Prom is the new wedding, and spending on the springtime high school dance is climbing within reach of celebrations of holy matrimony.
This year, families with teens are expected to spend an average of $1,078 on prom, up from $807 last year, according to data from a survey released by Visa that includes results based on a thousand telephone interviews conducted at the end of last month.
Spending has been driven to never-before-seen levels as teens are influenced by everything from celebrities and reality TV to the prevalence of social media, experts say.
Linda Korman, advertising director for Seventeen Prom and Teen Prom, says teen girls view prom as their "red-carpet moment" and are "heavily influenced" by celebrities who walk actual red carpets in designer gowns. "It's a rite of passage, and there's a legacy of how you look at your prom," she says. "Girls want to dress to impress."
With more adults marrying later, in many ways, prom has replaced weddings, debutante balls and coming-out parties as the formal occasion of a young adult's life, says Kit Yarrow, a marketing and psychology professor who co-authored Gen BuY, a book on Gen Y buying behavior.
This is especially evident in the Northeast and South, which have a tradition of formal coming-of-age parties. Average spending by families with teens attending prom is considerably higher than in other parts of the country, with families in the South expected to spend about $1,047, while Northeastern families will spend an average of almost $2,000, according to the Visa survey. In the West and Midwest, families will spend an average of $744 and $696, respectively, the survey found.