(Corrects paragraph 4 to reflect that U.S. prom spending
already grew this year, according to the Visa survey, instead of
that it is projected to grow)
By Beth Pinsker
NEW YORK, April 24 Inspired by celebrities on
the red carpet, influenced by couture photos circulated on
Pinterest and armed with price information from online browsing,
American girls plan to spend more when they shop for prom
dresses this year.
"I have a budget of $200 for my dress, because I know from
shopping online that most prices are $150 and up," said Anna
Brown, 17, while shopping at Macy's in Manhattan this
week. Brown, a senior at Newtown High School in Elmhurst, New
York, will attend her prom on May 27.
Brown has no idea what her total prom spend will be this
year, because it all starts with the dress.
If she is anything close to average, Brown's wallet will be
much lighter at the end of next month. Overall spending on U.S.
prom events grew to an average of $1,139 per family in 2013, up
5 percent over last year - and higher than the 1.5 percent rate
of inflation in the United States - according to Visa Inc's
third annual survey of prom spending.
Depicted in movies as sweet as "Pretty in Pink" and as
disturbing as "Carrie," the prom is an American institution - a
lavish dance that traditionally celebrates the culmination of
While Visa's survey does not break down exactly where that
average spending of $1,139 came from, teens typically focus on
attire first. Adding to the cost are event tickets, limousines,
hotel rooms or after-party events, corsages and other
accessories, hair, makeup and other extras.
The prom price tag is up significantly from a 2008 survey by
Hearst's Seventeen magazine which found families were planning
to spend $566 on the prom.
The official tallies are not in from this year's prom season
yet, which runs through June. But stores like David's Bridal
are already seeing higher spends this year, with
dresses going for an average of $100 to $150.
Windsor Store chain, another retailer with 62 locations
across the United States, said this year's average prom dress
costs $100, and families are spending about $300 total in their
There are also online retailers selling both new prom
dresses and reselling used ones. "The average prom dress on our
site sells for $150 but retails for average of $300," said Tracy
DiNunzio, chief executive officer of Tradesy.com, which is an
eBay-like site for fashion. "For a lot of families that $300 is
a big investment for a dress that a girl's going to wear once.
We've seen parents that make their daughters promise to sell the
dress after they wear it."
However, the dresses can be hard to part with. Emily
Casarola, a 16-year-old from Colts Neck, New Jersey, intended to
hold on to her $250 dress, at least for a little while. If
anything, she said, she would eventually donate it to a site
like Operation Prom or Cinderella's Closet, which provides
dresses to families that cannot afford them.
Casarola ended up getting her white, feathered dress from
David's Bridal, where her mother Amy, 50, works as a district
manager. They did plenty of shopping online and at other stores
first, and a lot of checking on a private Facebook group to make
sure that none of her friends were buying the same thing. They
also picked up $35 earrings, $50 shoes and a $149 bridal
headband. The family had a budget of $500 before Emily would
have to start contributing her own money.
Nationally, Visa's survey found that parents were planning
to pay 59 percent of prom costs, and teens were paying the
remainder themselves. The survey also noted that families with
income less than $50,000 were planning to spend $100 more than
the national average on prom, and that single parents were
planning to spend double the amount of married parents - $1,563
Credit card company Visa conducted a telephone poll of 3,000
families nationally over February and March, which was twice the
size of its sample last year. The company launched a new
smartphone app, Plan'it Prom, to help with the budgeting
"It's become a social arms race," said Nat Sillin, Visa's
head of financial literacy. "It's an opportunity for parents to
engage their teens and have a conversation about budgeting."
That is exactly what has been going on in the Astoria,
Queens, household of Amalia Garced, 17, who has a May 17 prom
for her Manhattan high school, Vanguard. She has been talking to
her mother - whose budget tapped out at $500 for her own prom
years ago - about what she should spend.
Garced planned to spend no more than $300 for the dress, $20
for hair, $40 for nails and then she also has to pay for shoes,
plus tickets for herself and her date. Her mom is helping with
half of the cost of the limo, but she is paying for everything
else on her own.
"I never thought I'd have to spend so much," she said, while
shopping in Macy's with a friend. "It's like, 'Oh my goodness,
how am I going to afford all of this?'"
(Editing by Lauren Young and Matthew Lewis; Follow us
@ReutersMoney or here)