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Corner Office from Marketplace

From "promposal" to dress, everything must be unique

Kai Ryssdal and Gina Delvac Apr 17, 2015
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Prom season is in full swing. And if you’re thinking to yourself, “That’s not a business story,” keep reading. 

An amazing statistic from Visa: the average prom-going teen will shell out $919 in preparation this year. With that much at stake, formal wear boutiques are courting as much business as possible away from department stores and online retailers, who have the advantage of endless selection and cheaper prices. 

One strategy they’ve hit upon: prom dress registries, so that no two girls from the same high school show up to prom in the same gown. 

“I worried about a lot of things as a teenage girl. This was not one of them,” says Elizabeth Holmes, senior style reporter for the Wall Street Journal, who recently wrote about prom registries. 

The “OMG, Mom!” sense of embarrassment over a twin-effect at prom is nothing new. Beverly Hills, 90210 had a dramatic spring dance moment back in 1993. 

 

 

To avoid Kelly and Brenda’s embarrassment, stores are keeping registries so that each girl has her shining moment on prom night. 

Holmes spoke with one Silicon Valley formal wear boutique that tracks 600 high school proms. 

“They have this massive computerized dress registry where they’re tracking who is wearing what, to which prom,” she said.

For store owners, it may be uncomfortable to tell an excited teen, “No, you can’t have that dress.” But particularly in smaller markets, formal boutiques rely on repeat business and hope that customers will see the value. 

Holmes says it’s a “play to the parents,” who more often than not are footing the bill for $400 and up gowns. 

“They’re dealing with a dramatic teenager and they don’t want to have  come prom night  tears if someone else had my dress.”

Because prom has always been about the pictures as much as the dance, teens now document everything from the dress-buying experience to their “promposals” through social media. And while boys don’t have to worry about suit or tuxedo registries (yet, anyway), Holmes says, they tend to foot the bill for increasingly popular promposals, be they elaborate or goofy. 

 

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