Psst! Put your money in 'prom futures'
Thirty-three years ago, my future wife and I approached a small card table stationed just outside our high school cafeteria and purchased two prom tickets. Sales had been less than brisk up to that point. We were only the fourth couple out of a senior class of 450 students to buy the $25 ticket for two. Two weeks later, after only a handful of tickets had been sold, the prom was canceled and our money refunded. So far as I know, it was the only year in our high school's history without a prom. The war in Vietnam was generally held accountable for this lack of school spirit: We were all too busy picketing draft boards and marching on Washington to bother with gowns and corsages.Skip to next paragraph
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Thankfully, times have changed, and recent cataclysmic events have cemented rather than fractured this year's graduating seniors. As the big night approaches, prom fever is running high, preoccupying our daughter and all her friends.
Having missed our prom, my wife and I are taking vicarious pleasure in the preparations and excitement. But the cost has us reeling. More than simple inflation accounts for the difference. Today's prom doesn't share the same universe as those of our era. Its order of magnitude is altogether different; it's a Boeing 747 versus the canvas-winged biplanes of an earlier age.
What does it cost? You don't want to know! The prom ticket alone is now $280 per couple, more than 11 times what we paid in the spring of 1970. Of course, we expected little more than a brightly decorated gym, soda and chips, and a slightly more upscale band than the teenage groups that usually played at school dances.
Our daughter has far greater expectations. Her class will not gather in a gym or cafeteria but in Manhattan at Chelsea Piers. They will not arrive on foot or by car but by stretch limo, paying as much as $300 a couple for the privilege. When the prom ends, they will move en masse to a club across town that charges an additional $80 per couple before their limos whisk them back home for the $30 traditional breakfast at the municipal pool.
Is anyone doing the math? So far I'm up to roughly $700 per couple - and that doesn't include prom gowns and fittings, dyed shoes and handbags, tuxedos, after-prom "club dresses," jewelry, hair styling, makeup, nail appointments, corsages, and boutonnieres. In a single generation, the high school prom has gone from being a $25 teen dance to a celebrity wedding that costs what a friend of ours refers to as a "suburban unit." (Virtually every expense in suburban life, he maintains, can be calculated in $1,000 increments or "units": orthodontia, five units; bathroom renovation, 25 units; car repair, half a unit to two units.) It's madness!
Who is paying for all this extravagance, I wonder? I know I am. But is every other senior parent blithely doing the same, or are some enterprising, self-sufficient seniors taking it upon themselves to pay for this lavish indulgence? (Did someone just whisper, "Get real!"?) I ask only because I was never consulted, polled, or even warned, but simply presented with the bill. If memory serves, we once fought a revolution over a similar oversight.