This is the season when stretch limos span city blocks, strappy sandals dance out of stores and bodacious tuxedos strut the land. P Each generation of high school graduates has a unique set of prom memories. They are snapshots of both tradition and flux. Even as songs, dances and hairdos revolt against yesterday, the prom remains a traditional rite of passage. P It is also a common touchstone for parents and children as they navigate the future in a fickle world. Below, three high school seniors with three different paths to the prom tell their tales -- with a little parental support.
Tracey Harvey is one of those quietly surprising people who quickly absorbs life lessons, loves to joke around and readily speaks her mind.
A member of Israel Baptist Church, Tracey is deeply religious, but faith didn't prevent her from getting her tongue pierced. An ROTC member since eighth grade, she's not one to wave the flag. In class, Tracey is outspoken, and acknowledges that she often talks before she thinks. "I don't hold a lot of feelings to myself," she says.
Eager to graduate, Tracey, 16, skipped 11th grade at Randalls-town High School. She hasn't settled on a college yet, but plans to study forensic pathology. She would love to live in Atlanta, a place she considers "so civilized, so open."
So much to think about. But first, there's the prom.
Starting in ninth grade, "Prom is the main thing you look forward to," Tracey says. It's "the big event of the year," she says. "Hair has to be right, nails have to be perfect, nothing can go wrong."
This year's prom takes place on May 18 at the new Martin's Valley Mansion in Hunt Valley. In preparation, many seniors spare no expense, Tracey says. Prom costs, including the $75 ticket, a limo, photos, hairstyling, manicures, accessories, dinner and after-prom festivities, can spike to $800 or $900, she says. It can be "pocket-breaking."
"For the whole night, I'm not willing to spend more than $600," says Lisa Harvey, Tracey's mom.
Some girls design their gowns and have them custom-made, Tracey says. Often, dresses, "cut up and cut out," are extremely revealing. "School tries to tone the dresses down," she says. "If there's too much hanging out, they can't come."
Tracey refuses to get pulled into the "who's the hottest of them all" contest. "I'm not always going to be the best. But I can be the best at something else," she says.
Tracey pictured herself in royal regalia when she searched for a gown at the Priceless Prom Boutique in March. The boutique, sponsored by a group that provides donated gowns to high school girls, drew a pre-dawn throng to the Inner Harbor Marriott.
Harvey, of Randallstown, was number 576 in line. After waiting for two hours, a boutique volunteer helped her find what she wanted, a "really pouffy" princess dress, but it was too small and required alterations.
Lisa Harvey would rather find a new gown at Security Square Mall, where they've shopped for formal occasions before. "I don't like the pouffiness, but it's what Tracey wanted. I'm trying to talk her out of it," says Harvey, an anesthesia clinical technician at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
"She wants to be queen of the ball, which is fine," says Harvey, 44. "But it's just too much trouble to find the material" to enlarge the gown while matching the gown's unusual shade of green.
Harvey recalls that her mother, Anita Campbell-Fields, helped her select a gown for her senior prom at Eastern High School 27 years ago. They found "a white dress. It was gorgeous," Harvey said. She attended the prom with Jesse Harvey, who became her husband.
She loves the pomp of the prom, and savors helping her daughter with its preliminary rituals, such as applying makeup and slipping cautiously into her frock. "I get her all dolled up and my sister works on her hair," Harvey says.
As Tracey alights from a limo on prom night, her mother and other family members will be there to gawk and applaud. They'll know that their princess, pouffy or not, will make the most of her big night. "Tracey is an awesome dancer," Harvey says.
Which brings up another prom hurdle. Several weeks before the prom, Tracey and her boyfriend aren't getting along. She has a replacement date in mind. Besides, she says, the prom is more fun if you don't have to worry about the boyfriend.
Tracey, wise beyond her years, refuses to set herself up for disappointment, no matter whose arm she is on. "You make it out that it's going to be another night," she says, "but with more preparation."
Proms can really add up
From corsages and garters to limos and breakfast at dawn, the prom is one pricey party. A 2006 study by Your Prom magazine found that 12.5 million teens spend $6.6 billion annually on their big night.
A 2007 study by Your Prom, based on a poll of 16,000 teens, determined that prom expenses per couple averaged $1,048. Prom dresses average $202, according to the poll.
A Seventeen magazine survey in 2006 found that teens' overall prom expenses were even greater -- $1,125 per couple. The same survey indicated that girls spend $158 on accessories, including shoes, jewelry, handbag and hair ornaments. Cosmetics set prom queens back $130 and salon services totaled an average of $110.
Typically, the Seventeen survey reported, guys spent $331 on after-prom activities and girls spent $165 for activities and additional clothing.