$1,000 prom queen

With increased expectations, high-cost proms have become the norm.

Published June 9, 2006 11:24AM (EDT)

In an appropriately superficial article for Thursday Styles' "Skin Deep" column, the New York Times examines the high-cost prom. Call me crazy, but reading about the number of greenbacks shelled out for the "beautifying process" is enough to make you break into hives.

The article points out how "shows like MTV's 'My Super Sweet 16' and Hollywood ... influence the intensity with which girls prepare for the prom." Gone are the days of saving for a limo and a dress. Meet Lauren Kamisky, a 17-year-old from Roslyn, N.Y., who told the Times that her "pre-prom to-do list included a bikini wax and leg wax to prepare her for the post-prom beach visit. Her mother, Kim Kaminsky, said she would pay for the entire regimen, which she estimated would cost more than $1,000." And Eleanor Jailer-Coley, 17, from Port Washington, N.Y., estimated that she would spend $350 on hair and makeup alone.

Antonia Van Der Meer, the editor in chief of Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Your Prom magazines, rationalizes the high cost of prom as the girls' "red carpet moment. Unlike celebrities, this is their only moment to dress like that and do their hair." Sure, dressing up can be fun, but does it have to be at such a cost?

Although the article focuses primarily on the suburbs of Long Island, N.Y., where one is left to assume that money is a non-issue for these teens -- or at least their parents -- according to Conde Nast Bridal Group, which owns Your Prom, the average student spends $638 on the prom, a $4 billion industry. There is no discussion of what kids from less affluent families do to finance the night. "There is no other event as big as this one other than your sweet 16 and your wedding," one girl exclaimed of prom. Seventh graders, start saving now.

Conspicuously absent from the piece are the boys; the Times says that the average student spends more than $600 on prom -- are the boys tanning too? Do they feel the same pressure to look good, and do they spend an equivalent amount of cash? Probably not, but it would have been nice to hear about their expenses as well.

While it seems easy to make the judgment that this kind of spending at such a young age for a single night is way out of proportion, it is, however, well in line with the kind of beauty-centered lifestyles that are so common in America, especially among women. So, it seems a bit naive to be surprised. Nonetheless, even if high-cost proms are nothing to bat a (fake) eyelash at, one cannot help feeling that the values they represent are a little skewed.

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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