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TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago if a senior girl didn't have a date for the prom, she:

Sat home and cried.

Had a friend of her mother's dig up a nerdy nephew as an escort.

But times are changing.

Though prom night still means romance, some students don't feel compelled to book a date for the big night. They are going alone, with a couple of classmates, and even in groups.

Some are exceptionally creative about the endeavor. Last year, three Williamsville North High School girls went to the dance in tuxedos. At Southwestern Central High School in Lakewood a few years back, two boys went to their senior prom as the dark-suited, sunglass-wearing Blues Brothers. Two years ago, three senior girls at Williamsville North made a pact that if they didn't all get dates, they'd go as a threesome. Their "date" was a life-size blow-up Gumby doll that they decorated with a bow tie.

"I think by the end of the night everybody had danced with him," said Barbara Slootsky, senior class adviser.

"It was nice to see the kids go stag and have a good time. I wish more kids would do it. It's rare that they do at our school."

The girls who attend solo usually wear fashionable gowns, have their pictures taken and take home their glassware souvenirs. Some even buy corsages for themselves.

And they have a devil-may-care attitude about being dateless. Said one senior: "Just because you go alone doesn't mean you leave alone."

Russell Link, theater and arts teacher at Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, said he has been encouraging students for the past few years to attend the prom, with or without a date.

"If I know that a girl wants to go but she doesn't have a date, I tell her to put on a pretty dress and have a blast. I think solos can have a lot of fun, sometimes more fun than the kids who are trying to impress each other with a car or dress, but then find they don't even like each other very much. Or they realize that their date doesn't dance. Or that she won't -- or can't -- dance in the dress she's wearing."

Willow Cheeley, a City Honors senior who is going to the prom with friends, plans to mix, mingle and dance. "It's not as though we'll be sitting at one table exclusively," she said. "I'll be talking to people and moseying around."

She asked a boy but he already had a date, she said. "(Going dateless) isn't a big deal for me, although my mother and my father say I should go with a date." Friends reacted to her decision to go solo with, "Oh, no, grab someone off the streets."

She finds the dress search far more pressing. "The dresses I've seen are either too much or have too many frills or are obnoxious colors or too short or cut in a funny way or too tight. I'm looking for a subtle dress with character. . . . I'll probably go in a burlap sack."

Joe Pignatora plans to wear a "cool" jacket rather than a tuxedo. "The main reason I didn't ask anyone is that I don't want to be responsible for dancing with someone. I'm definitely not a dancer," said the City Honors senior.

"If you have a date, you have to stick to who you went with. Some kids don't pay attention to their dates and then somebody gets mad. Or they've had their prom dates since last year . . . and what if it ends up being someone you don't want to spend the night with?"

A few weeks before her prom, Jennifer Brecht was waffling between going alone and asking a boy. "But then I'm wondering if I'll have a good time with that person," said the City Honors senior. "Last year I went with a friend and it was a big mistake."

Prom night is anticlimactic, she said. "Everyone has very high expectations. You get the dress. You get the date. You have the notion it will be the most wonderful night of your life. But when you get there, you find out that you have dinner, you dance. I think you should just have fun and not try to force anything -- be glad you're a senior and that it's May."

Not all schools allow single-ticket sales. "We have a couples-only policy," said Thomas L. Schnepper, principal of Iroquois Central High School. "We tried (singles) four or five years ago. Basically, it was males who went on their own. But they weren't very comfortable and the other kids didn't like the idea."

Greg Propeck and Thone Heitzhaus, Bennett High School students, are going stag. Propeck said the prom snuck up on him. "It came by faster than I expected," he said. "I asked one girl but she had a boyfriend. Then I didn't have a chance to ask anybody else."

Tammy Shaw, also from Bennett, has a long white strapless gown all set for the prom. She bought her own ticket and plans to rent a limo with friends, both boys and girls.

"It's not as dates, though," Tammy said. "We're buying our own tickets. We don't want any commitments."

What do the unattached do when the band mellows into a dreamy song?

"Oh, there will be some lonely guy there and you can hook up with him, or you go to the ladies' room to fix your hair," Tammy said.

At Maryvale Senior High School about three or four girls out of 300 attendees go alone, said Basil Piazza, class adviser. "Guys don't go alone because they cannot bear to let their macho image go down," he said.

This year a Maryvale boy may set a precedent that could complicate prom etiquette even further. "One of our senior boys couldn't make up his mind, so he's taking two girls," Piazza said.

That's $75 worth of tickets. Two corsages. And an interesting good-night kiss.

And speaking of money, one Florida boy probably wishes his prospective date had planned on going solo. A West Palm Beach girl -- who claims he stood her up -- is suing him for $49.53 for the shoes, hairdo and flowers that went unused. His defense is that he had to leave town that night.

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