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In Canada, our high school life culminates in a sequined and at times a drunken evening, we call “prom”. Dresses are bought months in advance, hair is curled and teased into a helmet enforced by hairspray. Young men rent ill-fitting suits from mall stores and put on way too much cologne. A venue is rented, limos circle and drop off hyper youngsters to dance and eat reheated catered food. Teachers preach abstinence; of the drug, alcohol and sexual varieties. For some students, all three are thrown to the curb before the evening kicks off. It’s a hazy blur of top 40 hits, sips from hip flasks and awkward slow dances with secret crushes. Years later, it is a cause for much laughter; reliving the clothes, the hair and the chaos with friends over wine and chocolate.
When asked to cover the Ball of the New Seniors at the Helsinki Ice Hall on a Friday afternoon in February, I jumped at the chance. After all, partaking in an afternoon of teen culture is a cure for the current affairs blues; their optimism about life and the future is infectious.
Upon seeing the just under 800 upper secondary school students, dressed in their finest, with their sculpted hair and crisp gloves, I made some casual observations that I will share with you. Seafoam. It’s *the* color for special occasion ball gowns this year. That and powder pink, powder blue and the deep Suomi 100 cobalt blue accounted for much of what I saw from the ladies. The gentlemen all looked very smart in their tuxes and white bowties. I didn’t see a single schmoe that had his pants down low, a refreshing departure from my own experiences in teen special event culture.
The dresses were very 1950’s inspired in line and color. Most had a fitted bodice with aurora borealis stone embellishments on them adorning the neckline and a ballgown skirt with layers and layers of heavenly tulle on top. Some ladies went with a more understated A-line skirt, but all looked absolutely fabulous.
As the sea of mostly blond heads bobbed to the music played by the Helsinki Police Orchestra, I picked up on a hairstyle that many ladies wore: a low chignon with a teased crown. There were also a number of braided chignons, and chignons off to one side. Some ladies chose to wear their hair long and curled at the ends.
With cosmetics, the look was refined and restrained. As anyone who goes to a mall with teenaged girls on any given Saturday, one picks up on their love of makeup and lots of it. However, for these festivities, it was about looking polished and not garish.
Footwear will remain a mystery, as the dresses were ball gowns and the ladies’ feet were hidden by full skirts. However, I did see one girl showing off her white sneakers and another was in “sensible” black leather pumps.
The teens danced from two in the afternoon for just over an hour, bouncing between waltzes, Elvis and even Finland’s own Darude. It was a positive and dare I say elegant event, even though it was held in the less than a sophisticated setting of the ice hall surrounded by parents and grandparents frantically waving at their young.
This was a heart-warming tradition to behold and one I hope leaps across the pond to North American teen culture.