Prom getting pricey

Tuxedo rental: $75.

Dress: $200.

Photographs: $52.

Big fake afro wig: $5.

Tickets: $50.

Actually making it through your senior prom: Priceless.

Prom for the students at South Whidbey High School is not like it was in the old days. Instead of homemade dresses, it's a trip to the mall. Driving to the dance in the family station wagon is never cool -- a limo is the way to go. And no more dances at the school, since almost anywhere is more romantic than tripping the light fantastic on the same floor where sweaty basketball players compete.

Prom today is sophisticated and adult -- as much as is possible with teachers and chaperones at the dance. Moreover, it is expensive.

When Lori Gabelein, a chaperone at this year's prom dance and a 1979 Langley High School grad, went to her senior prom with her then-boyfriend, now-husband Albert, things were simpler. She and her friends made their own dresses and drove to the dance at the school. It was fancy, as far as they were concerned, even though there weren't many extras.

"I don't think any of us had our hair done or our nails," she said.

But in 2002, in the Commons at Naval Station Everett Saturday night, done-up hair and fingernails were de rigeur for girls, just as were paying for flowers and dinner was for the boys.

So what does it all cost for a South Whidbey student to go to prom. That depends on what a couple decides to do. For senior Paul Boudin, the total damage was $480, including limousine, hotel, dinner in Seattle, professional photographs, flowers, tuxedo rental and an afternoon playing "Whirly Ball," a sport similar to paint ball. Add to that what his date, senior Hannah McCabe spent on her dress, hair and other accouterments, and the total for the couple ran to something over $680 for one big night on the town.

Was it worth it? Yes, Boudin said.

"It's just because it's my senior prom," he said.

He wasn't the only one who thought a good time doesn't always come cheap. Senior Josh Coleman said the hundreds of dollars he and date Rebekah Smith spent getting ready for three hours of dancing in Everett was an anticipated expense.

"I knew it was going to be expensive," he said, with no trace of disappointment in his voice.

South Whidbey grad Markus Bergthaler and his date, Suzanne Edwards, also racked up some of the usual expenses. Limo and hotel were outside of their budgets, but they still put more than $640 into their prom night. The expenditures included $30 for her nails, $100 for his tux and $80 for dinner.

Ratcheting the price down a bit were seniors Brian Nowack and Ashley Corodimas. He wore a suit he already owned. She had her hair done by a student at Gene Juarez for $9. The total cost of their prom? Still $374.

"But we had a good time," Nowack said. He also thought he and Edwards got a good deal.

"Prom can be somewhat affordable," he said.

As if to prove this, two other students at the dance went to the other extreme. Senior Scott Perkins and junior Lucy Dauman turned a trip to Value Village into a prom packages that was thrifty, fun and funny. Looking like they had just walked off the set of "Starsky and Hutch," the couple sported 1970s costumery that included a velour suit and afro wig for him and a dress for her that would have been at home on Goldie Hahn during her days on "Laugh In."

"We're just best friends goin' out and being crazy," said Perkins.

The price of being crazy was a paultry $131, including a 99-cent pack of gum.

More common fashion statements at the prom included cowboy hats and bolos for the boys and simple, clingy dresses for the girls. But no matter how formal, everyone wound up on the dance floor, swinging to tunes ranging from slow ballads to techno and heavy metal. And they looked good doing it.

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