Batavia parent Michelle Rush describes her two daughters’ prom nights as a highlight of their high school years. She remembers that they looked beautiful, and had “a big smile on their faces.”
In order to get to that point, however, there was a lot of work, she said. There were trips “all over the place” to get the perfect dress. They had to get their hair and nails done at beauty salons. They had to arrange for flowers. There was the jewelry and the shoes to select. By the time it was all done, she figured the cost was about $800 for each kid. Her youngest daughter graduated last year.
“I think the moms I talked to kind of felt the same, that this is a crazy amount to spend for one evening,” Rush said. “But you don’t want to be the mom who says, ‘You can’t get the dress.’ … You bite the bullet and do it.”
The prom experience in the Tri-Cities and Kaneland area can vary, depending on how each student approaches the big night. But at each school, the event remains significant, and it’s an occasion for which students do go out and get special attire.
As far as the price, that appears to be going down, at least according to a national survey conducted by Visa, although the national average of $978 exceeds even the “crazy amount” described by Rush. The average spent on prom in the Midwest, according to the survey, is $835. According to Visa, the average American household spent $1,139 on prom last year. Nat Sillin, the head of U.S. financial education for Visa, said he considers a reduction in prom costs to be a good thing.
“Hopefully, it’s down because folks have come to their senses,” Sillin said.
‘I think it’s worth it’
Lexi Roach, a senior at Kaneland High School, said she will be headed to her third prom this year. Kaneland’s prom is at Northern Illinois University. She said she expects to spend a total of $500 on prom this year.
She said she knows of some friends who will spend more than $1,000, but she said some will spend much less. While the experience and the dress costs will vary, she said, it’s a night that should not be skipped. She said it is a big social event, almost like a “mini red carpet,” and it is “a lot more formal than homecoming.”
“I think prom is such a fun experience,” Roach said. “It’s totally different than anything we’ve experienced. I do think it’s a lot of money, but I think it’s worth it.”
Tickets to prom throughout the area run in the $100 to $150 range. Some said the cost can be split between a couple. Some said it’s traditional for the boy to purchase the tickets.
Geneva High School senior Jamie Maher, executive board president of the school’s student council, stressed that her school’s tickets include a bus ride to the school’s chosen prom venue – the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Also, it includes a post-prom party. All students who participate are required to take the bus, which can increase safety, since students are much less likely to drive drunk. It also can reduce cost, since most students won’t need to rent a limousine, she said.
Maher said she will wear a dress that “wasn’t terribly expensive.” Told that the Midwest average according to Visa’s survey was $835, she said “that, to me, sounds like a lot.”
“My cost is going to be well under half of that,” she said, adding that she thought it was “quite an overestimate for Geneva.”
Kaneland senior Rachel Mathys said she is one who will spend a lot on a dress – around $600. But she said she will cut back in other areas. She said she had pulled a lot of dresses, and her mom pulled one as a joke and “thought it would make me look like a cupcake.” Instead, Mathys thought the baby blue dress that her mom selected looked elegant and classy, and she thought it was a good match for her style.
‘Not going to go hog wild’
Janet Wallace has six daughters. Three are done with their prom experiences, but the fourth, Sophie, is going to Kaneland’s prom this year. Wallace said her daughter’s prom experience will cost about $285. That’s with Sophie wearing a dress that had been worn by an older sister. She won’t rent a limo. Wallace said she doesn’t think she’ll be the only one watching costs for the prom.
“I just don’t think people are going to be spending what they did years ago,” she said. “They’re not going to go hog wild. … You can look just as nice without spending a lot of money.”
She said the dress her daughter will wear “is gorgeous. … She’s borrowing her sister’s dress, but it looks like a Cinderella dress.”
Another Kaneland parent, Anna Kucera, said she knows some who are spending more money, but said her daughter, Jessica, has set a budget of $200 for her dress. She said it’s much easier for her son, Nathaniel.
“That’s just renting a tux,” she said. “There’s the tux, flowers and that’s it.”
She said she knows that “some girls spend major money,” but she feels that all of the dresses look special and “you would have to work for Vogue to be able to distinguish them.”
Roach said there isn’t any issue for those who spend more or less at prom. For those who spend more, she said the thought is “good for them. I wouldn’t complain.” And for those who spend less, “if anything, they’re praised because they saved their money.”
The whole experience
The dress is only part of the big night. At Eva’s Floral Wonders in Geneva, prom is one of the busiest times of the year. Eva Kamieniak said she mostly deals with the guys and their parents, since they are the ones ordering the flowers and corsages. She said it’s important to “match the colors exactly,” and this year has been a challenge. She said coral is a big color this year, and “coral is a very hard color to match.”
She said each year, she’ll check with schools on when proms are scheduled.
“We wouldn’t take any other big events on the same day,” she said.
Then there is the way guys will ask girls to the prom. Rush said she remembers: “It used to be just passing in the hall. … Now you have to come up with some elaborate way to ask the girls. I don’t think you get wedding proposals that are as elaborate.”
At Geneva, Maher said she was asked to prom by a barbershop quartet.
“I thought it was great … they were very good,” Maher said.
Then there is the venue and the post-prom party. Mary Keyzer, the co-activities director for prom at Geneva High School, said officials there decided years ago to “kind of soup up prom and take it downtown.” But she said that homecoming is also a big event, with greater participation. Prom is special, however, because it’s not as open of an event, often restricted to juniors and seniors and their dates.
At Kaneland, Roach said it’s an experience that should not be missed, adding, “to me, it’s a big deal.” And Rush said that, despite the ordeal to run around to get dresses for her daughters and all the cost that goes along with it, that it’s a night they always will remember.
“They had a ball,” Rush said. “That’s why you do it, right?”