Prom season is a super exciting time. The school year has mostly wound down, the weather has gotten nice, and your date said “yes” to your promposal. You finally get to attend what is likely your first “dressy” event to boot!
So, how do you do it right?
In this article, we’ll be talking about the best way to dress for the prom, and, perhaps just as importantly, addressing some of the biggest mistakes young guys make and how to avoid them. If you landed here in error or need different information, see our pages on black tie and / or dress codes in general.
How To Dress For Prom: Black Tie Basics
The most important thing you can do is read our guide to black tie. This has every last detail you can imagine about what it’s like to dress appropriately for the prom.
The second most important thing you can do is look at the guy in the picture below. The poorly-fitted suit, dirty sneakers, and cheap necktie all speak to a serious lack of attention to detail:
*Editor’s Note*: On the other hand, he’s got two girls on his arm, so what do we know?
While proms aren’t black tie events in the strictest sense, we can safely say that there’s a black tie guideline for such events. If you want to look sharp as all get-out, here’s a quick hit-list of what to wear:
A peak lapel or shawl collar one-button single-breasted jacket in black is perfect. You can do midnight blue too if you like, but avoid any colors besides this.
Remember that the lapels should be faced with satin or grosgrain, and look for a model with side vents and no pocket flaps.
Trousers match your jacket. There should be satin facings on each outseam that complement the facings of the jacket. As is always the case with tuxedo trousers, avoid pleats, cuffs, and -heaven forbid- belt loops!
Your rental should come with a white shirt. It may or may not have a bib on the front (either option is acceptable), and it can either have a regular point collar or a wing collar. Note that there won’t be any buttons, but rather holes in both plackets through which you’ll put studs (more on that below).
Your rental get-up will more likely than not come with a pre-tied bow tie. If you can afford to spend a few extra bucks on a bow tie that you tie yourself (called a “self-tie” bow tie), please do so. You’re going to look a whole lot better than every other guy at the prom if you do.
The tie should be black regardless.
It’s true that rental places will throw black patent leather shoes for you, or at least they’ll give you something that looks like patent leather. By all means, wear them if you have nothing else.
If you own a decent pair of black dress shoes, shine them up well and wear those. There’s no guarantee that rental shoes will be comfortable, and a night of dancing is a terrible time to find out that they aren’t.
Vest Or Cummerbund
Note that we said “or” instead of “and.” If you wear a cummerbund, forgo the vest. If you wear a vest, forgo the cummerbund. No matter which item you wear, it should match your jacket and trousers in color.
Whatever you do, don’t wear a crazy-colored bow tie-and-matching-vest-or-cummerbund set. This is going to make your head look as if it were being wrapped like a Christmas present. If you want to wear a differently-colored cummerbund or vest, keep it to a dark, muted color like burgundy, dark blue, or bottle green.
There will be studs that you can choose from at the rental store. Your best bet is to go with simple black studs with either silver or gold settings. Don’t mix metal colors.
Should I Rent Or Buy A Tuxedo?
Typically we advise buying a tuxedo over renting one, but prom is an exception to this rule. Why?
Take it from us: at 17 or 18 years old, you’re not done growing. In the coming years as you enter college and / or the workforce, you’ll likely fill out your frame by putting on weight, and you may even get taller.
Because your body will inevitably change, it doesn’t make sense to spend good money on a tuxedo purchase. For now, renting is undoubtedly your best option. Just make sure you rent stuff that has the right aesthetic details!
To Match or Not To Match?
See this guy? Don’t be this guy:
There’s often a lot of hullabaloo around matching your date. While it’s a fun idea, it’s often overdone. One of the keys to black tie affairs (and again, we’re treating prom as if it were black tie) is that the spotlight is, in many ways, on the women. Their dresses are often quite fancy and are complemented by all manner of jewelry. The men, gentlemen that we are, take a backseat by wearing simple black and white.
Wearing bright, crazy colors dilutes this message.
If you or she are gung ho about color matching, wear a matching boutonniere and corsage. It’s small, subtle, and gets the job done without compromising your outfit’s dressiness.
Other Etiquette Tips
Some of this will be stuff you already know and / or common sense, but as this is your first “formal” event, here’s a quick refresher:
- Make sure you’re well groomed. Get a haircut about a week before prom so that your hair looks great but natural on the big day. See our hairstyle hairstyle guide for inspiration.
- If you keep any facial hair, make sure it’s well-kept. We have full guides on beards and moustaches too!
- SHOWER AND BRUSH YOUR TEETH. It’s also perfectly reasonable to keep some mints on you too. Your date will appreciate it.
- Be on time.
- Take pictures with your family and his/her family. This is a big deal for them too, and they’ll appreciate you being cool about it.
- Make sure your date gets home safely. Walk him/her to their door if they permit you to do so.
The prom is your first foray into formal events and is a good test run for adhering to a dress code and a standard level of conduct while out on a fancy date. Making sound decisions around what you wear and how you comport yourself will not just make for great-looking pictures, but fond memories for years to come.