Summit High School junior Caitlin Young doesn’t have her prom dress yet, but her shoes are covered — hot pink and sassy — purchased from Mary Jane’s, formerly King of Sole, in downtown Bend.
Her perfect dress for the May 9 dance will be more fun than formal, she said, perhaps falling to the knees, instead of to the floor, and in bright, summery hues. And the cost? Let’s just say she’s still shopping around.
The 17-year-old says her parents are helping her out with the cost, and she’s hoping to find everything for less than $200.
For students in Central Oregon, this high school rite of passage can also be a spendy one, but a challenging economy is producing stricter budgets for many teens, who are getting creative in ways to have a fabulous night on a budget.
Young’s budget is about average for teens attending junior or senior proms, according to a recent survey from Seventeen.com, the Web site for Seventeen magazine. The survey found that the majority of teens will spend $100 to $200 on their prom, including the dance tickets, outfits, hair, makeup, nails, boutonnieres and corsages, dinner and transportation.
Some of those costs can easily be eliminated with the rising do-it-yourself mentality: flowers can be tied into homemade boutonnieres and corsages, dinner can be made at home (consider bribing siblings to act as waiters) and transportation doesn’t have to be a Hummer limo this year.
The right dress: New dresses alone can cost $200 and up at name-brand retailers, but savvy prom shoppers can find less expensive dresses on sale racks, in consignment shops and at wedding stores in the area.
At Bend Wedding & Formal on Northeast Third Street, owner Kathleen Evans has prom dresses for as low as $15, and boasts that she has 99 dresses for under $99.
Finders Keepers in downtown Bend also has a selection of formal wear, and shoppers can order from catalogs if they can’t find what they want in the store.
Some girls may choose to have dresses tailor-made, which can cost $100 to $300, depending on the tailor, with prices ranging $10 to $30 per hour.
Hair and makeup: As for prom extras, many girls can easily do their own hair and makeup, or make appointments for a free makeover at the makeup counters in department stores.
If they want something more involved, they can head to Phagans’ Cosmetology School for inexpensive up-dos, makeup and nails.
Phagans’ educator Connie Kelley said the beauty school will open specially for proms on April 25 and May 9, with beauty students working on a volunteer basis. She said manicures are $15, pedicures are $20 and up-dos cost $15 to $20. As a special service, Kelley said all services come with complimentary makeup. Girls can reserve a spot on their prom day by calling 541-382-6171.
For the guys: Bend Wedding & Formal tuxedo rentals start at $50, store owner Evans said, including everything from shoes to cuff links.
“They come with everything but socks and underwear,” she said.
At Robert’s on Wall Street in downtown Bend, tux rentals — including the shirt, vest and tie — start at $89, averaging $120. Some discounts apply, and shoes are an extra $15 to $25.
Guys who are renting should do so at least two weeks before prom to make sure they can secure a tux for the special day.
What’s old is new
For La Pine High School senior Kristen Russell, prom in years past has cost her family around $400 for outfits for her and her older sister. This year, the 17-year-old says she’s trying to spend less than $150. She found her floor-length gown at Finder’s Keepers. The store is having a big sale, she said, so her yellow, lacy dress with detailed beading was 50 percent off the original price.
When shopping for new dresses, Russell says most of her friends find everything they need in Central Oregon, and often shop at the Cascade Village Shopping Center, home of JCPenney and low-cost retailer Ross Dress For Less.
Although it is fun to buy all new merchandise for the prom, Russell says it is common practice for teens to get creative with where they get their outfits.
“Between all of my friends, we trade off on stuff we get, like shoes, dresses and accessories,” she said. “It’s easier to save money that way.”
Last year, Russell had a La Pine seamstress custom make her dress, which actually ended up being cheaper than buying a new one.
She went to Show Shirts by LLP, owned by Linda Pierce, who specializes in Western-wear outfits covered in embroidery and sparkles, as a girl going to a horse show or rodeo would wear.
For custom gowns, Pierce says girls can save money by bringing in their own designs and pre-washed fabric that is ready to cut. Dresses take her 10 to 15 hours to make, and she charges $10 to $15 per hour. The whole process, from sewing to dress fittings, takes two to three weeks, Pierce said, adding that it helps if girls started planning their tailor-made dresses three months before the prom.
The best price is no price
For many teens, prom is a financial impossibility. And that’s where the 5-year-old service Becca’s Closet comes in.
Becca’s Closet is a nonprofit that offers free formal-wear rentals, including dresses, men’s suits, shoes, purses, nylons, gloves and shawls. The rentals are available to area students who are currently enrolled in school.
The service operates out of Bend’s Community Center, on northeast Fifth Street, off Greenwood Avenue.
Women’s gowns in all styles, lengths and colors range in size from 0 to 12 in one room and then 14 and up in another. Located in the basement of the community center, Becca’s Closet is not open during school hours. After school and on weekends, teens can drop by and shop in the clean and organized space that includes dressing rooms, a wall of dress shoes and racks of hanging gowns.
All the clothes are donated by local residents, retailers or shipped in from the national Becca’s Closet office, according to center director Taffy Gleason.
Many of the dresses look as if they weren’t worn at all, although Mirror Pond Cleaners donates professional cleaning for all dresses before they are given away, Gleason said. A volunteer seamstress mends any dresses that need it.
Gleason said the center had 1,200 dresses at last count, and while the service has been around for a while, it’s still under-utilized, lending far fewer dresses than it could.
“We usually loan 200 to 300 dresses per year,” Gleason said.
Obtaining a dress or suit comes with one easy stipulation: You have to prove that you are enrolled in school.
To qualify, students must have a valid student identification card, or other proof of enrollment, such as a class schedule or report card, which many students can print off online.
Although most of the dresses are meant for the prom, Gleason says she also makes specialty loans for other extracurricular activities that require formal wear, such as a music concert.
Gleason says she watches carloads of girls come to the community center from outside Bend, and shoppers from all walks of life “ooh” and “aah” as they try on the dress clothes, which just goes to show that the fun pre-prom rituals don’t have to cost a penny.
“If you’re a parent on a tight income, don’t beat yourself up because you can’t afford a dress for your daughter’s prom,” Gleason said. “We call this a social equalizer.”