My son wore a suit he already owned to the prom. He got a $10 haircut a few days before. The day of the dance, he began getting ready approximately 20 minutes before we needed to head out the door. Shower, brush the teeth, comb the hair, throw on the suit, we're outta here.
With a daughter, the process begins months ahead of time. The search for the perfect dress begins soon after Christmas. Everyone with older sisters/daughters is interviewed extensively as to where they had success shopping. Many stores are visited and dresses flouffy, dresses slinky, dresses bizarre, are all tried on. There are tears. There are photos taken with cellphones and emailed to friends. Text messaging is frenzied.
And then there is the dress she puts on, and looks at herself in the mirror, and it is …
Although this, of course, is what you see:
In the mirror, the mother watches her little girl's face and knows it is the very first time she sees herself as a truly beautiful, grown-up woman. Hopefully you were wise and have not even let her put it on her body if it is out of your price range, because if you did let her and it is The Oh Dress, you will be buying it no matter what. You will insist upon it, never mind the second mortgage, because you saw that face.
But this is only the beginning. To go with the dress, there must be shoes, a purse, and bling. (Fortunately it is perfectly acceptable for the bling to be fake, as long as it is shiny and makes you feel like a princess.) All this must be located in different stores on different days.
Dresses and purses and shoes and bling, and ka-ching and ka-ching and ka-ching.
And then there is the hair, the makeup, the nails. All must be professionally done, if at all possible, and appointments must be made months ahead of time. For the hair, it is usually also necessary to have a pre-appointment so that the stylist can do a mock-up of your style of choice so that you don't look like this:
When you wanted to look like this:
And ka-ching and ka-ching and ka-ching. My wedding was much less complicated than this. Getting ready for the Academy Awards is much less complicated than this.
On prom day, the girls are up at the crack of dawn. They have these precision-timed multiple beautifying appointments to get to, then must be home in time to carefully put The Dress on without damaging nails, hair or makeup. What has taken the boys 20 minutes to accomplish (well, plus 10 minutes for the haircut a few days earlier), has taken the girls about four months.
Not to mention that ka-ching factor. At the end of my daughter's prom, the kids were eager to move on to their adult-free after-grad activities and started gravitating to the washrooms to change into more casual clothes. The parents waited to receive the gowns and take them home. One mother looked over at me and my armful of seafoam green tulle, and asked drily, "So how much do you suppose that amortized out to per hour?"
Luckily there is an organization called the Cinderella Project, which collects gently-used grad dresses and all the peripherals you may also wish to donate, and makes them available to girls who would not otherwise be able to afford them. My daughter and her friends were all very happy to pass their gowns on and know that they would bring joy to someone else.
But not before she tried it on just one more time in front of the mirror.