School proms might cost parents a fortune, but York businesses are not complaining. CHARLOTTE PERCIVAL reports.

ONCE upon a time, leaving school was celebrated by burning books, signing shirts and drawing funny faces on each other.

These days, it can add up to a new dress, manicure, make over and spray tan, not forgetting the limo.

School proms have taken York by storm, with dress makers, limousine firms, hotels and beauty salons all hoping to cash in on the craze.

While girls are spending between £50 and £350 on the perfect dress, boys can expect to pay £60 to hire a suit and shoes, with accessories on top. Hair styling, makeovers, manicures, pedicures and spray tans cost the prom princess - or her parents - even more, while a limousine journey rings in at around £120.

And as more school leavers are willing to pay hundreds of pounds to celebrate in style, York businesses are reaping the rewards.

Moss Bros suit hire, at York Designer Outlet, says proms make up a substantial amount of its summer income.

"It has grown phenomenally, it has been really good this year," said manager Chris Roden.

"The outfits they are wearing are a lot more diverse than they've ever worn in the past and so they tend to be spending more too.

"We've had everything from dinner suits to plain suits and top hat and tails. We've even had the odd person hire host master outfits too."

There has been a big increase in the amount people are hiring, he said. So much so that planning starts months in advance, making sure there are enough staff working, while also ordering in smaller sizes for suits.

"On average, we are getting 30 to 40 people in my store each week, just for the proms. They are spending more because what they are wearing is getting more diverse, and rather than just wearing suits they are wearing waist coats and cravats.

"They do need a lot of help and it's very time consuming doing the proms because they generally try on five or six different outfits, but it's all good for us.

"They are always very excited when they come in and some schools have been doing best-dressed competitions, so everybody has been going all out to look the best out of everybody."

Chris believes the phenomenon will continue. "It gives the younger ones a chance to dress up and go out and do what the older ones are doing," he said.

Dressing up can prove more expensive for girls, but profitable for the shops.

Coast, in Davygate, missed out on most of the proms season last year, because it only opened towards the tail end of the season.

It has felt the benefits this year, with girls buying prom dresses since before Christmas.

"Girls want to feel special and look good," said Leanne Cottee, assistant manager. "They are probably spending around £150, but often they will try them on with friends then bring their parents in to buy them.

"They get really excited and I think they just like dressing up. Girls love to dress up and out do each other."

Girls are choosing a mixture of long and short dresses, she says. Pink has been very popular, but greens, browns and blues have been sought-after, too.

Some girls even design their own dresses. Lai Chan, of Silk Stitch, in Fishergate, has had four orders this year.

Most want long, strapless ball gown-type dresses, she said.

"We charge anything from between £95 and £195, so girls are spending £200 max," she said. "Then they want accessories and shoes, too. It's like going to a wedding really. Most of the time people choose a style they can use again, and as long as your weight stays the same you will be able to wear it again."

Meanwhile, Nail Bar One, in Swinegate, has been busy with proms pampering.

Girls are asking for manicures, pedicures and spray tans, with many opting combing all three for £40.

"We're getting about 20 girls in a week before their proms," said nail technician Nicola Gallagher. "They're always very excited and want to look the complete package."

And what is Cinderella without her coach?

James Morrow, of Home James Limousines, is extremely busy throughout the proms.

His fleet of white stretch limos, black stretch limo, Mercedes and 4x4 executive jeep are in greater demand each year.

For £120, prom-goers can enjoy an hour's drive in the limo and have a red carpet rolled out at their destination.

James says people love the glamour of a limo.

"People like showing off in them and to look good when they get out," he said.

"There are TV screens inside and mini bars and I normally offer them a drink, put the windows down so people can see who is inside and drive around.

"Depending on the age group, they can drink fizzy apple juice or champagne inside."

So far, James has had 16 bookings for school proms this year. It has become an important part of his income and he thinks it is become a tradition.

"It seems to have come over from America and they really enjoy it," he said. "They get really excited and if it is girls there is lots of screaming.

"We drive them round for an hour, give them a drink and some chocolates and let them show off a bit."

This year's prom-goers have booked venues such as York Racecourse and Hilton Hotel.

The Royal York Hotel, in Station Road, has hosted about 25 proms this year. Students can enjoy a disco, three-course meal and extras such as themed evenings, photography and a red carpet on arrival. Prices range from £30 to £40 a head.

Jonathan Brown, conference and banqueting sales co-ordinator, said bookings were growing each year.

"We did a Hollywood themed prom in the past, but we recently had one that was almost a carnival, with dodgers on the lawn and stalls," he said.

"I think proms have always been popular, but more and more people are arranging them now."


"TK Max bargain helped to keep costs down"

SAMANTHA Gadsby thinks she spent less than many for her school prom.

The Joseph Rowntree School student trawled the high street shops with her friends for dresses, but settled on a long, strapless gold and cream dress from TK Max, which cost £50.

After spending another £20 or so on shoes and a handbag, she managed to save more by doing her own hair and make-up and getting a lift to the prom, at Royal York Hotel, with her mum.

Planning started about one month before, she said, and was very exciting. "I was really looking forward to it. I think it's a girl thing; you have to go to the proms," she said. "It's one of the big things at school that everybody talks about."

Samantha and her friends ate chicken supreme with a white wine sauce and chocolate cheesecake before dancing the night away at a disco.

"It was fun, but I think it was a bit disappointing that the dance hall was a bit small, but it was a fun night."

"Expensive, but worth it"

LUCY Nelson thought her school prom was well worth the money she spent.

She bought a pink three-quarter length dress from Debenhams for £100 and some matching shoes for £25, as well as jewellery for £9.50.It was expensive, she said, but worth it.

Lucy, 14, and three of her friends chipped in £25 to hire a limousine to take them to the prom at Easingwold School, and enjoyed mints and champagne on the way.

"That was really good, I really enjoyed it," she said.

"We drove round the block and to school and we were really excited, but it was a bit embarrassing when we got there because all the lads crowded round and we didn't want to get out.

"There was a DJ in the school hall and a buffet and tables so we could sit and have a chatter and a meal and then we danced. It was something that I didn't expect, but really nice."

"£95 on the dress..."

MONEY was not much of a concern for Faith Percival and her friends.

The Brayton College students began trawling the internet for inspiration for their dresses months before the prom.

They booked a limousine to take them to The Parsonage Country House Hotel, in Escrick, and chatted about hair and beauty tips.

Faith's dress cost £95 - a long, black, silky number with a halter neck top from Coast - but some of her friends spent £350.

On top of that, she spent £30 on shoes, another £15 on jewellery and £8 on a black clutch bag.

On the day itself, she spent £15 getting her hair styled and £15 on a manicure.

"We started looking for dresses a few months ago and it took us a few weeks to decide which one to get," she said. "I looked at the internet and in magazines to choose what hairstyle I wanted. It was worth spending a lot of money on my dress, but some of my friends spent a lot more and some spent more than £350."

Faith, her boyfriend, Adam, and three of their friends enjoyed mint imperials and champagne in the limousine, turned on the TV and listened to music.

There was a disco at the Parsonage, and waiters offered them mini burger, mini Yorkshire puddings and garlic bread with a salsa dip. It was a good night, she said, but probably not worth the hype.

"It was the last time I'd see some of my friends so it was worth it," she said. "It wasn't as big as everyone had made it out to be though. I didn't think it was worth spending £500 on, so I'm glad I didn't."