Imported from the States, the old-fashioned school leavers’ dance has been overtaken by a lavish affair of sumptuous gowns costing hundreds of pounds, fake tan, fancy cars and soaring costs for parents footing the bill. And it’s not just high school pupils. Primary school parents are also forking out hundreds for junior’s journey to high school, with the “qually dance” now dubbed the primary prom.
But why do parents feel the need to splash the cash? And, at the end of the day, is it really worth it?
n Sara Mauriello has spent around £220 on the outfit her daughter Sophie will wear to her P7 leavers’ party at Juniper Green Primary School tomorrow night.
She believes it’s money well spent to help mark the switch to Currie High School.
“It’s a big thing for the children and it’s nice to make it a bit special for them before they break up,” she says. The Juniper Green leavers will be given a Hollywood-style welcome at the school before their disco and then an even grander departure – in a fleet of stretch limos that will chauffeur them around town.
“I booked the cars in March because I know there’s always a big rush at this time of year, ” says Sara, 37, who lives with her builder husband, Kevin, and other daughter, Abby, eight, at Baberton Mains Drive. “We have a budget from the parent council to help with costs, and every child in the school gets a ride in one of the cars.
“The children will feel like celebrities,” she adds. “A couple of the parents weren’t keen on the cars and felt it was getting a bit too Americanised. But for the kids, the cars are the really exciting part of it.”
Sophie’s shoes turned out to be the most expensive part of her outfit – bought from a small shop in Morningside. “We bought Sophie’s dress from eBay and when we took it to get adjusted, the shop had shoes in the exactly the right colour,” adds Sara, who works as a deputy advocates clerk.
“So they cost £120. By the time you add on things like hair and nails, it came to £200 to £220. But it’s a night for the children to remember and as parents you want to make it really special for them.”
For Sophie, 12, it’s a leap from her Hearts Under-13s football kit. “It’s all everyone at school has been talking about for three months,” she giggles. “My dress is perfect and my favourite thing is my shoes. They are quite high, I’ve been practising walking in them. The best bit will be seeing everyone looking really different – and the cars.”
While little sister Abby is plotting her prom in a few years’ time, dad Kevin, 42, meanwhile, is rather bemused by it all.
“When I left primary school, the boys voted to go to see Lord of the Rings at the cinema rather than a disco. There were more boys than girls, so Lord of the Rings won and the girls weren’t chuffed.
“To be fair, the film was the cartoon version and it wasn’t great, so maybe we should have listened to the girls!”
n Emma Irons is still totting up the expense after twin daughters’ Natalie and Kirsten’s prom last week.
“It’s been an expensive year,” says Emma, 44, of Juniper Green. “Not only the prom – and that was times two for everything – but they’ve been learning to drive so there’s been car insurance for two, and now they’re both off on their sixth year holiday to Zante.”
For, once the prom is over, it seems a growing Edinburgh tradition is for school leavers to pack their cases – usually at parental expense – and head for the sun with their mates.
Sixth year pupils at Currie High School raised money throughout the year to pay for their three-course dinner, disco and live ceilidh band earlier this month at the Balmoral.
“It’s a different from my school ‘qually dance’,” agrees Emma. “I remember one girl had a feather boa and I was quite jealous, then we went to the chippy. Not quite the Balmoral!
“But it’s worth it in the end. It’s really emotional for everyone. You’re conscious it’s the last time this set of friends will be together before they all go their separate ways.”
Emma, 44, and husband Charlie, 52, spent around £350 each on the girls for their hair, nails and outfits. They also threw open her home for a pre-prom party, which saw 30 youngsters plus parents crammed inside for drinks and snacks.
At least they saved a little money on transport – Charlie runs a coach company. “Charlie’s attitude is ‘whatever’. But on the day he was just as emotional about ‘his babies’ as the rest of us,” she laughs.
The couple have it all to look forward to in the future too – baby of the family Melissa starts primary school this August. “At least there’s plenty of time to save up,” says Emma.
n Mum Lesley Burt, 46, reckons she spent nearly £1000 on daughter Ashleigh’s Dalkeith High School prom. “You can’t buy any dress off the high street or internet in case someone else has the same one,” she says. “So we went to Kudos in Morningside where staff checked which dresses had already been taken by someone at the same school to avoid doubling up.
“Some dresses were £1000. It was almost a relief when Ashleigh picked a red dress at £395.”
Ashleigh’s accessories were more keenly priced – her high street shop shoes were £45 and her bag £25. But a string of other “extras” nudged the costs up and up. “Her make-up and hair cost around £35 and a share of the stretch limo was another £22.50,” adds Lesley, who works at Standard Life.
“Ashleigh asked if her friends could come to us before heading off. So there were nibbles and drinks and, of course, I couldn’t have her friends and all their parents over without painting the living room and the kitchen!” she says.
Ashleigh agrees the prom – which cost £40 for the dinner and dance at the Hilton Grosvenor in the West End – turned into a lavish evening, but says it was worth every penny. “It was so unique and glamorous, not something you do every day,” she says. “I never thought at all about the extra costs, I just thought it would be the event itself, a dress and transport.
“I don’t think there was pressure to have really expensive outfits, I know one girl who wore a Primark dress and another friend had an amazing silver diamanté dress that cost her £40. How often does a girl get to wear a big ballgown – only her school prom and her wedding.”
Adds Lesley: “We have no regrets, it was a wonderful night, the girls looked beautiful, the boys turned up with a corsage for the girls . . . It really was fantastic.”
n But it is possible to have a special prom night without splashing too much cash. Midlothian mum Caroline Pearson, 44, has kept her daughter Lauren’s P7 bash at Pathhead’s Tynewater Primary School in perspective, with an outfit of under £50 which can be worn again and again.
“She’s got an H&M dress at £30, a pair of £7 shoes and some accessories, which I think is fine. She’s even offered to pay for half towards her dress from her pocket money,” says Caroline.
“The children are all very excited, but it’s not worth putting a fortune on a credit card for. Besides, kids grow out of stuff so quickly, what’s the point in spending a fortune on something to wear?
“I’m not sure it’s a great lesson for kids to think that everything is affordable and you can buy what you want all the time. They’ll have a great time at their night out whatever they’re wearing.”
WILL YOUR BUDGET STRETCH TO A LIMO?
PROM time or leavers’ disco, whatever you call it, it’s boom time for business. Kilt hire shops clear their shelves of hire outfits – typically costing upwards of £70.
Bridal shops now also offer “prom” outfits rails, with complex booking orders which aim to guarantee that no two girls from the same school wear the same dress.
Staff at Pretty Woman in Earlston Place, London Road, are often taken aback at how much parents are willing to spend on their daughter’s big day.
“They’re easily spending between £180 and £240 here, perhaps a lot more in other places. I’m completely amazed sometimes,” says a spokeswoman.
“People don’t seem to bother how much they spend. So much for there being a recession.”
And at AK Stretch Limos in West Lothian, Alex Kirk takes bookings months in advance for his cars. “It used to be just the high schools, now there’s more and more primary schools going in for it in a big way,” he says.
“I’ve even heard of one company taking a hire of a stretch limo for a nursery ‘prom’ which is taking it a little bit far.
“I think a couple of schools have said ‘no’ to hire cars in case it means children whose parents can’t afford it feel they are left out. But parents always seem to find the money.”
Hiring a limo for a spin can costs upwards of £200, depending on how many people are on board and how far they travel. Yet often parents split the costs, so arriving at the primary school bash in superstar style can work out not much more than hiring a black cab.