The Shocking Cost of Proms in America
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The Fiscal Times
April 24, 2013

American families cut back on shopping and eating out in March, but when it comes to the high school tradition of throwing hundreds of hormonally-charged teenagers in a room in extravagant clothing, parents pull out all the stops. Prom spending hit an average of $1,139 per family this year, a 5 percent increase from last year, according to a new survey from Visa Inc.

The recession briefly helped curb prom spending, which dropped down to an average of $807 in 2011, but it has come roaring back with the recovery.

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And proms’ top spenders aren’t who you’d expect – Visa found two years ago that families with household incomes under $30,000 spent the most, and this year’s survey showed that single parents tend to splurge more for their children compared to married parents ($1,563 versus $770 respectively).

The costs include everything from tickets and limo rides to professional hairdos, flowers, and of course, the dresses – which have began to rival wedding dress prices. On DressGoddess.com, there’s a blue beaded chiffon gown that goes for nearly $6,000, as well as a $13,997 prom dress covered with diamonds that’s already sold out.

David Wilkenfeld, president of PromGirl.com, told Fox Business that he’s seen the cost he pays the manufacturer for dresses rise about 20 to 25 percent every year between 2010 and 2012. “I’d say this is a recession-proof industry,” he said. His company netted over $80 million in sales in 2012 – enough for him to plunk down $16.5 million for a $4,700-square-foot penthouse in NYC last November.

Limo rentals can also add thousands to the cost, with rentals in Los Angeles, Calif., going for about $3,000 a night, according to Chris Hundley, president of Limousine Connection. Tux rentals run about $100 to $200, and depending on the salon, hair styling can be anywhere from $75 to $300.
“Prom-Posals” are even on the rise – with teens staging extravagant gestures to ask their date to prom, according to the Associate Press. Aerial Message, a Florida-based company which charges $600 for a plane to fly with a banner, said last year was the first time they did prom invitations. Others have staged flash mobs, scavenger hunts and YouTube music videos.

It seems the brief thriftiness families experienced during the recession has done little to curb long-term prom spending. “Prom has devolved into a competition to crown the victor of high school society,” said Nat Sillin, head of Visa’s U.S. Financial Education, in a press release. And like in the real world, money and status go hand in hand.

Blaire Briody is a contributing editor at The Fiscal Times. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Popular Science, Publishers Weekly, among others.