School proms might be fun but they have lost their way and the costs are staggering

Finding the right outfit for prom can cost a fortune and the pressure is high.Finding the right outfit for prom can cost a fortune and the pressure is high.
Finding the right outfit for prom can cost a fortune and the pressure is high.
The dresses cost hundreds, the school bus is swapped for a Ferrari and school proms are spiralling into little more than a celebration of who can spend the most.

High school proms became part of mainstream British culture in the early 2000s and they’ve evolved to become more lavish and decadent every year since. We aren’t seeing the movie clichés associated with high school proms any more: the oversized suits, girls one end and boys the other, cheesy music and so on. Instead, students are now hiring limousines, buying overpriced prom dresses and getting nails, hair and make-up done.

It’s also common to have gatherings or parties both before and after the event, with students also buying ‘after-prom’ dresses. When I had my prom last year, I was surprised to see just how extravagant they have become - not only did mine take place at a stunning National Trust site but there were professional photographers, photo booths, and even students arriving in a Ferrari. It felt like a teenage take on the Met Gala.

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I began looking for my prom dress in the February for my prom in July, thinking I was going to jump the crowds in March/April but I was completely wrong; the store was packed. I had to wait for a changing room, and when I eventually found the dress I wanted, the owner was desperately trying to persuade me to buy it there and then because it could ‘get sold at any minute’ by someone from the same school as me. It was chaotic.

And while many students are pleased the celebrations are getting bigger and better each year, its unsurprising to hear that parents are noticing a bigger - and not so better - drain on their bank accounts. According to a poll by Money Wellness, 40% of parents said they are expecting to spend between £250-£500 for their child’s prom, and 26% of women said they plan to reduce non-essential spending just to cover prom costs. Prom dress prices in particular are increasing in an unparalleled way, with a friend spending £600 on one to simply never wear it again.

It is unsurprising then that proms highlight wealth inequality, where students from low-income households may feel as though they are ‘missing out’ if they can’t spend quite as much as their friends. Second hand dresses or renting of dresses need to become more commonplace.

I did, of course, love my prom and it is one of my favourite American imports, but cultural changes have shifted the focus away from what proms should be celebrating. That’s the end of exams, friendship, and new beginnings ... not who has the best dress or suit, or the most lavish car ride to the venue.

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