How much is a memory worth?
$100? $300? How about $1,000?
For Arundel high school students preparing for prom night, the answer can be a mint.
Gone are the days of quaint small-town proms held in the school gym, where the fanciest thing in sight was the paper streamers.
In recent years, prom night has gone increasingly upscale, with classy bands, expensive attire and glitzy hotels. Many teen-agers feast on elegant pre-prom appetizers, travel in stretch limosand wind up the evening at four-star hotels.
Even the dresses cost more. Formal shops in the county say prom dresses average about $150, but at Macy's and Gantos in Marley Station Mall, the hot sellers cost $200 to $300.
"Anything glitzy. A lot shorter. Strapless. Sleeveless. Risque," says Gantos manager Becky Naples. A fast-selling prom dress this spring has been a beaded number for $350, she says.
Macy's saleswoman Donna McKenzie reports that fitted, flared dresses,a la Grace Kelly, are the favored look this year, some with royal prices to match. "You say $350, and the mothers do not even flinch," she says.
At Annapolis Formal, prices on prom dresses range from a bargain $98 up to -- take a deep breath -- $3,200 for a silk Victoriangown by Andrew Wilkens of London.
Gentlemen get off cheaper, at least on the clothes. Renting a tux costs anywhere from $58 to $140. Of course, a fellow out to impress his girl might pay more for the cutting edge of fashion. For example, pegged pants from Small's Formal Wear in Severna Park cost an extra $10, colored cummerbunds and patterned ties another $5.
But the pricy fun just begins with the attire.
The average prom-going gent will shell out $20 for a corsage of roses for his lady, and he'll receive a $5 boutonniere in return.
"It's a busy time, but nothing in comparison to Valentine's Day or Mother's Day," says Bill Dyott, owner of Severna Park Flowers and Gifts.
Transportation also can raise the price of prom night significantly. Many couples opt to share a limo with one or two other couples, with the total cost ranging from about $75 all the way up to nearly $400, an informal survey of area limo services reveals.
For $360 plus a 15 percent gratuity for the driver, seniors can rent a six-seater stretch limo from Select Limo Service near Annapolis. That's for the minimum required six hours, complete with television, videocassetterecorder and stereo. (No hot tubs, jokes a salesperson).
All this, and the couple hasn't even paid to get in the door yet.
Tickets to high school proms average $40 a pair.
Seniors who want to keep partying till dawn watch the price tag go up to include a hotel room,again usually shared by several couples.
For this one big night, a fairly average young woman and her date may well spend nearly $500 on the evening, and those adding the limos and hotel rooms can easilydouble that amount.
Add to that the money some parents spend putting on pre- and post-prom gatherings for their children and the thousands of dollars a senior class forks over for renting a place to holdthe special event, and you're talking big business.
Severna Park High seniors have worked for four years to raise about half of the $21,000 it is costing them to rent Martin's West for their prom night.
"Their goal is to keep the tickets to $19.91 a ticket, since they're graduating in 1991," says Michelle Tidwell, senior class adviser. "I think we'll come real close." Typically, tickets at the school's senior prom cost $22 to $25 each, she says.
Some high school classes renting the grand ballroom at the Turf Valley Country Club in Ellicott City are paying a bit less -- $14 per person for a soda bar and cold appetizers up to $17 for hot appetizers and a sweets table.
Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn added a nautical twist by planning their May 20 prom for the Lady Baltimore in Baltimore Harbor.
The class is paying $6,600 for 250 people to stage an evening of fine cuisine, bay breezes and romance.
But the money doesn't matter when you've just got to have a good time.
Angie Riesner, 15, trying on dresses last week, wished she could persuade her mother of that salient fact.
The Glen Burnie sophomore had found the perfect dress for her junior prom at Robinson's in Southgate Mall.
There was just one inevitable catch: The ivory lace dress, adorned with delicateVictorian rosebuds and pearls, bore a price tag of $446.
"I don'tknow if Mom's gonna let me get it," the teen-ager said wistfully, running her hand along the antique lace. "But it's sure pretty."