As prom approaches, many juniors are looking forward to a night they will never forget. But what is the cost of this hallmark high school experience?
From attire to transportation, there are a myriad of expenses associated with prom. According to a Harbinger survey of 124 juniors and seniors from March 29 to April 5 through Google Forms, 18 percent of students spent between $301 and $400 on the event, followed by 17 percent that spent between $101 and $200 and 13 percent that spent between $401 and $500.
Of the survey respondents who had already attended prom, only 35 percent indicated that they believe they spent the right amount of money. For the remaining 65 percent, the overall cost they put towards prom night was more than what they believe they should have spent.
Why people spend (or don’t spend)
Senior Rianna Mukherjee, with her costs totaling between $601 and $700, is among those who believe they overspent on prom.
“For me, [spending money] was a stress eliminator, but I don’t know if that rings true for everybody,” Mukherjee said. “I think a lot of people spend more money to look a certain way or to say that they spent a certain amount of money.”
When it came to figuring out transportation to the venue, Mukherjee chose to pay for a limo that she didn’t want rather than get involved and try to get the group she was traveling with to consider other alternatives.
“Me spending more money at that point was less stressful than worrying about all of these people’s opinions that I didn’t even know,” Mukherjee said.
However, some students, like senior Liliko Uchida, are happy with the amount they paid. For Uchida, whose total cost was between $101 and $200 dollars, prom does not warrant any excessive spending.
“Everything is so temporary for prom,” Uchida said. “I feel like it’s not really worth putting in so much money.”
Furthermore, Uchida thinks that the amount people spend on prom is not necessarily apparent to others and, therefore, not important.
“You should never feel obligated to spend more money because people aren’t going to know at the end of the day how much you spent, so it doesn’t really matter,” Uchida said.
Courtesy Jeff Slovin
Seniors Mikayla Coyne and Meaghan Kelleher at prom last May. Kelleher spent $800 on her dress including alterations.
Senior Meaghan Kelleher spent over $1000 for prom, estimating that her dress was $800 including alterations, and she spent $115 on professional hair and makeup.
“There’s nothing else I really could have done,” Kelleher said. “I couldn’t really have spent less on hair and makeup, so the only thing would be get a cheaper dress, but I really liked my dress.”
Role of gender
The results of the survey revealed discrepancies between the amount females are spending and the amount males are. 52 percent out of 97 female respondents who answered how much they spent on prom indicated that their costs were over $400 while only 22 percent of the 23 males respondents to that question did so.
Junior Sophia Mihalek believes females experience a greater pressure to spend more.
“[There is] social pressure to have professionally done hair, makeup, spray tan, nails, brand new shoes, brand new jewelry…” Mihalek said. “And then boys just buy a suit and a corsage.”
Part of the discrepancy might be explained by the outlook each gender has towards prom, according to junior Adam Ramondo.
“Just the entire culture around it, females [are expected to spend more],” Romando said. “They hype themselves up more for [prom]. I think it means a lot more to women than it does to men.”
Expectation to spend
According to the survey, 64 percent of upperclassmen feel that there is an expectation to spend a certain amount on prom. Mukherjee was one of these respondents.
Courtesy Jeff Slovin
Seniors Jody Sunray, Liliko Uchida and Molly Sunray at prom last May. Uchida’s dress cost her around $100.
“It’s kind of like a subconscious thing that is in us to want to be better than somebody else or have the prettier dress,” Mukherjee said.
She also attributes this expectation partly to what people see online.
“Even on the prom dress websites you see these girls in gowns and you’re like ‘They’re perfect’ or you go on social media and you’re like ‘I want to be like that,’” Mukherjee said. “But then when you start actually looking into these brand name dresses or these nice dresses, they’re super expensive.”
Mihalek agrees that this expectation to spend is particularly great when it comes to buying dresses. In her experience, expensive dresses are more admired than cheaper alternatives.
“I feel like if you go ‘I bought my dress for 100 dollars’ people will think it is ugly….but then if you go ‘I bought my dress for 400 or 500’ then they will be like ‘It’s a nice dress,’” Mihalek said.
Not everyone, however, feels that this expectation exists. Uchida believes that how much one spends on prom is dependent on the individual rather than societal pressures.
“No one is telling you you have to spend a thousand dollars on prom,” Uchida said. “It’s all just how much can you stand your ground and say ‘Okay this is how much I’m going to spend.’ I think prom [involves] a lot of self-control in spending money, but there are no rules that say that you have to spend more than however many dollars.”
Despite the many expenses associated with prom, some students do find ways to lower their spending for the event. Mihalek, Mukherjee and Uchida, for instance, chose to do some of their own hair and makeup instead of paying a professional.
In addition, shopping for dresses online can cut costs dramatically.
“A lot of people are really against buying dresses online, but I got my dress online for I think 99 dollars,” Uchida said “And it was a real brand dress that I saw in the dress store that was for 400 dollars.”
Seventy-four percent of survey respondents indicated that buying their apparel for prom was the most expensive part. Mukherjee, like Uchida, believes there are ways to reduce this cost.
“Definitely buy your dress ahead of time,” Mukherjee said. “I will say that does save you money because as you get closer to prom season it makes more sense for the stores to be charging you a lot more.”
Another possibility is to rent a dress or buy a second-hand one from another student or a family member.
Mukherjee, who spent close to $400 on her dress, now finds she has no use for it. Renting can provide an alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on a clothing item that may only be worn for a few hours.
“I have my dress still and I don’t know what to do with it,” Mukherjee said. “A good option is renting because then it’s a little bit cheaper and you don’t have to figure out what to do with it.”
For students with significant financial burdens, there are options as well. Events in the local community such as the Metrowest Princess Boutique and The Fairy Prom Mother aim to provide free prom dresses and accessories to those who may not be able to afford them otherwise.
Despite all the money that goes into the event, some students, like Mukherjee and Uchida, believe there is no connection between how much someone spends and their experience on prom night.
“It’s more about seeing your friends and having a good time as opposed to spending all this money…” Mukherjee said. “The actual experience itself is completely different from how you look and all of that.”