With all the hair, make-up, outfits, planning and dancing, for some Gwent youngsters the prom has become akin to a wedding day in terms of excitement - and cost. EMMA MACKINTOSH looks into the phenomenon.

A QUICK search for "UK prom" online yields more than 60 million results - and it's hardly surprising.

What would once have been called an "end of year party", and would probably have involved cake and fizzy pop in school before everyone snuck off for a cheeky night out elsewhere, has now become an institution for some of Gwent's schools, one which they take seriously.

The promise of a prom night complete with a photographer, a nice meal and disco, possibly even a red carpet, is huge for youngsters about to finish their GCSEs or A-Levels and with it, their school years, so they all want to bow out on a high.

That's why some schools, like Llanwern High School in Newport, have introduced points systems which will cover the cost of a student's ticket, encouraging them to keep up good behaviour and attendance right until the end of exams. It also means that pupils from less well-off families can still afford to go to what can be a rather pricey affair.

The school is decorated, students arrive in limousines and both staff and pupils wear tuxedos and prom dresses.

"For many pupils this is the first experience they have of this type of event, and for others it will be their last memory of the school," said Andy Knight, business director at Llanwern.

"We want the prom to be something they will remember and treasure for the rest of their lives."

Head teacher at Risca Comprehensive, John Kendall, agreed that there is no doubt that the end of school prom is a "big highlight" for pupils, parents and teachers alike.

"I think it's a great opportunity to celebrate the time students have spent in school, and to say goodbye," he said.

"It's a rare chance to get dressed up and hire a limo and go off to a classy venue. It can be expensive, but then it has become an important life event for many young people, and the memories they take from the prom will last for the rest of their lives.

"Everyone always looks amazing, I am looking forward to ours again this year," he said.

The cost of all the dresses, the glitz and the glam is only going in one direction - and has generated a huge industry backing it all.

The popularity of the prom, arguably adopted from the United States, has led retailers like Debenhams to set aside personal shoppers to help would-be prom goers.

And increasingly those customers are not the girls, but the boys too.

According to Debenhams, boys spend 21 per cent more money on average preparing for their prom than they did last year, as well as seeking out fake tan and eyebrow threading treatments. Overall they estimate boys are spending as much as £450 ahead of their prom night, compared to almost £500 for girls.

But there are a growing number of youngsters who don't want to wear something from the high street - and are looking to their grandparents' generation for fashion inspiration.

The rise of the prom and the surge in popularity for vintage fashions could almost go hand-in-hand, and for Emily Rose vintage shop on Windsor Road, Griffithstown, owner Liz Prosser's "prom season" started back in January.

"A prom boutique would write down your name in their book so that a different girl from the same school couldn't accidentally get the same dress," explained Mrs Prosser, whose salon also offers retro hair and make-up by freelance technicians. "But an original vintage [dress] will be a one-off."

Youngsters who shop for vintage prom dresses want to be unique, she said.

"A lot of the ones we've sold are not avant garde dresses, they are nice, elegant, one-of-a-kind pieces, but I think girls are buying into the whole idea [of a vintage dress]. They love the stories behind the dresses and they are making it their own, bang up to date and modern.

"One girl came in and she's going to wear her dress with Doc Martens, another is wearing a 50s style dress and we're doing her hair in victory rolls for a Paloma Faith look," she said. "Five girls from Croesyceiliog School have all bought vintage dresses from here but with very different looks, 1920s, 1950s and modern. They're having their hair and make-up done here, there'll be a photographer and they're going in a vintage car to the prom."

Some families are spending in excess of £400 on an outfit for their child, whereas others are picking up a reproduction 1950s style ensemble for around £35.

"For £35 the girls are looking like a million dollars," said Mrs Prosser, who said the pressure on teenagers is "huge" and that part of her job is to boost their self-confidence, which can be very low. "It's about getting the right dress for someone."

Next year she predicts there'll be some very dapper-looking young gentlemen joining their vintage female counterparts.

So what about the people bankrolling this high-flying endeavour - the parents?

Academics at Michigan State University have put together the following list of tips to help cut down the stress on your child's big day:

- Set a realistic budget for the event and share with your child what you can afford.

- Reassure your child that they look good regardless of how much their suit or dress cost, or what kind of car they arrive to the prom in.

- Encourage them to remember all the sights and sounds of the evening and have a talk with them about the pressure they might feel on prom night.