To Prom or not to Prom?

It was my daughter’s prom this week. Being British, this meant Miss F was only 15 years old, not 18 as she would have been, were she attending prom in America. Like many American customs that have crossed the pond, this one has had to be adapted to suit a different educational structure. Whereas in America, children attend the same high school until 18, here in the UK children can leave their upper school at 16 to move into further education – be it college, vocational training, an apprenticeship of some kind, or to take A levels in sixth form.

I was unsure how I felt about the whole prom business. I mean, when I attended upper school – back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, we had an end-of-school disco and were grateful for it. A DJ was hired – probably someone’s older brother who had a mobile disco and was prepared to do it cheap – the school assembly hall might have a few balloons hanging about, and there were a variety of bulk bought fruit squashes for the student to re-hydrate with. I’m not sure there was even food available, but if there was, it would only have been a few crisps and maybe some store-bought sausage rolls. Teachers would have lurked on the edges to make sure that no shenanigans occurred between students, and most of us were there dateless. Girls would congregate on one side of the hall, and the boys would huddle together on the other – apart from a few couples who would self-consciously linger in the no-man’s land in-between.

It was all very basic and very innocent, and very cheap – parents might have been asked to contribute a small amount to cover the squash and the disco, but that would have been it. As for expensive prom dresses and suits – well, I do remember my best jeans came out for the occasion, along with a new top – but that was as far as it went. Although, I do have fond memories of slipping across the highly polished wooden floor in my pixie boots doing the “Prince Charming!”

When my daughter’s prom rolled around, I wasn’t too sure what to expect – but had a feeling I wouldn’t get off as lightly as my parents had. Three months ago the pressure began – all the other girls already had their outfits (they didn’t), if we didn’t buy something immediately, then everything would be gone (doubtful), and stores put their prices up the closer to prom you shopped (not likely, but I suppose possible). So, we hit the local shops and found the entire outfit in the sales, including underwear and accessories for £160. I later found out I’d been incredibly lucky to have found a dress straight away that (a) both my daughter and I agreed on (b) fitted exactly, needing no alteration (c) didn’t require negotiating a loan from my bank. Some parents, I was reliably informed, had spent upwards of £250 just on the dress. To which I responded – “more bloody fool them.”

Events like proms are yet one more occasion that lurk to trip the hapless single parent struggling on a tight budget. Once again, we are torn. Obviously, we want our child to be happy, we want them to look amazing and feel confident in their outfit – BUT – and it’s a big but, there has to be an element of common-sense control. £250 for a dress that will be worn probably just once is a ridiculous and slightly obscene notion. I could feed us both for over a month on that amount, and I think everyone would agree that food is more essential than ball gowns.

The closer to prom we got, the more extravagant became the lengths some parents were prepared to go to. A stretch limo for one 15-year-old to be driven two miles down the road, classic cars hired especially for the occasion, even a silver party bus! It all started to have a whiff of one-upmanship, a game I flatly refuse to play, and luckily my daughter and her friendship group agreed. Tentative enquiries were made into the cost of hiring a limo between them, jaws dropped when they heard the price, and a group decision was decided to save their money and schlepp it there in the two smartest cars the parents could rustle up between them. I did offer. I was declined. Apparently a 1996 Nissan Micra with more rust than paint and cobwebs hanging off the wing mirrors wasn’t even in the running for consideration. Instead I was relegated to the role of Mum’s Taxi, shuttling carloads of girls out to the brave mum who’d volunteered her home to be the base of operations and sleepover central – rather her than me, and then collecting them all the next morning to run them to their various homes.

Question: how many teenage girls can you fit in a tiny, two door Nissan Micra along with all their clothes, prom dresses, make-up, hair products and bedding?

Answer: Four, with very careful packing – honestly, the whole exercise turned into a game of car Tetris.

But I guess what you all want to know after this long ramble, is did Miss F enjoy it? And did I feel it was worth the money? Considering the final bill including hair and make-up probably came to £230. Well, I am happy to say she had a ball, literally. The venue was a beautifully restored 14th century barn on the outskirts of town, and the food was everything a teenager would want it to be. Her friendship group of eight had a wonderful time getting ready together, and judging by the photos, had a lot of fun dancing the night away. Afterwards, there was a sleepover with a midnight feast and games.

And how do I feel about proms now? While I do still think it is a little excessive for 15 and 16 year olds, I can see why it is held now and not in two years-time. Most of these young people have suffered through eleven years of school together, they’ve endured sarcastic teachers, disastrous school trips, tedious assemblies and the terror of exams. But now that’s over. They’re all scattering, going their separate ways. Many will lose touch; friendships will slip; and the girl you sat next to in Chemistry for years will soon be nothing more than a fading memory.

This night was their last hurrah, their final chance to be together as school children and bond in one, stupendous evening that will be remembered for the rest of their lives. Truly, a coming of age experience, and one I’m glad my daughter participated in. Yes, it stretched me financially, caused me to tear my hair out with stress, and had me driving around country lanes like a mad thing, going back for forgotten tickets and cramming so much into my poor little car I could feel it straining up the hills, but ultimately, it was worth it.

The chance to see my tomboy daughter looking like a princess for one night, watching her and her friends pose self-consciously for photos in their finery, giggling, pulling stray curls off mouths plastered with lipstick, teetering in unfamiliar heels and awkwardly clutching tiny bags bought for the occasion. Then waving them off to a night that represented the culmination of eleven years of hard work on their part – it was worth every single penny.

4 thoughts on “To Prom or not to Prom?

  1. A great read, and I remember those feelings of pulling my hair out with worry how I’ll afford the dress she’ll want…and it all ending perfectly – eventually. 😁 Miss F’s hair looked incredible 💛

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahh Julia, I’m with you on spending obscene amounts of money on dresses shoes travel to and from etc etc etc. When Gemma went to her prom it was a good 15 years ago. She wore a beautiful dress I made her and I think she borrowed some shoes from me and bag too. She got dressed with friends at ours and Hubby took them to the prom in his company car all cleaned for the occasion. So I feel we got off lightly too. She didn’t actually stay for long at the venue (sports hall at school) and the girls went to a friends for the night. (They said it was boring 🤣🤣🤣) How things have changed. I didn’t even go to my end of year disco as school was painful for me and 9 miles away too. I do love a party and dressing up now though xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Times have certainly changed. I’m glad we did it, as it was a beautiful evening and my daughter now has some wonderful memories. But I’m with you that control has to be exercised. There is a tendency for parents to go overboard, but I don’t think their children enjoy their proms any more than our girls did.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Enjoyed reading a much more quaint version of a UK prom compared to what transpires over here. Much more sensible than the extravagant length to which Americans go and seemingly much less wild .

    Liked by 1 person

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