Although school balls and discos have long been part of the UK’s cultural landscape, since the noughties, the much more extravagant US-style prom has captured the nation’s imagination.
“More than 85 per cent of schools in Britain hold school proms, which range from no-frills dinners in school halls to tailor-made extravaganzas in five-star hotels with such extras as ice- cream vans and photo booths,” the Telegraph noted in 2012, with the Guardian reporting this year that the industry rakes in about £80m.
It’s a clear money-maker for businesses, but for the families of teenage boys and girls up and down the country, prom can be insurmountably expensive.
Prom dresses are often the costliest item of the glitzy rite of passage – the average price of a prom dress runs in the hundreds of pounds.
As the mother of a teenage daughter and with prom season now in full swing, Angela Appleby, who helps run a Unite community clothing bank in Durham had an idea.
She suggested in a meeting that they put out a call for prom dresses to give an opportunity to teenage girls who might otherwise be unable to attend what’s often a prohibitively expensive event – and the response was overwhelming.
“We thought we might get maybe 10 or 15 dresses, but we ended up with 70,” Appleby said. “And even more than that – a local bridal shop pitched in with formal wear for boys, as well as other prom accessories.”
The clothing bank decided to loan all the prom items free of charge, so that girls and boys can benefit from their offerings for years to come.
“One of the first youngsters who came in and tried a dress, we of course asked her to show us,” Appleby said. “She looked so lovely; I was literally moved to tears.”
Appleby added that the uptake has been very good.
“We have parents coming in with their teenagers and they’ve all loved it,” she said.
“I’m really pleased that we’ve done this,” Appleby added. “Having a teenage daughter of my own, I know how much pressure teenagers are under these days. Prom has really become a very big deal in this country. It can be so expensive, and even though there’s no malice intended, it must be awful, you know, for kids whose families don’t have the money and so feel excluded.
“I’m very proud that our clothing bank has, in our own small way, been able to help.”
Find out more about the clothing bank by visiting the Durham Community Support Centre blog here.