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Pretty and Cheap — Proms Get a Budget-Friendly Makeover

Though Cinderella might have been the quintessential rags-to-riches story ending in a lavish ball, the current mean-stepmother economic reality has many prom-goers tightening their cummerbunds, and embracing a cheap and charming alternative.

It hasn't been uncommon for modern teens to spend anywhere between seven hundred and a thousand dollars on just the prom dress — a lavish spectacle egged on by shows like MTV's My Super Sweet Sixteen — but as more and more families are finding it harder just to pay rising fuel and food costs, the clock is striking midnight on luxuries like pricey prom-wear. To see how proms are getting an '08 budget makeover,


Several foundations offer lower cost ball gown alternatives, like the Chicago-based Glass Slipper Project. There's big demand for their rainbow of donated dresses that go to those who can't afford first hand gowns. (Not to mention that the reuse has a positive impact on the environment as well as wallets.) San Francisco’s Princess Project is also seeing a big surge in the numbers of people seeking low cost prom dresses. Yvette Nichols, board president said: “Girls are traveling two hours, just to come and find a dress.”

Historically teens might have been embarrassed to shop second-hand for such a milestone outfit in an American adolescent’s life, but many are finding this situation as a nice break from the pressure of spending more than your peers. The penny-pinching is having a positive effect on budding values systems. A senior at a high school in Arizona said: "It is kind of a bragging thing. . . to spend $300 on a dress, but for me, it’s almost embarrassing to spend that much.”

Are the leaner economic times inspiring a return to sanity? Could this be the reality check that's just the antidote to an out of control consumer culture? Will organizations like this make it trendy to be thrifty?


Join The Conversation
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 9 years
Our prom was pretty low key. I think we ate at a friend's house and drove ourselves. I probably spent $100 - $150 on the dress. I don't remember.
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
god I went to SO many dances in HS! Such a waste of money haha! For my prom I wore a flapper dress and a full length leopard print coat. I loved it because I totally stood out. And we had free dinner, my boyfriends dad knew the owner of the restaurant and had in comp'd. My dad let us take his BRAND new truck it had like 200 miles on it. It was so rad haha
Kimpossible Kimpossible 9 years
I didn't even spend that much on my wedding gown let alone prom. Both my oldest and I have donated our dresses, this year we donated them to the special needs (mostly downs syndrome) group at her school so they could wear them to their prom that they have. I didn't even know this group existed at her school until my daughter told me she wanted to donate her dresses to them.
mondaymoos mondaymoos 9 years
I bet you'd look adorable in a prom dress, UnDave.
verily verily 9 years
I spent less on my dress and accessories than my date did on his tux rental. I can't fathom spending several hundred on a dress I'll never wear again.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
I didn't wear my prom dress after midnight that night either.... ;)
mondaymoos mondaymoos 9 years
I never wore my prom dress again... :( but that had more to do with the fact that it had beer spilt down the front of it. :drinks:
Beauty Beauty 9 years
I think my prom dresses were $60 and $90, and even that was a splurge for my family. It's great that there are organizations helping girls find affordable dresses. Being a teenager is tough, so anything that makes it a little easier gets the thumbs-up from me. I still have my senior-year prom dress. It actually still looks good! Very simple and classic black — Mom was right, I would have it for years :)
melizzle melizzle 9 years
$100 prom dress. Fair enough. I even altered it and now use it as a party dress. Totally worth the money! I especially hate when I see super bland dresses and find out they were hundreds of dollars... geez, at least get something unique for that kind of money! And cine... I can relate. I almost had a heart attack paying $500 for my wedding dress... but I fell in love!!! :love:
shmuffin123 shmuffin123 9 years
Forget how much dresses cost. A neighbor informed me that tickets for the prom at the high school in our area are $85 EACH!!!!!! WHAAAAAT???
brittanyk brittanyk 9 years
I went to three proms...I had one dress that was $ that was like $100..and the other one was from a thrift store for $15. It was pretty. It was like a light pink and beaded. I donated all my dresses after wearing them. My high school actually had a program where you could donate your dress after you were done with it. Then they gave the dresses to other girls who needed them the next year.
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
i only went once. it was lame. you'd better believe i still have that dress though.
Bookish Bookish 9 years
I paid 100 dollars for mine, but it really was a special occasion- I was homeschooled, and a public school boy asked me to prom, so it was the only dance I ever got to go to.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
Of course, I wouldn't know about either, since we haven't met... ;) :evil: GTR
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
Well there is that too.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
Maybe for your great looks and personality. ;)
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
Why do you think he is marrying me?
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
Is that what your fiance thinks as well Cine? ;)
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
I can't even fathom spending that much on my prom dress. I wore the same dress I wore to someones sweet sixteen. I think it cost around $45, but can't remember. We took my boy friends car, we did go to dinner, but he paid so I don't know how much that cost. My wedding dress is cheaper then what some girls spend on prom. I am cheap!
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
my prom dress was $400. but it was my mom's idea so i didn't feel guilty. and she paid for it. she knew this shop in San Antonio that looked like a rich old lady shop. I hated it! it was all glittery and looked like Blanche on the Golden Girls. then you go to the back, tell them your size, and they bring you out all these beautiful (young) gowns in your size to try on while you have tea and cookies. It was sweet of her and a wonderful surprise! my prom date's father was arrested years later for possession of child porn. I don't know how many pictures that man took of us. or me. I don't know, don't care to know. did he take pictures of us making out? God only knows!
squid354 squid354 9 years
maybe that girl who was in the news last week for her skimpy prom dress was on to something...conservation of fabric as a cost-cutter?
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 9 years
okay this is off the point but it just me or when you see pictures of teenage girls at thier proms dont you just want to yell "STAND UP STRAIGHT!" ? now onto the point, I wore my mothers vintage dress to prom, and i was at goodwill yesterday and saw some girls trying on used dresses, and they looked awesome! No shame, unless your an elitist snobby empty headed moron
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
I definitely think more people should donate their old dresses. I didn't go to prom, but went to a lot of other formal dances and went to several formals in college as well. I always got middle of the road dresses. I think the most expensive one I got was $300, which is a lot, but I usually spent around $100. I held on to the dresses for a while, but just donated all of them because 1) they don't fit me any more and 2) even if they did fit, I would no longer wear them. They had all only been worn once or twice (the joys of having a sister!) and were in great shape, so I found an organization like the one described that offers free prom dresses to girls in need. It helped me get rid of clutter and it helped someone else get a fabulous dress! Now if only I could bring myself to get rid of my Cotillion dress...
syako syako 9 years
that's so true. I mean, I would have never in my wildest dreams ever imagined even looking at a SHOP with $700 prom dresses! :? I knew, without my mom telling me, that it needed to be around $75-$100
meumitsuki meumitsuki 9 years
My dress, too, was a steal, and since I had an older sister, my mom would alter her old dresses to fit the times a little better. My HS included dinner in our proms, so we didn't need to go to dinner either. My wedding dress didn't cost as much as the range of prom dresses. What are parents thinking?
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