Behold, the Real Difference Between Homecoming and Prom (2024)

From picking a first day outfit to purchasing a cute new backpack, back-to-school season is filled with exciting moments that help you say farewell to summer and hello to a new year. But one of the best parts of the first semester is prepping for homecoming, aka the first big bash of the school year. The dance typically takes place in September or October, but really, you can start getting ready for the special night months in advance (like now, if you want). Whether you’re on the homecoming committee or just want to make it a perfect night, you need time to figure out all the HoCo details, including what to wear (ofc) and how to ask your crush to the dance.

But have you ever stopped to think about what this whole homecoming tradition is all about? When was the first homecoming, and what’s the story behind the big game and the quirky traditions like homecoming dance themes? Most importantly, what does homecoming even mean? Below, we break down everything you need to know about the long-standing tradition of homecoming.

So... what is homecoming?

Every high school has their own homecoming traditions, and depending on where you live and what school you go to, homecoming can mean a lot of different things. It may, quite literally, mean a “coming home” of sorts, an opportunity for your school’s alumni to visit their old stomping grounds and see old friends, teachers, and underclassman.

Sometimes, homecoming consists of a week of events, including a pep rally, parade, and a big football game that’s typically a match-up against your school’s rival. (TBH, if you’re not a huge sports fan, it may be the only football game you’ll go to all season.) Among the festivities, a homecoming court is often crowned, with the nominations of homecoming kings, queens, and other royal titles.

But the main event — the piéce de résistance of any school’s homecoming — is the dance. In the most traditional format (shown in most on-screen portrayals of the event), homecoming resembles a dance much like prom... but, more like a baby prom. You’ve seen it play out in all the best high school dramas, including Pretty Little Liars, Riverdale, and Vampire Diaries.

How is homecoming different than prom?

In recent years, as homecoming has become a bigger event, it’s started to resemble prom more and more. Homecoming proposals have become more elaborate, mimicking the creative signs, cute treasure hunts, and yummy treats that now seem to come with every promposal. But there are some major differences between homecoming and prom.

First, the obvious distinction: The two dances come at different times of the year. While prom often marks the beginning of spring and the end of the school year, homecoming, which often takes place in September or October, doubles as a kind of welcome-back-to-school event.

Homecoming is also much more inclusive than prom. At most schools, prom is open only to seniors and sometimes juniors, but homecoming is for all — including the underclassmen, meaning you can start enjoying the festivities as a freshman.

Finally, homecoming tends to be more casual than prom. While some schools go all out and throw prom at an event space off-campus, homecoming is usually held in the school’s gym. Some schools have a more casual dress code for their homecoming dances, where jeans and a cute top will suffice, while others require a dress or suit for the occasion. Even then, the dresses are usually short and the suits are more chill, compared to the gowns and tuxes some will rock for their big prom night.

What’s the history behind homecoming?

According to Billboard, homecoming is an American tradition, which explains why Britain native Charli XCX was so thrilled to perform at a lucky California high school’s homecoming dance back in 2014.

Homecoming began at colleges as a celebration for the first football game of the season, where alumni would come back to visit their former campuses. According to Vice, while no one is positive which college officially started the tradition, the University of Missouri, Baylor University, and the University of Illinois all claim to have began hosting homecoming events in 1911, 1909, and 1910, respectively. No matter who started it, the tradition spread quickly to other colleges and high schools around the country and has become the fun-filled occasion it is today.

Behold, the Real Difference Between Homecoming and Prom (2)

Carolyn Twersky

Associate Editor

Carolyn Twersky is an associate editor for Seventeen covering celebrities, entertainment, politics, trends, and health. On her off time, she's probably watching Ru Paul's Drag Race, traversing NYC for the best donuts, or, most likely, enjoying time in her favorite place in the world: her bed.

Behold, the Real Difference Between Homecoming and Prom (3)

Leah Campano

Associate Editor

Leah Campano is an Associate Editor at Seventeen, where she covers pop culture, entertainment news, health, and politics. On the weekends, you can probably find her watching marathons of vintage Real Housewives episodes or searching for New York City’s best almond croissants.

Behold, the Real Difference Between Homecoming and Prom (2024)
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