Listen up princesses and princes of prom, according to USA Today, families are spending an average of $1,078 on dresses, tuxes, makeup, hair, limos, tickets and corsages for the big night—even more for lower-income families. $1,078! Do you have any idea how many pedestrian mall renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody it would take you, accompanied by your friend on washtub bass, to raise that kind of dough? Not to mention that in a somewhat stagnant economy everyone’s a little short on the Benjamins. But when a buck or two is the norm, how can you possibly spend less on the most important event of high school? We think there are ways to do prom for half that.
Hair: I can still recall my trip to the salon before my “formal” in grade 12. The hairdresser brought out a folder full of pictures of ringlets and permed bangs for me to pick through. I selected “none of the above” while my friend selected “loose updo,” and we both ended up looking like we stepped out of Downton Abbey regardless. My hair, terrified in the hands of strangers, revolted against me, curling this way and that, balling up on my head in shame, the point being: hairdressers are not fairy godmothers. If you’re after simple, pretty, young hair, you may just be better off doing it yourself. My younger sister simply let her hair air-dry, working in some mousse and twisting it into finger curls for a sweet, beachy hairdo that didn’t prompt anyone to ask her for tea service. Plus, she saved $50 and a potential episode of crying in the salon (another prom rite of passage we don’t discuss enough).
Dress: While I get the desire for a “one of a kind” dress, the girls who spent more on their prom frocks in my year tended to look more similar than those who opted for something cheaper or more unique. I, for one, was so horrified by the sight of my body in satin that I was totally unnerved during the trying on of formal dresses and selected something unflattering out of fright. To this day, I still wince when I see a blue sail on a yacht. Some of the other girls opted for something more “their style,” whether a shorter length, or brighter print, or more forgiving fabric, and enjoyed their prom night without feeling like they had been abducted by a curtain. All over the web, cheaper, fun dresses vie for the attention of wedding boutique-obsessed prom-goers.
Limousines: There are a lot of factors go into whether or not your ride in the great white daschund breaks the bank—how many of you ride in it, how long you rent it for, and whether or not you choose one capable of crushing other cars or fitted with nightlights. But consider, I say CONSIDER, whether you need one at all. My grandfather drove my brother and his date to prom in his baby blue volvo—HOT, if you’re looking to stand out (when asked who the chauffeur is, tell them “My uncle, Steve Martin,” and move on). I drove my own date, which gave me a chance to show off my mad manual transmission skillz while wearing my blue spinnaker—an ice breaker if ever there was one.
Corsagery/boutonnierery: These floral tokens are endemic of dating culture itself. Each wristband and lapel pin screams, “I have been SHOTGUNNED by a real, live date!” But taking a date to prom is not necessarily the best or only approach. Many people choose to go in groups, forsaking the awkward dinnertime conversation of people used to IMing or speaking through mix tapes for jovial group chat. Others flout the tradition all on their lonesome: these people are the ones you will recognize in retrospect as having been THE LIFE OF THE PARTY, free to dally where they pleased and dance with whomever they liked, offering rib-tickles to any and all friends, crushes, and exes without being hemmed in by a yellow corsage that screams, “I should be talking to the guy with the matching boutonniere right now!” Other upsides to going stag: more time spent with your friends; no splurging on datish perks for the benefit of someone else; leaving open the possibility that across the crowded room, sparks fly with another single, open-minded, outgoing soul, resulting in a legitimate PROM MIRACLE.
Chill on the oneupmanship: The reason prom costs go up every year is partly because everyone wants their prom moment to be special—they want to look amazing, and they want a memorable experience to celebrate finishing high school, which pushes everyone to try and best their friends in looking like a true celebutante. It’s easy to forget that your end goal is “have fun and look your best” when distractions like eyelash extensions, fake tans, and designer shoes enter the conversation. So go easy on yourself and your friends. Picking out a special dress and putting some effort into your hair and makeup doesn’t have to mean hiring a personal makeup artist or getting a full service cut and color for the big night. And for the guys, picking an especially outrageous suit or arriving by helicopter really won’t make the night any more amazing than it already is.
When you’re at the shop being bombarded with jewelry suggestions and pricey dresses, think of your friend who is perhaps not as instinctively good at fashion or dolling themselves up, or not as cash-rich as other people in your class. Remember that everyone deserves to feel special at prom, and allow yourself to take it down a notch.
How much do you plan to spend on prom?