Inside Teen’s $1,200 Prom: the Dress, the Date, the After-Party

Brooke Miller and her boyfriend at their senior prom. (Photo: Brooke Miller)

As prom season begins, teenagers across the country are prepping for the big night. Scoping out dates, shopping for dresses, planning after-parties — it’s all part of the fanfare surrounding high school’s ultimate rite of passage. And gone are the days of just dinner and a dance. These days, prom is an event.

And like any grand affair, it doesn’t come cheap. According to Visa’s annual prom survey, which was released on Tuesday, households with teens will spend an average of $919 on prom this year. Those costs — which are actually down 6 percent from last year’s $978 — include clothes, limo, tickets, corsages and boutonnieres, pictures, food, hotel rooms, and after-parties.

For Brooke Miller, a 19-year-old in Simi Valley, Calif., senior prom marked the final Royal High School dance she would attend with her boyfriend, Travis, whom she’d been dating at the time for a year and a half. And while the party itself didn’t take place until June, the festivities started months in advance.

“The first thing that happens with prom is that your date or boyfriend or whoever will ask you, they have to ask you in a special way,” Miller, now a student at Moorpark College, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Everyone who has a date gets a special ‘promposal.’ For me, Travis took me out to dinner at Mastro’s, which is a really nice restaurant near our house. We had dinner and then when the waiters brought out dessert, the dessert plate said ‘Will you go to prom with me?’” For her junior prom, Miller’s boyfriend came to one of her swim meets and held up a towel that he’d decorated in puffy paint, with the message,“Will you go to prom with me, my little fishy?”

Promposals are a big deal, says Miller, and even more so because they get shared on Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks. The dinner at Mastro’s, Miller says, cost her boyfriend about $160; the accompanying dozen roses ran another $40. And that $200 is actually below the national average. According to Visa’s survey, teenagers are spending an average of $324 on promposals.  

Shopping for a dress came next. “I wanted a prom dress that was classy and elegant and would stand out,” Miller says. She went shopping with her mother, Erin Miller, and says that when she tried on the winning dress, it was the obvious choice. “I knew immediately,” she says. “It was perfect — black sequins and sheer paneling and a low back — it fit well and I thought no one else would have it.”


Brooke Miller says she loved the low back on this Faviana dress, which she wore to her senior prom. (Photo: Brooke Miller)

The dress, from the Faviana Prom Collection, had the wow factor, Miller’s mom says. “When she tried it on it looked like a dress for the red carpet in Hollywood,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “And when she went to her prom, they actually had a red carpet leading into the event.”

Low backs are a big recent prom trend, and Miller says plenty of other girls had a similar style. She and her mom both liked that the style didn’t reveal too much. “There was another trend where the middle of the dress basically had a see-through corset. I didn’t like that specific look because it looked like lingerie,” Erin Miller tells Yahoo Parenting. “I’ve seen dresses with low fronts showing a lot of cleavage, and I thought this was nicer. Brooke’s a swimmer, and it really suited her body style.”

Though Miller had a $500 budget for her gown, they got it for $390.

But what is a dress without accessories and styling? Miller added earrings ($20) and shoes she already had (originally $50). On the day of prom, she got her hair styled and makeup done, for another $105. “Travis picked me up at my house and gave me a corsage,” Miller says. She reciprocated with the traditional boutonniere ($15; the corsage was $25). “We took a bunch of pictures together, and then went to a park in the area where all of my friends and a lot of parents were taking pictures. It was probably 300 people total,” she says.

Eventually, the cameras stopped snapping and Miller and her friends boarded a party bus to take them to the LA’s California Science Center, next to USC. “On the way there we were all dancing on the bus and having fun,” she says. After a 45 minute ride, the high schoolers walked the red carpet, and took more photos, before the dinner and dance began.

After a long night, Miller says her friends all went to a classmate’s house for the after party. “His mom made us pancakes,” she says. They crashed there, and — more than $1,200 later — another prom season was in the books.

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