How did prom get so expensive? More fashion, pressure and definitely more social media

Anna Limb pins a boutonniere on her date, Tristan Ahern, 17, at the Manhasset High School pre-prom at the Manhasset Yacht Club on April 5. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

Ask a mother of four if prom has changed over time and you’ll get an earful. Take it from Kelly Ferry, 56, of Merrick, whose youngest child, Leo, 17, a senior at John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, will be her last child to attend one. Citing prom costs, Kelly exclaims, “Thank God, he’s not a girl in 2024.”

Why? For girls especially, “Prom is so different from what it was 10 years ago,” says Shauna Beni-Haynes, commerce editor at Teen Vogue. “That’s totally about the impact of social media. The dressing up part is the main component.”

From left: Nancy Abode, 17, models a prom dress during the Oyster Bay High School fashion show held in late March to help defray the cost of prom tickets. Leo Ferry, 17, a senior at John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore (and a basketball star) wore this rented ensemble to his junior prom last year. Credit: Omar Figueroa; Kelly Ferry

Ferry, whose oldest daughter, Victoria, went to prom in 2012 agrees. “Now everybody’s going to see what you were wearing, what your date looked like, what your bus looks like,” she says. “Social media has upped the ante and I don’t feel like there was a sense of that pressure years ago when Victoria went. I don’t know if we spent $200 on the whole thing.”

From an expense perspective, going to prom for boys is also no bargain. A quick tally of Ferry’s son Leo’s costs (sans additional expenses for his date) goes like this: Bus transportation ($165); the prom ticket ($125); after prom ($80); tux rental ($250) and incidentals including a haircut ($50) and brow trim ($30) add up to a total of $660.

Holly Newman, 17, of Manhasset High School, arrives to the pre-prom photo-op at the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club with her date, Patrick Arnold, 18. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

But the burden and price tag are bigger for girls. At Estelle’s Dressy Dresses in Farmingdale, frocks for the all-important event average $300-$500, while there are dresses starting at $100. Of course, there’s plenty of variety in the category. Beni-Haynes says, “Based on our listings for best prom dresses from a website, a lot of our readers are buying from sources like Amazon,” which cost much less. But at Runway Couture in Bellmore, the fanciest special event dresses can go for $5,000 or more, and while this is not the norm for promwear, owner Kimberly Towers is turning out customized prom dresses this season for $1,000-$2,000. “A lot of prom dresses are very much the same, and the girls I dress want to be wearing something that makes them an original.”

Some parents like Coleen Hyland, 58, of Manhasset, are happy to foot the bill for the big gig. Hyland’s daughter, Carys, 18, attended the Manhasset High School prom in early April at the Bridgeview Yacht Club in Island Park. “She’s been an excellent student and has worked hard both in school and with her extracurriculars and I think it’s important to celebrate her accomplishments with this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

How much can prom cost?

Bus transportation: $165

Prom ticket: $125

After prom: $80

Tux rental: $250

Haircut: $50

Dresses: $300-$2,000

*Prices based on Long Island teens' spending breakdown and average dress costs. 

To that end, mother and daughter ordered (and sent back) some 30 potential dresses for the night, finally settling on a glamorous gold-ruched number for $635. Other costs included today’s prom prerequisites like a blow out and nails, and then there were the $205 tickets for transportation and the dance for Carys and her boyfriend. What was Carys most excited about? The pictures. “You’re supposed to try and look your best ever.” The dress, apparently, did the trick. Pre-prom she says, “I feel like I’m going on the red carpet.”

PROM SAVINGS — AND SPLURGE

Carys Hyland and her date, Ben Fox, both 18, strike...

Carys Hyland and her date, Ben Fox, both 18, strike a pose at the Manhasset High School pre-prom at the Manhasset Yacht Club April 5. Credit: Coleen Hyland

For her Oyster Bay High School senior prom in June at the swanky Oheka Castle, senior class president Olivia Gallo, 17, will wear a dress she bought at a consignment shop last year for $315 that still needs alterations.

“It reminds me of the Marilyn Monroe dress Kim Kardashian wore to the Met Ball with sparkles and pearls all over it,” she says. “I know I’ll probably just wear it once because of social media.”

Her parents will help with the dress and the prom tickets, but Gallo, who works at a pharmacy will pay for other incidentals. Sensitive to the mounting costs, she put on a full-fledged, hotly-attended fashion show at her school in late March in which administrators, teachers and students modeled to help defray the price of the $120 prom tickets.

“We made more money than we anticipated,” says Gallo, who was able to reduce the cost of the tickets to $100. She, for one, is excited about the whole event. “I feel like prom is an emotional, beautiful thing for us to all come together, to celebrate all the hard work we did to get through high school.”

Her classmate Nancy Abode, 17, admits it’s more about the dress for her. Abode, whose senior superlative is “Best Style,” has something very special in mind.

“My parents are originally from Ghana, Africa, and I’m getting my dress made in Africa in a style that we traditionally wear to a wedding,” she says. “I love my culture and appreciate my culture so much and want to show it.”

Her Ghanaian garb will run about $500, and she has plans for it. “On prom day, my dress is going to be all over my Instagram.” The senior plans to go big, adding hair, nails, makeup and shoes to the mix. She says, “I feel I have to go all out. I want to show up and show off.” But she’s less interested in the event itself. “I love all my friends, but if we just had graduation and no prom, I’d be fine.”