Prom season is officially upon us. From red carpets to £800 dresses, proms are becoming an increasingly big deal in Gwent.

FRAN GILLETT investigates

LONG gone are the days of a simple school disco and in its place are full-blown affairs which pull out all the stops.

For the next couple of months, prom season will be in full swing with hairdressers and car hire companies experiencing one of their busiest times.

And as school and exams begin to wind down for the year, year 11 and 13 students are getting ready for what many are considering as the most important night of their lives so far.

Just a quick twitter search of “prom” shows teenagers eagerly anticipating prom night – and all the lengthy preparation which goes with it.

More than 25 secondary schools across Gwent are holding proms this year in a range of venues.

This week Blackwood Comprehensive are holding their prom in the Millennium Stadium while the following week Cwmcarn Comprehensive’s will be at the Hilton in Cardiff.

The common denominator of most of the school proms is that they are shamelessly Americanised.

Prior to the 2000s, schools would hold a summer or leavers ball but these soon began to merge with the US-style prom.

Now more than 85 per cent of schools in Britain hold school proms, which can include anything from dinners in the school hall to events in five-star hotels.

Speaking to some of Gwent’s students who are looking forward to their proms, it is clear the event is something they have been very much looking forward to.

Libby Cameron is in year 11 at Croesyceiliog School in Cwmbran where this year’s school prom is in the Parkway Hotel near Cwmbran Drive.

Their school is having a DJ, a two course meal and a photographer, to capture all the action.

Libby said: “I think that American styled proms are great for teenagers because it's great fun and a good laugh with everyone in year 11.

“Girls enjoy buying their dresses, booking appointments for their hair, make up etc. It's exciting.

“I think it's a bigger deal for girls than it is for boys but I know that boys will obviously still enjoy it because it is a big event for everyone.

“It's a good thing to be involved in and it's lovely for memories.

“I have been looking forward to my prom because I absolutely love my dress and I cannot wait to wear it. I love the feeling of having my hair, make up done and it makes you feel really good about yourself so I think prom is also important to benefit yourself by doing something to feel good about. “It'll be a good laugh and I don't see why no one shouldn't attend because it is a big thing, everyone should be involved.”

Estimating how much she has spent, Libby said the figure will likely come out at between £600 to £700.

She said she travelled an hour and a half to a boutique in Swansea to buy her dress, which she said didn’t fail her.

Her hair and make-up is costing around £100, her nails will be £25 to £30 but transport is free thanks to a friend’s dad. The cost for the actual prom ticket is £40.

She said: “Prom isn't cheap and it definitely involves a decent amount of money to be spent for your dress/suit, shoes, transport, venue (including food, music etc), hair and make-up, all sorts.”

But she added: “Although prom is expensive, it's worth it. Most of my year group get along and it'll be a great night for us all to enjoy our final hours being together.

“It is quite emotional and I think it's a great benefit for everyone. I highly recommend a prom for every comprehensive school.”

Another student, Andi Davies, is in year 11 at Duffryn High School where this Friday’s prom is being held at the school to save money, with tickets costing just £10.

She said: “Duffryn host the Prom at the school to make it affordable for anyone who wants to attend it, it also encourages students to attend because it is not out of their comfort zone and makes it special as it is our last day there.”

The prom will include a buffet, a DJ and a red carpet outside the main entrance where a professional photographer will be snapping away. The teachers also vote on awards for pupils including best dressed, prom king and queen and best entrance.

Andi said: “At first I was adamant I wasn't going but as the end of year was coming to a close, I changed my mind.

“The lead up to prom is stressful as many exams are taking place but, for those who love to glam up and enjoy the company of their year group it is a lovely way to end the five years of education at the school.

“I think American style proms can give girls certain confidence boosts, to make them feel even prettier and special.

“Personally, I have been looking forward to it as I don't dress up very often and I'm a bit of a tom boy, so I am excited to see people's reactions of me glammed up and to feel good about myself. Although, each individual has a different opinion.”

She said her parents have been taking care of the spending on the prom, but added you can do it on the cheap side if you want.

“I like my designers and fashion so I bought a Vera Wang dress because I wanted something I could wear again,” she said.

It is a busy time for local hair and make-up businesses who run prom packages which include hair, make up, lashes, eyebrows and a tan.

Natalie Skinner, who runs Mobile Total Indulgence and Rogerstone-based Prinny’s Prom Beauties, said she always notices trends for proms.

“I do hair, make up and dresses,” she said. “It all starts round about now for a lot of the proms and goes on right through July.”

More recently, she said, she has seen the whole prom look become a lot more classy.

“There have been trends and a rise in popularity of certain looks and they have gone from trashy proms to very elegant and more demure styles.

“A lot of the dresses are quite long and elegant looking.”

She said: “I don’t believe in spending steep amounts of money on a dress which is worn for something like four hours.

“All my range of dresses are around £100 or under this year.

“As a mother myself who is going to be in that situation with three girls, I think there’s a lot of pressure on the parents to give their daughters what they want.

“I have known people who have spent £800 on a dress.”

Make up trends which are popular at the moment, Ms Skinner said, are the Hollywood glam look for example, or winged eyeliner or red lips.

Jo Thomas owns Precious Accessories in Bassaleg.

She mainly deals with accessories for brides, but she does sell accessories to girls going to proms.

Unlike America though, she said proms here are “not as big or as flashy”.

“The things I have done with a couple of people going to proms is blinging up some converse and other shoes," she added.

“The footwear seems to be a little bit more popular. The ones I did recently I completely overhauled, they were black patents and are now silver, holographic with mirrors and studs all over.

“A lot of people going to proms in America have tiaras but we don’t really have that here. But I think they have got the potential to get much bigger and popular.”

It is clear the end of year ball or disco has changed fundamentally in the last 20 years.

It seems that, on the whole, teenagers have embraced it fully and enjoy the chance to go as glam as they could.

For the adults, Ms Thomas said many feel that it is a bit too Americanised – while others love the whole phenomenon.

“I have got a few years before my daughter has her prom so I best start saving now," she added.