Apodaca: Prom can hit the pocketbook hard

June 02, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

Add this to the list of potential threats to the economy: prom costs.

As I write this column, my 17-year-old son is preparing to attend his high school prom, and I am trying not to think about how much money we're blowing on one night of teenage revelry.

True, proms are a rite of passage for high school kids. They are possibly the most important social event of their young lives, a critical piece of the fabric that binds friendships and provides cherished lifelong memories. How can you quantify that?


Actually, someone did.

(Note to my husband: Honey, if you are reading this, you can stop now. I think I hear the doorbell. The dog needs to go out. What was that noise? Did the washing machine just explode?)

Back to prom costs. Visa, the credit card company, conducted a survey and concluded that a prom will set a typical family back more than $1,000.

Can that be right? Let's see, for us there was the tuxedo rental ($138), tickets for my son and his date ($130), party bus and dinner for two ($190), and corsage ($45). Cha-ching, cha-ching. Those items, along with a few other incidentals, tally up to about $500.

Wow! We got away cheap!

(Honey, if you are still reading, I think you should lie down and take a nap.)

Proms haven't always been such over-the-top affairs. Their origins date back to a simpler time in the 19th century when elite American colleges held co-ed banquets for graduating seniors. The name is derived from the word "promenade," meaning a parade of guests in their best dress. How quaint.

As the 20th century dawned, proms — still rather prosaic occasions — began to filter down to the middle class as a means of exposing young people to the fine ways and etiquette of the upper crust.

In the post-World War II era, prom evolved — or devolved, depending on your perspective — into a formal high school dance, usually held in a gussied-up gym festooned with streamers and balloons.

Today, proms are pull-out-the-stops extravaganzas that seem to grow more lavish every year, economy be dashed.

The mode of transportation alone can be jarring in its excess. These days, kids ride to their proms in limos or luxurious party buses that come fully loaded with dance floors, poles, state-of-the-art sound systems, iPod hookups and video screens.

For most schools, the days of dancing on floors shared with the basketball team are long gone. Now proms are held at far classier digs, including theme parks, hotel ballrooms and country clubs.

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