, is a bus to and from just so that everyone has access to transportation. Less shenanigans happen when people are all together on the buses versus driving themselves. Because we’re responsible for you guys for that… time slot. We want to make sure everyone’s safe,” Seppala said.

Theresa Hefel ’85 goes to prom with her date (Courtesy of Theresa Hefel)

An especially important part of prom, specifically the Grand March, is the theme. Some of the most memorable prom themes in years past have been Arabian Nights, Masquerade, and 1920s. Arabian Nights was Ms. Seppala’s favorite theme. The prom planning committee found cardboard cutout decorations and fake camels to decorate the BSM Theater for the grand march. For the Masquerade theme, the prom queen didn’t get a tiara, but instead she received a special masquerade mask. Similarly, for the 1920s theme the prom queen received a 20s style headband. Recently, the student council has sent google forms to gather song requests from the student body; however, this hasn’t always been the trend. In the past all the music came from the DJ and students could request songs at the event. At the Grand March, the music coordinated with the prom theme. “The music that people would go to on the grand March would match the theme,” Seppala said.

The fashion of prom has experienced a drastic evolution from the canary yellow suits with black velvet cuffs and collars worn in the ‘70s. The young men in recent years have ditched renting tuxedos for suit coats, which is a much more versatile option that can be worn for years to come. For the ladies, fashion has changed even more. The dress length is one example of this. In the 80’s, drop waist, tea-length dresses were seen everywhere. The mid-2010’s saw high-low dresses to show off fancy shoes. Today, long dresses are the rage. Because shoes are not as noticeable with this length, sneakers have become a comfortable fashion statement. “For the past seven years, at least, it’s been tennis shoes. And then the sock style has kind of changed. So that’s funny,” Weir said.

In the past young women would buy two prom dresses every year. The Grand March used to be held during the school day, so ladies felt the need to buy one dress for the Grand March and one for prom. When Seppala became in charge of the prom planning committee, she changed the timing of the march to before the dance. Her goal was to make the dance more affordable so everyone could join. Another way to cut down costs was to cater the dinner at the dance and provide transportation. “If people were left to their own devices, they would probably be renting limos and going to expensive dinners and then it’s gonna get blown out of proportion. So if we provide transportation and have the meal, it’s more equitable,” Seppala said.

Historically, prom was a dance that people only went to if they had a date. Before the merging of the two schools, Benilde High School students would ask girls from St. Margaret’s Academy to go to the dance with them. This is the opposite of today, where groups of friends are often seen at school dances. “I think the way we do it now is so much better where you don’t need to date in high school. You need to get to know people and have fun together as a group and that’s why I think it’s so much better today,” Jeremiah said.

Alumni Lisa Lenhart-Murphy attended her junior prom in 1985 and her senior prom in 1986. Her experience was very different from recent proms. She recalls that buses and dinner were not provided. Instead, her group ate dinner together at a friend’s house and drove to the dance together. Another difference in Lenhart-Murphy’s prom experience was the fashion for the girls. “It was super vintage and Mrs. Mary Brown had some connections and was giving out all these vintage dresses… But the girls who didn’t do vintage, the big dress that year was just basic strapless,” Lenhart-Murphy said.