Sixteen-year-old Georgina’s got just a few days until her end of school prom.
She found her dream dress months ago and is now in the final stages of preparing for the big night.
“You’ve got your spray tan, getting your nails done, hair and make-up, accessories, jewellery, my friends and I are taking a limo there and back – it’s a lot to think about,” she says.
For her parents, all of that is costing about £1,000 – and her mum Stephanie says it’s worth every penny.
“A lot of us mums haven’t had our own proms, and we’re all so excited that our daughters are going to prom. It’s such a big thing now,” she says.
“It’s one day that you’re never getting back. It’s a big celebration of all those years of school, all coming to a close.”
“It’s the biggest year yet.”
Proms are being held around the UK for pupils who have finished their GCSE exams, marking the official end of secondary school.
It’s a tradition that’s long been popular in the United States, but the British Council estimates that at least 85% of schools in the UK have embraced them too.
Some people working in the prom industry say social media has had a significant role in how they’ve evolved to become more elaborate – and expensive.
Thenjiwe Sibanda owns Confetti and Couture in Romford, Essex, where she’s been selling prom dresses since 2010.
They offer flexible payment plans to customers who can’t afford to pay upfront – and she says budgets have risen dramatically.
“We started selling prom dresses for around £50 to £100. And we weren’t sure if girls were going to embrace the prom concept. Over the years it’s evolved and this year is probably the biggest it’s ever got,” she says.
“Most parents have paid around £500 for a dress. We haven’t had anyone question the budget – they’ve just gone with it.”
That’s something echoed by Helen, who says she’s also paid more than £1,000 for her daughter Ria to go to prom.
“I didn’t expect it to be so much, but it all adds up. You just keep spending – but it’ll be worth it. It’s been a great experience,” she says.
At Ria’s school, help is offered to pupils who might struggle with the cost.
There are also several charities around the UK that take referrals from schools and social services to provide prom clothes, make-up and transport for those that can’t afford them.
‘That’s a family holiday’
One organisation doing this is Nice To Be Nice in Thurrock. It was set up a couple of years ago by Chloe Levelle, who says she’s seen demand for free prom outfits soar.
“If you’re living week to week, you’ve got a budget for food and household items,” she says.
“To have your child come home and say, prom is in four months – I need a dress, shoes, make-up, car, prom ticket – what’s that going to do to your budget? The pressure on the parents – I can’t even imagine.”
Chloe has met a mother who took out a payday loan to pay for a prom, leaving her struggling to pay back the debt.
“You’re looking at £1,000 to get to prom and have everything you want. That’s ludicrous. That’s a family holiday to Spain,” she says.
“One of the girls I’ve had in, her friends are going to prom in a helicopter. It was £500 each.
“Obviously she couldn’t afford it, so we’re providing her with a car to get there. But £500 for a helicopter ride, which is 30 minutes? When is it going to stop?”
The cost of proms was even raised in the Welsh Assembly earlier this month, with a call for the issue to be looked at by the Welsh Government. It followed news of a school in Maesteg in South Wales that put out an appeal for gowns to be donated so that more pupils could attend.
Schools ‘doing their best’
Geoff Barton, from the Association of School and College Leaders, says schools are doing their best to ensure that no pupils miss out on the opportunity to enjoy their school prom.
“If there is an admission charge for the event, schools generally find a way to cover the cost of tickets for pupils who cannot afford them, and they often provide clothes for proms by sourcing donated dresses and suits,” he says.
He adds that this is done “discreetly and sensitively”.
But Chloe says school could do more to make proms less extravagant events.
“I’m a firm believer in prom. But could the prom not be hosted at the school, rather than an expensive venue?” she says.
“Schools could make it more about celebrating the end of school, rather than a social media frenzy.”