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Your Turn, NH -- Roy Alonzo: Why do proms cost so much these days?

June 08. 2014 11:30PM

TIME, it is said, heals all things; it also veils many things as they change. With all the recent talk about proms, and having sent a congratulatory check to a granddaughter to help with her prom and pre-college expenses, I began to wonder when proms became so expensive. Did it happen in the easy-money nineties, or creep up slowly over the last 60 years? What caused the shift from the carefree happy days when we had so much fun on prom night, and no hangover from stress-filled weeks or months leading up to it.

It was a time when we decorated our school gymnasium or auditorium with pictures, balloons and crepe-paper streamers, gabbing as we worked, and filled with pride for our school. The boys wore a suit or a jacket and slacks and, of course, a shirt and tie. Girls usually wore their nicest dress, and if they had to buy one, it would probably be one they could wear after the prom, to make a good impression when applying for a job. The only pre-prom expense for a boy was to buy a wrist corsage for his date and a carnation for his lapel, both for less than $3. The post-prom expenditures were the cost of fancy ice cream confections or pie ala mode and coffee, and bus fare.

To my recollection, only two boys in our class owned a car, both old hand-me-downs. Some others borrowed their parents’ car for the event, but many of us relied on the city’s bus system.

I recall that my date lived across town from my neighborhood, so she rode a bus with her girlfriends to a transfer point downtown, where some of my male friends and I met them, and we all mounted the transfer bus to our school. After the prom, groups of students went in various directions to ice cream parlors or coffee shops, where they could reminisce and discuss their plans for the future, until it was time to catch the last bus home. For days after, we’d swap our candid camera photos and sign each others’ yearbooks, all the while savoring the good time we had at the prom.

I’ve wondered what the cost of proms might be today, so I turned to the Internet and found information on sites called PromGirl and NetFix, that had a breakdown of the average cost. While the range runs from $175 to $2,100, the average cost of a prom was estimated to be more than $1,000. A recent Visa survey found that on average, families expect to spend about $1,139 on proms. The cost range for each of the component expenses of a prom was found to be as follows:

Prom tickets average $20 to $250, depending on the location of the event, and if dinner is included.

Pre-prom dinners, if not included in the ticket price, may run from $25 to $250 per person, depending on where you dine and what you choose to eat.

Hair, make-up, nails, etc., may cost from $30 to $275 if you choose to go to a salon rather than do it yourself.

Prom gowns and dresses can run from $100 to $400 if you decide not to visit a department store or thrift shop.

A boutonniere for him can set you back $10 to $20, depending on type of flower and where you buy it.

Formal photography prices typically range from $30 to $125. Most prom committees arrange to have a photographer to take pictures of couples at the event, in which case price lists are usually available beforehand.

Limousine rental is an extravagant item, typically running from $200 to $500, depending on time, distance, and amenities, but if you get a group to split the cost, it can be much more reasonable.

To be sure, if you can sew or are a thrifty shopper, do your own hair, nails and make-up, have a camera, can borrow the family car, and go to a reasonable restaurant, you can cut the cost way down. In the end, it comes down to how much a family can afford or is inclined to spend.

Well, that answered my first question about costs, but I’m still wondering if today’s proms are really 75 times better, on average, than my $15 prom. Hmmm. In consolation for those who would answer, “no,” be comforted by the fact that by your fifth reunion no one will have the slightest clue what anyone else wore or spent for the prom. They will be glad to see you, for who you are, and that’s what counts.

Roy Alonzo lives in Exeter.

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