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May 7, 2012

Back when prom cost $40, not $1,200

Daily Star

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I read last week that in 2012, the average teen will spend around $1,200 this year on a prom. That figure is unfathomable.

When did going to a prom involve a limousine rental to another city? Or $300 for "hair and makeup?" Or $200 for a gift and flowers? Or $200 for a catered dinner or a meal out to a swanky restaurant? $100 here, $100 there.

I feel 100 years old.

My senior prom in 1967 was a lavish affair. Filled with glitz, glamour and gobs of toilet paper. Yes, a hundred rolls of toilet paper sacrificed themselves to morph into carnations that decorated the high school halls and walls. Candles were forbidden because of the fear of burning down the entire school building. Adults were everywhere acting as chaperones. The music creaked out of an old stereo amplifier.

And yet, I do remember it being quite sensational.

The theme of my senior prom was "Saturnalia." I had no idea what that meant. Nobody did. Except the prom decorating committee, of course. That committee was the Politburo of all prom decisions. The buck definitely stopped with them. If you approached them and made a suggestion, they would whisper amongst themselves, and then give you a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. Kind of like the days of Old Rome and the Colosseum.

The concept of space exploration was still pretty nebulous in my day. It would be two years before the "one great step for man" thing. The Prom Politburo decided to convey the sense of space with large aluminum foil rocket ships and huge spherical papier-mache globes (planets) swirling from the gymnasium roof. For those who are racing to Google, I'll help you out. Saturnalia is a harvest festival celebrating the planet Saturn.


My involvement with the decorating committee was being asked to go down to our local funeral parlor in Sidney and pick up a carpet of fake grass that it used for burials. This macabre item was then used to give a faux pastoral sense to the court of our prom royalty. The thrones for our crowned "Sir" and "M'lady" were curtain-draped folding chairs from the cafeteria.

The total cost to me for this 1967 gala was about $40, and that included my rented suit from Robert Hall in Binghamton. I presented my own "M'lady" with a $3 burgundy wrist corsage from the grandly named Sidney House of Flowers. I found a photo of my date and me recently. Michelle Parent was her name, and I am always indebted to her for agreeing to go to the prom with a guy wearing a suit that he rented in Binghamton. She was (and is) a lovely girl.

My prom night culminated with what was called "The Grand March." To a thumping martial beat, pairs of couples would march down the center of the gym floor, arm-in-arm, and then swing around again, gathering another batch of arm-in-arm couples and keep repeating it until everybody in the room was marching.

This pageant was directed by our English teacher, Emily Spinelli. I can still see her waving her arms and urging us to "stay in formation." She was the June Taylor of these proms and was more than able to whip us into a precision drill team. Emily Spinelli had panache. She was great.

OK, now back to the whole limousine thing. What is that all about? My parents drove us to the prom and we walked home. It would be decades before limos became a prom must. Now these long, sleek, modern-day Cinderella carriages pull up and disgorge their princes and princesses at the ball. The only thing missing is a long, red carpet and a horde of paparazzi.

It is prom time in Big Chuck's family, so when I read about the $1,200 figure, I blanched. I showed it to my wife, and she wept. Still, what are you going to do?

You suck it up, get out the checkbook and hope that the day is as special for her as it was for you a half century ago.

And still, as I gaze at the old sepia-toned photo of my own prom night in 1967, I gotta admit, Michelle's $3 posies on her wrist sure looked pretty, and darn if I didn't cut a dashing figure in my rented brown suit from Robert Hall.

I'll catch you in two ...

"Big Chuck" D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at His columns can be found at