May 15, 2007
Prom night

I never went to a prom - it wasn't that big a deal at Stuyvesant back when I attended - so perhaps I'm the wrong person to comment on this story, since my general reaction is "who really cares?" But as the father of two girls, I know this is looming in my future, so I'd better be prepared.

In the high school fairy tale, senior prom is the pinnacle of every student's senior year. But that's not the reality everywhere.

Prom attendance throughout the Houston area varies drastically from school to school. At some, a vast majority of seniors attended their final school dance. But at other campuses, including Davis, just north of downtown, and Westbury High School, in southwest Houston, more than one-third of soon-to-be graduates skipped the party.

The reasons vary. Students at some schools say the cost is a big deterrent -- especially as prom has ballooned into an estimated $6.6 billion industry. Prom attendees now dish out about $1,200 for the evening's expenses, said Christa Vagnozzi, editor of, which offers teens hair and dress advice along with cost-saving tips for the big night.


In her area of town, Little thinks peer pressure drove up attendance for the Cinco Ranch prom. At that school, it's a given that students will go to the dance, she said. How they arrive is what matters.

"There is a lot of competition: every group is trying to beat the other group," she said.

The 18-year-old paid about $2,000 for her big night. That included her dress, getting her hair and nails done, going to the tanning booth, the limo, buying dinner, helping with rent at the Galveston beach house and, of course, the prom ticket, which at Cinco Ranch was only $30.

She said attending dances -- homecomings and now prom -- is just part of the culture at her school. At first, the cost rattled her parents. Once upon a time, after all, proms were held in high school gyms, not luxury hotels. But Little has worked hard to convince them how important this one dance can be to a teenage girl.

"My parents pretty much think it's ridiculous," she said. "They helped me out, but they think it's ridiculous."

Put me down for "ridiculous". I refuse to get caught up, or to let my kids get caught up, in this kind of rat race. I cannot envision giving Olivia or Audrey two thousand dollars to spend on prom preparations. If they want that kind of experience, they'll have to pay for a significant piece of it themselves. I'd be willing to do a one-for-one match, but to me, this is not an entitlement. If that makes me a hardass, at least I've got about fifteen years to work on the lecture that'll have to go along with it. What do you think?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 15, 2007 to Society and cultcha

Kuff, I stand in your camp, but I have three girls who I find it very hard to say no to. I guess we will wait and see.

Posted by: Richard Morrison on May 15, 2007 9:28 AM

Oh Lord Kuff....

You have a whole lot more than that to worry about as the father of girls. Myself, I'm the father of three young girls and I can already smell a whole bunch of coming horrors.

1. The 3rd grader is small for her age and probably already too social and popular for her own good at school. She plays soccer but some of the other local moms whose 3rd graders are already in cheer have already pegged her as a flyer on the future HS cheer squad because she is so petite and agile. Setting aside the whole social thing about cheerleaders, my wife is horrified at the concept for safety reasons alone. Severe injuries for flyer cheerleaders far exceed that of football.

2. Cars. Let's not even think about that yet.

3. Cell phones. Many of my 3rd grader's classmates already have their own cell phones.

4. Kid's vacations. It's not just Disney and SeaWorld. Disney now has cruises. And there are kiddie club meds. My daughter's 15 year old cousin in Chile got taken on a week long Caribbean cruise for her Sweet 15 birthday. Apparently that is getting more common and not just among the Chilean wealthy.

5. Weddings. $2 grand wouldn't even cover the florist at some weddings.

6. College. If you haven't visited an upscale college lately you'll be shocked at the amenities that pampered undergrads get these days at many schools. Gone are the days of living 2 to a dorm room in bunk beds and dining on cafeteria food.

7. Horses. That might be a bigger thing here in the rural areas around Waco than in Houston. But lots of the kids have horses and ride competitively. My kids desperately want entry into that world.

Posted by: Kent from Waco on May 15, 2007 9:32 AM

2000 dollars specifically for prom does sound insane, and I just had a prom earlier this month (yes, I'm a guy; but still). Unless a girl buys a dress for prom and refuses to wear it again, there is no reason the cost should go that high. 1 prom ticket and an afterprom ticket should be less than 100 bucks, 1 person in a group for a limo should be about 100 bucks, too. Then there's dinner and dress. 2000 dollars? Insane.

Posted by: Michael Hurta on May 15, 2007 12:56 PM