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The real reason prom costs the average girl $1,139

Hint: It's not the dress.

By Glamour Magazine May 1, 2013 10:41PM

Photo: Shopping for a prom dress // Patrick Lane/Getty Imagesby Amy Wicks 

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It's that time of year when the fitting rooms at your local department store are full of girls trying on potential prom dresses. I don't know about you, but I have such wonderful memories of prom. I wore a vintage cream-colored dress (with gloves — I know) and dark blue Stuart Weitzman shoes that I have to admit, I still pull out from time to time. The whole look cost around $400. At the time, I thought that was kind of extravagant, but it turns out I have nothing on the girls who are attending prom this year. A new survey from Visa found that on average, families will spend $1,139 on prom this year. This figure is up 40 percent from 2011, when they spent $807.

When I saw Visa's report, I figured that large increase in prom spending was probably tied to buying fancier dresses. It turns out the answer is more complicated than that. "In today's world, teenagers and young adults have lost most of their discretionary buying power," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group. He told me that after a year of being frugal, this is the one day when families will give their teens the ability to splurge. "This day is second only to their wedding," Cohen said.

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Cohen went on to say that prom today could be compared to the movie "Footloose." Those kids had to abandon dancing altogether, and when they finally got it back, they could do it but be more responsible. He said prom is back in a big way, spending-wise, but even this $1,139 figure doesn't mean they are spending irresponsibly. "It's like the movie — they are going for it but being more careful."

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That's not to say girls aren't spending more money on dresses and sometimes buying at least two pairs of shoes (one pair for the dance and one pair for afterward). But transportation and restaurant costs add up, too.

Tell us on Facebook: Do you remember how much you spent on your prom? Does this figure sound crazy to you? Discuss!

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May 8, 2013 4:18AM
If I had a daughter, I would be overjoyed to splurge on a prom dress if she was graduating.  I have a niece.  She dropped out in the 10th grade and I paid $500 for her bail when she got picked up with some drug dealers.  The rate of high school drop outs where I live is frightening.  I guess Visa didn't include inner city folks in this survey.
May 7, 2013 11:22PM

When I went (I'm a guy) I think I paid $100 for tuxedo rental which included dress shoes (Circa 1994.)

I paid for our dinner, purchased the tickets, corsage, ( I worked part time during high school) picked us up in my car.. Total cost for me approximately $180.00 My date had a nice dress, probably second hand but well taken care of, her mother/grandmother did her hair, probably cost less than $100.


A two years later in Florida with another girlfriend her prom, Antique wedding dress for her, dinner at a restuarant, shoes/dress, same.. around $100... I wore a button up cream colored silk shirt, black slacks, tie, jacket gloves and cane.. Cost around 200 total.


I don't see where Visa is coming up with the costs here unless they are grossly inflating it hoping people get the idea this is the norm.


My 2nd Cousin just moved in with my parents.. she is a Junior in HS.. Her prom was coming up and she was afraid she couldn't attend. My mom took her to a consignment shop, they got 3 different dresses, 1 Military Ball, 1 Prom, and 1 'whatever' Dress for $75.00; My mom did her hair and make up, and her father escorted her and the boyfriend as chauffer.. It can be held inexpensively and still stylish and memorable. Just depends what you are willing to do.


May 7, 2013 11:18PM
$1139.00 will pay for a semester at a community college or a  tech school after graduation . . . .
May 7, 2013 8:25PM

My prom was in 1966, yeah, I'm old and times were different then. I spent $ 15.00 on my prom dress. It was a long white dress than had little ruffles on the skirt. It was on sale, I think the original price was $ 35.00. $ 15.00 for lime green dyed heels and 10.00 for a lime green dyed purse. I went to two proms in that dress, so I got my money's worth. Prom tickets were $ 10.00 each, I bought the tickets for my prom and my date bought the tickets for his. Times and prices were different then.


May 7, 2013 1:17PM

Prom doesn't mean anything in the long run; it's just a show. Let's spend hundreds of dollars on stuff we don't need to impress people we don't like while we listen to music and stand like fence posts in the gym. (First year highschool teacher that sees this mentality daily)

May 5, 2013 1:57PM
Girls may look pretty in all the fluff but its for their ego and not for the boys they go there with ,its so she can compete with the other girls to see who out spent who. So lets be honest its a big ceremony for mating rituals as most girls will lie thru there teeth what they will do after the prom in those motel rooms they have already and mommy and daddy know nothing about
May 4, 2013 7:42PM
In 1969, things were way different! I made my own dress in sewing class like most of the other girls. Went to an all girls school so I paid for the tickets--dance and dinner afterwards was under $15. Shoes were maybe $20. Hair was $20. Pictures were $10. Did my own makeup. My date drove his car. The dance was in the fanciest hotel in downtown Seattle and dinner was at a nice seafood place on the water. I realize prices have increased, but why the need for a limo, a designer gown and professional makeup?
May 3, 2013 9:52PM

Why not talk about what prom costs the GUYS?


Limo?  Tuxedo?  Dinner at a really fancy restaurant (and your date orders the most expensive thing on the menu, doesn't eat it all, and doesn't take it with her)?


I'll bet I spent more than $1,000 on my 1987 prom -- what does that work out to today?!

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