Cost to attend prom keeps rising

Prom season is swinging into view and while the dance continues to be a rite of passage for most hig

Prom season is swinging into view and while the dance continues to be a rite of passage for most high school students, the costs for the big evening are on the rise.

Rick Spenello, co-owner of The Shoppe in Saratoga Springs, said when his shop opened 35 years ago he carried few formal dresses. The prom dresses he did carry didn’t cost more than $200 and a formal cocktail dress was $70, at most.

“I couldn’t sell something any more expensive,” he said, “but as time went on, prom got to be bigger and bigger.”

Now the average price for a dress in his shop is between $250 and $500, and dresses from other places can cost much more.

Denise McGrath of Rotterdam has three children attending proms this year.

Her eldest son is out of school, but dating a senior from Mohonasen. He plans on paying his own way. Her second son, Josh, is attending his senior ball and his girlfriend’s junior prom at Schalmont. Their sister is in 11th grade and also going to a prom. The McGrath family is stretched thin this dance season.

Though they’ve been through prom several times with their boys, Denise said the price for her daughter was “pretty shocking.”

“I was expecting the dress to be more like $200. It’s not a wedding, it’s a prom. We’ve spent about $800 for her right now,” she said.

That includes her daughter’s dress, shoes, dance tickets, hair and a manicure — but not the limo, makeup, pictures or jewelry. The McGrath’s daughter is planning to pay her parents back.

“She is saving up money, but we’re paying for it all at once. She feels kind of bad since she’s seeing how much she spent,” said Denise.

Josh McGrath, a senior at Mohonasen, expects to spend about $400 to attend both his dance and his girlfriend’s. His parents are planning to buy him a tuxedo and matching shoes instead of renting, in hopes of saving money. He has a part-time job, and is paying for tickets, the limo and flowers.

He thinks the amount of money girls spend on the prom is “crazy,” though he did agree girls have more to buy.

“Girls go overboard,” he said, explaining that he would get rid of the flowers because they usually get lost. He also said girls shouldn’t worry about getting their eyebrows, nails and hair done.

“Guys really don’t notice some of the smaller details … well, maybe the hair,” Josh said.

His date, Jessica Bellai, estimates she’ll have spent $1,000 going to her prom at Schalmont High School and Josh’s ball.

Her parents are paying, which is why she’s willing to spend more.

“I think it’s kind of outrageous since everyone gets hyped up about one night, but I’m not paying for it,” she said. “I would change if I had to pay for it, shoot for under $500.”

Denise McGrath said she spent about $400 when she went to the prom in 1984. Bellai’s mother told her she only spent $100 when she went, because she wore a dress her mother made.

“It’s way more competitive now,” said Denise. “It’s like a runway show. Sometimes the parents are even more into it than their children.”

moms compete

Spenello, from The Shoppe, agrees.

He said he’s seen mothers try to go after girls who may be trying on the same dress as their daughter. One mother called his store asking to put her daughter’s dress on his register so others girls couldn’t buy it, even though she bought the dress in a different state.

“Some girls will pay $600 to $800 for a dress because it’s one-of-a-kind or they feel the other moms won’t spend that kind of money on one dress. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there,” Spenello said.

Carly Town from Saratoga Springs plans on spending less then most girls.

Her dress cost about $380, but she’s paying for half; she’s wearing shoes and jewelry she already owns and isn’t taking a limo.

She thinks she’ll spend about $400 altogether, because her date is paying for her ticket. And she said it’s “crazy” to spend any more on one dance.

“I don’t know if it’s worth it in the end to spend so much money in one night. People look back on it, yeah, but I don’t know how important it’s going to be 10 years down the road,” she said.

Treasure Consignment Boutique and Thrift Shop of Saratoga Hospital seeks extra donations of formal dresses and men’s wear before prom season.

Manager Kate Zumback said the average price for a prom dress at the consignment store is $25. The prices are purposefully kept low for girls who can’t afford a $300 dress. She encourages teens to seek out a used dress or tux before buying new to save money.

“These dresses are gorgeous, well taken care of, and unique,” said Zumback.

She explained that stores with new dresses or tuxes only sell the current trends, while consignment and thrift stores have clothes from seasons past, which are no longer available.

“I think that the teen would find it a very fun and exciting experience,” she said.

April Doin, executive director of The Cinderella Project of the Capital Region, said it’s excessive to spend so much money on a dress that is usually worn once.

“I’m in a store and I look at the prices, and I’m blown away,” she said.

The Cinderella Project, founded in 2004 by Doin, her sister and a friend, lends formal dresses each prom season to local girls in need. This year’s boutique happened April 2 at Siena College. A collection for dress and accessory donations begins in July.

Doin didn’t attend the prom when she was in high school because her mother didn’t have the money to spare. “I know how it feels not to be able to go. It felt awful, actually.”

Now, about 200 local girls each year find prom dresses through The Cinderella Project. The girls have to be referred by a friend or family member to be invited to the annual boutique, but no financial information is required.

Doin said she asks every girl when they donate a dress to the program if they wore the dress more than once. No one has ever said yes.

“I wouldn’t begrudge anyone to buy a dress if they have the means. It’s a very special thing for a mom and a daughter to go out and find a dress, but I would say they should also donate it together, so someone else came have the experience … There’s no sense putting it into a closet for 10 years,” she said.

To learn more about The Cinderella Project of the Capital Region visit or call April Doin at 854-8004.

Categories: Schenectady County

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