IT'S THE WEEKEND: The phenomenon of 'the prom'

South Wales Argus: OH WHAT A NIGHT: Proms, such as this one enjoyed by Risca Comprehensive School pupils in 2012, are now one of the mainstays of high school life in the UK. OH WHAT A NIGHT: Proms, such as this one enjoyed by Risca Comprehensive School pupils in 2012, are now one of the mainstays of high school life in the UK.

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.

Comments (3)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

2:06pm Sun 15 Jun 14

Katie Re-Registered says...

All this is fine so long as the students choose of their own free will to copy the US import of the high school prom, but I think we have to be careful here that this doesn't become yet another way to brainwash and even cajole children and young adults into sexist gender stereotypes.

There have been several cases in the USA where girls who have wanted to wear tuxedos and boys who wanted to wear dresses have been banned from their high school proms. Moreover, in many American schools transgender students who actually identify as female have been forbidden to wear dresses and those who identify as male have been forbidden to wear tuxedos, trouser suits etc.

And what of young people who don't wish to conform to what they feel are patriarchal artificially constructed gender stereotypes because it goes against their feminist, or other political beliefs? There has been much in the media recently about sexist faith schools and the dangers of gender segregation leading to a sexist, divisive society. However, I feel it's not just faith schools that are guilty of this as heterosexist and gender normative orientated western capitalist societies also seek to portray sexist images of men and women - particularly in reactionary sexist TV ads - plus mostly erase anyone who identifies outside of the dictates of the bipolar gender regime altogether!

Am I the only person who sees the potential dangers of yet another needless American import turning into something a lot more sinister than the cutesy, ostensibly wholesome yet All-American Ken & Barbie plastic-wrapped package that its marketed in?
All this is fine so long as the students choose of their own free will to copy the US import of the high school prom, but I think we have to be careful here that this doesn't become yet another way to brainwash and even cajole children and young adults into sexist gender stereotypes. There have been several cases in the USA where girls who have wanted to wear tuxedos and boys who wanted to wear dresses have been banned from their high school proms. Moreover, in many American schools transgender students who actually identify as female have been forbidden to wear dresses and those who identify as male have been forbidden to wear tuxedos, trouser suits etc. And what of young people who don't wish to conform to what they feel are patriarchal artificially constructed gender stereotypes because it goes against their feminist, or other political beliefs? There has been much in the media recently about sexist faith schools and the dangers of gender segregation leading to a sexist, divisive society. However, I feel it's not just faith schools that are guilty of this as heterosexist and gender normative orientated western capitalist societies also seek to portray sexist images of men and women - particularly in reactionary sexist TV ads - plus mostly erase anyone who identifies outside of the dictates of the bipolar gender regime altogether! Am I the only person who sees the potential dangers of yet another needless American import turning into something a lot more sinister than the cutesy, ostensibly wholesome yet All-American Ken & Barbie plastic-wrapped package that its marketed in? Katie Re-Registered
  • Score: -8

3:10pm Sun 15 Jun 14

irisheyes says...

the prom has spread to year 6 junior school as well.Oh the upset when someone asks someone else's "friend"to the prom.I think it's ridiculous for junior schools to participate as parents are in for an expensive enough time with buying uniforms for senior school without worrying about prom outfits !! America can keep its prom and everything else american that they keep forcing us to follow !!
the prom has spread to year 6 junior school as well.Oh the upset when someone asks someone else's "friend"to the prom.I think it's ridiculous for junior schools to participate as parents are in for an expensive enough time with buying uniforms for senior school without worrying about prom outfits !! America can keep its prom and everything else american that they keep forcing us to follow !! irisheyes
  • Score: 11

4:47pm Sun 15 Jun 14

golfer says...

Over rated ..never had them in the 80s..more pressure on families
Over rated ..never had them in the 80s..more pressure on families golfer
  • Score: 8

Comments are closed on this article.

click2find

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree