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Published April 24, 2013, 11:40 PM

The price of prom: Costs for this rite of passage increasing, even for those trying to keep expenses low

FARGO - Judy Gefroh had a few rules when her daughter, Kaitlyn Gefroh, was picking out a prom dress – no cut outs, nothing see-through or too low cut, and it couldn’t cost much more than $500.

By: Anna G. Larson, INFORUM

FARGO - Judy Gefroh had a few rules when her daughter, Kaitlyn Gefroh, was picking out a prom dress – no cut outs, nothing see-through or too low cut, and it couldn’t cost much more than $500.

“I think it’s important for everyone to experience it,” Judy says. “I didn’t go to prom, so I think it was a little more important for me to have her go.”

As a senior, Kaitlyn says prom is more relaxed and typically less expensive, at least for her and her friends. She’ll attend her fourth and final prom on May 4 at her school, Fargo Shanley. Kaitlyn also went to the Davies High School prom earlier this month.

“Prom is supposed to be this magical thing – it’s just a dance. The difference is, everybody’s dressed up and you go out to dinner,” she says.

Nationwide, the prom experience is more expensive than ever. Families with teenagers were projected to spend $1,078 each on prom last year, up 33.6 percent since 2011, according to a survey by Visa Inc.

While no new spending projections were available for 2013, local store owners and vendors say that prom spending is strong.

Hair Success Salon & Spa North has extra staff to handle the demands of prom primping, says manager Shannon Mickelson.

Most female prom-goers get updos ($62) and makeup application ($32) the day of prom, and typically get manicures ($36) or acrylic nails ($50) and a spray tan ($34) a few days prior, she says.

This year, Judy did Kaitlyn’s hair for the Davies prom, and a friend did her makeup. Kaitlyn got a professional spray tan and her nails done at a salon.

“Everybody wants to look their best,” Kaitlyn says. “There is a lot of pressure that comes along with it.”

The biggest expenses for the Gefrohs this year were Kaitlyn’s two dresses. Her full-length dress for Shanley’s prom cost approximately $400, and she ordered the short, yellow dress she wore to Davies’ prom online for $130.

Locally, dresses in the $300 to $500 range are well received, says Gretchen Ingbretson, owner of The Bridal Shop.

Kaitlyn says she’s lucky her parents agreed to pick up most of her major prom expenses, like both her dresses.

Ingbretson estimates that most dresses in her store are $300 to $350.

“There are young ladies in this area, and parents, who are willing to work it out to pay for it in some form or another,” Ingbretson says.

One of the most expensive dresses The Bridal Shop retailed for $750. It was purchased less than three days after it hit the racks at full price.

“We were kind of amazed,” Ingbretson says.

While the $750 dress sold quickly, she says less-expensive dresses sell well, especially for last-minute shoppers. The store has dresses that start at $50.

“If anyone has a price point we can really give them options so they don’t go overboard,” she says.

Ingbretson predicts sales this year will be comparable to last year, but she says young people shopping for prom seem to be more price and quality-conscious about dresses, shoes and accessories this year.

“They’re looking for fashionable pieces that are traditional so they can wear them again,” she says.

Jewelry typically costs $12 to $60, depending on how much “bling” girls want, she says. Shoes range from $50 to $60.

Kaitlyn wore her $30 silver sandals from last year’s proms and didn’t buy any new jewelry.

For male prom-goers, the cost of attire is more affordable, Ingbretson says.

Renting a basic tuxedo at The Bridal Shop is $69 and comes with a vest, tie, jacket, pants, shirt and shoes. Top-of-the-line tuxedos at the store are $169, Ingbretson says.

The cost of transportation, dinner, a corsage and a boutonniere round out the price of prom. Kaitlyn says that “the guys” usually pick up the tab for those items. She took a trolley to Davies’ prom with her friends, and the boys in her group split the cost of the trolley ride.

Trolleys, limousines, limousine coaches (larger than typical limousines) and stretch Hummers have a base rate of $300 and $500, says Judy Walker, owner of All Occasions Limousine.

The price increases depending on how long the vehicles are out. Walker says most prom goers use the vehicles for two or three hours and favor larger vehicles like the coach limousines because there are more people to split the cost among.

Over the past 20 years, Walker says business from prom goers has “totally increased.”

“It’s nothing like when I was a kid, but now it’s a common thing,” she says.

Corsages and boutonnieres typically cost $40 to $50 for a set, says Abbey Malheim, a floral designer at Hornbacher’s Village West.

Kaitlyn estimates, in total, her family spent more than $550 on her two proms this year. Visa’s survey found that families in the Midwest were estimated to spend the least on prom last year, about $696, comparable to Kaitlyn’s total spending this year.

Mom Judy wishes girls would trade dresses more to keep the cost down, but in the end, she says it’s worth every cent.

“I definitely think Kaitlyn needed to have the prom experience at least once,” Judy says. “It’s a stepping stone in growing up.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525

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