It’s the season of the prom dress

The high school promenade. It began only in earnest in the 1950s but rapidly developed from simple formal dances in Sunday dresses.

Now, my daughter’s only six, but considering that she came home from school once declaring that she needed a bra (she doesn’t) and once explaining that she should probably start wearing make-up (she won’t) preparing myself early (12 years early) for the debacle that has become prom season seems prudent.

The high school promenade. It began only in earnest in the 1950s but rapidly developed from simple formal dances in Sunday dresses to the spectacle of gowns, crowns and limousines that it’s become today.

Although the full blown prom is still largely an American extravaganza, the lower key Irish “debs” and Canadian “grads” are forever being influenced by the giant US culture machine. And, even in Canada, the prom is arguably the most anticipated and most feared event in an adolescent’s high school career.

Stereotypically it’s the knee knocking event when boys pop their big question, “Will you go with me?” And, it’s the equally jittery season when girls hurry up and wait for those words to be posed to them.

In some recent headline-making examples of prom date upturns a California senior sent out 600 tweets soliciting a prom date from (any) porn star. Although he did eventually secure a willing partner, his school predictably banned his choice. In another event a Pennsylvania girl was banned from attending solo after her date changed his plans.

These examples of unfortunate prom scenarios might sound like cross border exceptions, but even in the Great White North graduation dances are hitting extremes of expense and expectation.

Boys have to steel themselves for contracting the date, but they have little else to do beyond coughing up for the boutonniere and corsage (starting at $8 and $13 respectively) and renting a tux (starting at $84 including jacket, pants, shirt, vest, tie and cufflinks. Shoes are extra).

Girls have the added pressures of the dress.

Rosa, a dress store manager in Kamloops, explained that although prom season is here, it’s far too late to be shopping for dresses.

“In October they’re looking, by January they have to know what they want. By the time they find the dress, it takes three or four months, and then it takes three months to come, so it’s a six month process,” she says. “If they don’t start early when it comes to grad they can’t find the dress they’ve been dreaming about for 12 years.”

Some of the girls spend a fortune on their prom gown, but the average sits between $200 and $3,000. Of course that’s just for the gown. Girls require a shorter dress for the commencement ceremony, and often splurge on an evening party dress to see them through the wee hours. Plus the shoes, hair, make-up, accessories . . . it’s like a trial run of a wedding.

A prom is a conclusion, a farewell to the tumultuous teenage years before heading out to university or work, and the bills, apartments, freedoms and shackles that come with. It’s a very good reason to celebrate the things that have passed, and the things to come. Surely it can, and should, be all of that but perhaps, somehow, it could be a normal affair for normal kids too. Without school board politics, and exorbitant expenses? Maybe without so many pressures the kids, with dates or without, fancy gowns or homemade frocks, will be all right.

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