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Throwback Thursday: Puff Pant Prom Edition

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 27,000 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

It’s prom season, so this week’s post highlights a KU tradition that lasted from 1924 through 1941: the women-only, no-men-allowed Puff Pant Prom. Female students attended the dance as couples, dressed as a “Puff” (wearing fancy evening dresses) or “Pant” (donning formal men’s wear). By 1936 the Lawrence Journal-World described the event as “an affair of no small importance in the life of the coed at the University of Kansas.” The dance was ultimately a casualty of World War II; one was scheduled in 1942, but it was canceled because women students were busy with war work and didn’t have time to prepare for the event. The tradition was revived for a few years in the late 1990s.

Preliminary research indicates that KU was not the only school to hold a Puff Pant Prom in the 1920s and 1930s; for example, for a time it was also an annual event at the College of Emporia.

Photograph of 1926-27 girls dressed as men ready to go to the Puff-Pant-Prom

The description on the back of this photograph states “1926-27 girls dressed as men
ready to go to the Puff-Pant-Prom.” University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/26 1926 Prints:
Student Activities: Puff Pant Prom (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Helen Walker as Rudolph Valentino, Puff Pant Prom, 1926

Helen Walker of McCune, Kansas, went to the Puff Pant Prom as
actor and 1920s sex symbol Rudolph Valentino and
won a prize for best “male” of the evening, 1926. Photograph by Duke D’Ambra.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/26 1926 Prints:
Student Activities: Puff Pant Prom (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

Photographs of the Puff Pant Prom, Jayhawker yearbook, 1927

Photographs of the Puff Pant Prom in the Jayhawker yearbook, 1927.
University Archives. Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1927.
Click image to enlarge.

Photographs of the Puff Pant Prom, Jayhawker yearbook, 1928

Photographs of the Puff Pant Prom in the Jayhawker yearbook, 1928.
University Archives. Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1928.
Click image to enlarge.

The University Daily Kansan announced the first Puff-Pant Prom on March 3, 1924, with the front-page headline “Women Date Women and Do Your Stuff!”

Lady sheiks, notice! It’s time to ask that heavy love of yours to give you her time on the night of March 14, from 9 until 12. Why? Because that is the date and the hour of the puff-pant prom, a dance to be put on under the auspices of the Women’s Athletic Association for the women students of the University. Half of the women will dress as men, that is, if the men on the Hill will be kind enough to lend their wardrobe for the occasion, and the sheiks at the party must see to it that their ladies are in party dress. The puff-pant prom is to be a program affair. The only males allowed will be those in the men’s orchestra which will play for the dance, but the party will be chaperoned, to maintain order among the gay cake-eaters. The program committee has announced that there will be circle dances, Paul Jones dances, Dutch dances, clogging and stunts. Those working on the program committee are Elizabeth Bolinger, Gladys Snyder, Dorothy Barter, and Davida Olinger. Tickets for the party will go on sale this week. The price will be 75 cents a couple, and 50 cents for stags.

The Kansan also reported on the event after fact, in an article than ran on March 16. The headline noted that a “fashion show and dances furnish[ed] entertainment during intermission.”

“I am heartily in favor of making the Puff Pant Prom an annual affair,” said Dean Agnes Husband in speaking of the women’s dance given at Robinson gymnasium Friday night. “I think it was a great success and that everyone enjoyed herself. These women’s parties are a splendid means of getting acquainted.” About 150 couples, and 15 “men” and women stags, attended the dance. A grand march…started the first women’s varsity dance ever given at the University. The men of the Hill must have been generous in lending their clothes, for good looking tuxedos, tall silk hats, derbies and Sunday ties, were very much in prominence. The women of the party dressed as though they were attending the best Varsity dances given at F. A. U. hall…The four piece orchestra displayed as much pep as the hearty hand clapping and applause from the “men” guests could instill…The only lucky men at the prom were the musicians, two men who sold refreshments, and the four who came to the dance dressed as women. These last guests were not permitted to stay.

Each subsequent Puff Pant Prom followed a similar structure, although it was eventually relocated to the Union and moved from springtime to autumn.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Melissa Kleinschmidt, Megan Sims, and Abbey Ulrich
Public Services Student Assistants

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