Exploiting the American Prom

Proms sure have gotten expensive these days.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, high school kids spend nearly $4 billion annually for dresses, accessories, flowers, beauty products, limos and other prom-related items. The average couple spends upward of $1,000 for the one-time event.

That got me thinking about my own prom in 1980.

I didn't know my date very well. She was in my photography class, pretty and, more important, available. We arranged a pre-prom meeting to get to know each other. We played tennis on a blistering-hot day, then headed back to her house for something cold to drink. After she berated her sister for drinking all the Tang, she turned her turret on me.

"I heard about you, a regular class clown," she said. "You better not show up in a limo, wear a top hat or cane or do anything else to embarrass me."

I knew right away things were going to work out fine.

Still, I wanted to impress her. I was running a stone-masonry business in those years and was making a lot of money for a kid. I figured I'd use some of my dough to impress her.

 I bought her the finest corsage in our high school (it cost $45, a lot of money then). I bought a box of frozen steaks, snacks and other refreshments for the after-prom party. But my investments turned out to be bad ones.

On the afternoon of the prom, my friend Gigs and I — we double dated — took a drive to the prom hall to make sure we wouldn't get lost later. That evening, we picked up our girls for photos and false enthusiasm. We were late for dinner (we got lost) and the awful night was under way.

I'm certain my date didn't spend hundreds of dollars on her dress as girls do now, though I remember she looked great. The truth is, I can't remember what she was wearing because I hardly saw her all night long. She and the girl Gigs came with spent most of the night in the ladies' room while Gigs and I counted how many times the hard-rock band played "Cocaine" (nine).

Finally, around 11:30 p.m., the dance was over. Unlike teens these days, we didn't use our credit cards to retire to the honeymoon suite. We took the girls home. But our suffering was just beginning.

We picked up our dates early the next morning and drove to a country cabin where my friend Cook was having an after-prom party. The cabin was a two-hour drive, but it took us five (we got lost). My date didn't utter a word until about 2 p.m., when she challenged Gigs and me to a tennis match.

I took it as a good sign. It wasn't.

Gigs is an outstanding athlete and I'm no slouch myself. Once the game got under way, our testosterone got inflamed. Every time we scored, Gigs and I high-fived each other, laughing loudly. We creamed the girls, and after the match they refused to talk to us.

Gigs and I spent the rest of the day tossing a football and eating the steaks I brought. Around dusk, the girls found us and told us it was time to leave. We got home five hours later (we got lost) and the tortuous affair was finally over.

So I have some advice for prom-goers this year: Hold onto your money. Don't be the unwitting dupes of savvy marketers. They know that kids your age have big allowances and overworked, guilt-riddled parents who will cough up the dough if you ask them.

Through programs and advertisements on MTV, they've been rushing you into adulthood for years. They exploit the prom to cash in on your insecurity and peer pressure. They convince you to buy teeth whitener, expensive cosmetics and other unnecessary junk designed to fatten their bottom lines. 

But don't give in. Save your money. Be content that you're about to experience one of the worst weekends of your life.

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  • Guest

    God loves you .

    Late bloomer that I was, prom and other school ‘social’ activities are now blurs of ‘let’s-forget-this’ history. Girls were no more interesting than guys unless either could talk about rather cerebral things – and, I didn’t mean ‘schoolwork’. And, even fellow members of my honors group seemed to get irrational over female physical attributes. Spphfftt!

    Moreover, I worked hard for every penny I made – put myself through Catholic high school and college – and any ‘socializing’ – most of it still over-rated to this day – was not worth great expenditures of money. Myself, my time, my attention, my transportation, fine. If that wasn’t/isn’t enough – spphfftt!

    Frankly, I got along better with girls’ parents than the girls.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    The total dollars spent are bad, but not the worst abuse surrounding the prom, or any other high school "dance" in recent years.

    My older children do not go to high school dances, not because of drugs or drinking (although there's probably both present) but because the "freak dancing" is basically mimicking a sex act with clothes on. 

    When I first discovered this about four yeas ago, I asked a high school teacher, who admitted, yes, that's just how they dance these days.

    Not in my world. 

    Our culture  has somehow become void of grown-ups.

  • Guest

    I spent prom night working at the local Sizzler. Thankfully, I was a cook or a dishwasher or something and didn't have to face any that might have happened by there for their dinner. I can remember I wasn't particularly happy about it. In fact, I felt downright left-out and sad. But the more I look back upon it, the more I thank God for sparing me from such things until later.

  • Guest

    Wow great article about not wasting your money and expectations on false hopes but the ending was too much a downer, "one of worst weekends of your life"?!?!  Let's encourage kids to do it right and maybe hope that it is a nice weekend – that by being faithful to who God wants them to be they can actually enjoy themselves responsibly and make it something they can be proud of.. 


    Maybe you're right maybe the whole prom event is not redeemable at all; but do we have to say our Catholic youth are incapable of rising above their peers.  If we think they can't do it on this occasion when will they start?  After the prom for some it's the work world for others it's college – either way they have to act as mature Catholics out there

  • Guest


    Here's a way to set the standard:

    Dads, when your daughter is sixteen (although this may be too late for some, as I understand it) take her on a date.  Ask her formally to go out for an evening for dinner and a show, or dinner and a movie, or dinner and dancing.  Get yourself ready early and drive away and come ring your own front door bell to pick her up at home. Dress well. Use good manners.  Open the car door for her.  The works. From front door etiquete, to driving in the car, to the restaurant, to the parking lot, to the movie theater — do it right!  

    Then, on the way home, have a heart-to-heart conversation about her dignity, her value, and how much you love her and want the best for her, how much she is worth and how she deserves to be treated in this way because this type of treatment is how someone who wants the best for her is expected to treat her. Tell her if a boy falls short of this standard, she needs to know he is falling short of seeing her for what she is.

    If you have sons, I think moms can do the same thing, only being on the receiving end.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    My finest Bible instructor – a Bible church pastor – suggested that the Dad of a daughter ask his daughter that every man who asks her out to introduce the man to Dad, in order for the man to ask Dad for permission first.

    My own daughter rejected this – her first marriage proved its value in the negative ways.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    We were blessed – my son attended High School at Ramstein American High School at Ramstein AB in Germany.  Everyone in the Jr/Sr classes were invited to go – No dates required – so many went.  My son went with a group of 7 young men, and 4 young ladies (only one were a 'couple') and had a great time.  His 'prom' photo is a group of 8 hansomely dressed young men with 5 elegant young women…