Shopping for prom dresses, not skiing, was how I spent the half-term holiday. I was hoping for a lovely bonding experience with Dear Daughter of trying on wonderful creations. Instead it was a horrible slog of ghastly backless bling and, in one specialist shop, the most barefaced, hard-sell tactics which by now must be illegal.
I can see that, for the girls especially, prom is a huge event. For many, it’s the first time they have worn formal evening dress and they naturally want to impress – each other, that is, not the boys. To my mind, it’s the most colossal waste of money on an outfit that (in our case) they wear for two hours and are unlikely to use again. I was especially reluctant to lash the £300 and upwards that some of these dresses cost, as well as the ‘tailoring to fit’ which they also required. Luckily, we found something online for £70 (originally £219 at House of Fraser) which will need taking in but we’re both happy with it. [SMM tip: HoF is still in financial difficulties. Best to buy with a credit card to protect your purchase if you're shopping there.]
All these emotions were writ large in the faces of the other mother-daughter shoppers we encountered along the way so here are my top seven tips for saving on prom outfits.
1. Ask the year above
There may be dresses to borrow or buy from last year's prom participants.
2. Look at department (and chain) store online sales NOW
Debenhams has a good choice of cut-price prom dresses as does Next. Monsoon (essentially the bridalwear) we thought was too expensive. Our prom dress was originally £35 online direct from House of Fraser (that isn't a typo, read on!) but it was two sizes too big and the other sizes had sold out. I sent it back, thinking we had plenty of time to find something else. How wrong I was ...
3. Depop and eBay
Everyone knows eBay but Depop is also a good source. It’s more like a social media site which is mainly used by youngsters to resell clothes. Having sent our original £35 dress back (should have held on!) Dear Daughter decided it was in fact the one she wanted. Hours of research later, she found a smaller version of it on Depop. It was twice the £35 we bought it for direct but at this stage I was very happy to stump up.
4. Check the charity shops
With enough time, you might be able to find something secondhand. Vintage might also appeal.
5. TK Maxx
There was only a small selection in the store we visited: there’s more online. With enough time and an eagle eye, you could get a steal. We passed on the Temperley dress, originally £1,500 reduced to £500.
6. Dedicated online prom dress sites
There are plenty of these selling dresses for under £100 and, in some cases less than £50. I also noticed boohoo.com had some models for £20 but I expect quality varies.
7. Make a Whatsapp group
Our year has created a Whatsapp group where the girls can post a picture of the dress they’re going to wear. This ensures no-one turns up in the same outfit as someone else. There's then no need to shop only at the snooty specialist which claims they keep a register for the same purpose.
See Charlotte’s blog on saving on prom dresses for more inspiration.