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It’s prom season, as the parent of any high school student – or at least that parent’s wallet – likely knows quite well.
Shelby County’s prom was Friday in the select and sensational Seelbach Hotel. Collins will celebrate this week at the magnifique and munificent Muhammad Ali Center.
And we extend poverty-line pity for the family who has to pay the tab for a teenager who has a paramour attending the other school, because that’s a deep double-dip in the pocket.
For it seems that in the decades upon decades that proms have been held – which some say is since Delilah told Samson to get a trim and a tux – that these annual spring rites finally have returned to their roots – make those well-mobilized, well-funded, well-coiffed, spectacularly touched-up roots.
We cast as evidence photographs that flow through a slideshow on www.SentinelNews.com.
What we see are not the innocent and nervous images of teenagers going off to a dance that in its day sometimes turned into a life-stage of its own.
Rather we have an ostentatious display of a huge investment in seeing and being seen.
The name “prom” itself originates from the hackneyed term “promenade,” which is not another level to a mall or stadium but a “leisurely walk, or ride, in a public place for the pleasure of display.”
There seem to be a lot of “pleasures of display” going on, which tells me that I don’t think I’m ready for the next dozen years until my daughter attends a prom. For one thing, I’m not that well invested.
To understand, if not embrace, this trend I’m spotting, we must, of course, consult the past.
And my frame of reference for proms is more like a pink carnation and pickup truck. Which was, yes, in the days just after the music died.
Our proms were held in school cafeterias, and the tunes were provided by real live musicians some of us even knew.
The theme was adapted from a movie or song title that most kids thought was cool but fewer understood to be romantic.
The dresses were long, shiny and pretty but made of a bit more cloth. Any apparent tans likely were drawn from farm work and not a salon.
The tuxes were the most modern you could rent at Andriot’s Men’s Wear. Maybe something in yellow with black piping around the lapels and cuffs, as well as outlining the ruffles on the shirt. All for maybe $20.
That didn’t include a vest, hat or supporting cane, though Bill or Bob Andriot may have been able to find one if asked.
(In fact what I recall about going to my first prom is nothing about the who, when, where or how, but it was the miracle through which I patched together a last-minute wardrobe by borrowing a white dinner jacket from our pastor and a Scotch plaid tie and cummerbund from Lefty Streible. The shirt probably did come from Andriots.)
The flowers we bought formed a simple corsage to match some hue of a dress, and some were perplexingly worn as bracelets, which was not something Wally Cleaver’s date ever displayed.
And then there was the trauma that you couldn’t go without a date. That was fodder for the Eddie Haskells of the world.
You fretted and hemmed and hawed and finally invited somebody you knew from Sunday school or the younger sister of a friend.
When she said yes, your fret meter sped into racing mode.
You had to scrape up the $4 or so for tickets, and then you had to find a ride, which meant that if you weren’t old enough to drive and beg for the keys, you had to find someone older who would let you ride along.
How many teenagers do you think perceived it would be cool to have some younger whelp of a couple riding in the back, which not only required time and attention but also a lot of extra gas money?
One thing that remains the same is that you arrived early to pick up your date so that you could snap a few Kodaks and Polaroids and rush them to the store to have them “developed” and create fodder for albums and scrapbooks, all of which guys hated and girls loved.
Then it was off to the dance, where you stood around some, danced some, chatted some, and then, around 11, when it was all over, you sped off to a pizza joint for a pie and a pitcher of Coca-Cola, maybe attend a “breakfast” at a student’s house.
And moving memories were stitched and glued into the nappy wool of our lives.
But somewhere in the space/time continuum all of that vanished in a great pile of dollar bills.
Here’s what you have now for the prom: Designer gowns and tuxes (or tux creations) with all sorts of accoutrements. Some kids take dates but many go in posses of pals.
And they don’t drive or ride in pairs or quartets. They rent lavish and long limousines for their smaller version of Entourage.
They rendezvous at the high school campus for group departure and the new version of the photo shoot.
Then those limos drive more than 30 miles each way to attend the prom, and students are warned (a) not to skip school on the day of the prom or (b) don’t be renting a room at the hotel for afterward (sorry, that one made me laugh). Some do go to post-parties.
So let’s do a quick recap and some consignment-shop math:
Dress or tux with accoutrements: $200-$300.
Salon time: $100.
Flowers and gifts: $50.
Tickets: $40 per person.
Transportation and tip: $100.
Eats before and after: $35.
You can do the sum, but we already know what all of this really adds up to: