Gladrags on and hair done – it’s prom season. But is it now out of hand? Sandra Dick looks at the lavish cost of today’s prom frenzy.

In sumptuous, glittering cocktail dresses and gowns, sharp suits and the occasional kilt, hair glossed, gelled, curled or straightened, tans sprayed, nails done and eyebrows plucked, and, finally, amid a puff of hairspray and scent, school leavers across the land have been on the move.

Scotland’s prom season is in full swing, bringing months of preparation to a high-pitched squeal when the class of ’19 finally say "cheerio!" to 13 years or so of school life and a huge "hiya!" to college, university or work.

For most parents for whom proms were things Sandy and Danny Zuko did in Grease and leaving school involved a quick "see ya" and a group hug, waving their teens off for a night of prom partying, has not come cheap.

Indeed, with some splashing £700 or more on their daughter’s dress – never mind shoes, make-up and accessories – it would probably have been cheaper to opt for a holiday in the sun or deposit on a second-hand car.

But while few would grudge excited young people the opportunity to celebrate a milestone, concern is mounting over the pressure prom season may be placing on Scotland’s less well-off families.

And, according to Marion Davis, Head of Policy at One Parent Families Scotland, the time has come for the Scottish Government to look at ways of curbing the excess to ensure that teenagers in the grip of poverty are not frozen out of what has evolved into a new rite of passage.

“There is concern among parents about the growing ‘prom culture’ in schools that might exclude young people from low-income families who cannot afford to take part,” she says.

“Young people have every right to have a lovely time celebrating, however, there is the question of expense and the pressure it may put on families who are already struggling.

“In some areas in Scotland, half of children are growing up in poverty. Schools should go the extra mile to ensure that young people from these families do not miss out – or that their parents have to go without to keep up with better-off families.”

Young people who are excluded from the chance to participate in the same activities as their friends and counterparts – such as the school prom – can have a negative impact on health and wellbeing, she adds.

“The Scottish Government should be asked to look at this issue – to research and assess the impact of this exceptional extra cost.

“Education authorities should undertake impact assessments on existing policies and associated practices to assess the impact on low-income families.

“Schools should be supported to have guidelines for parents at the start of prom arrangements to make sure the events are as inclusive as possible.”

In Wales, where childhood poverty is rising, minister of education, Kirsty Williams was last week warned of a “competition” between parents and urged to launch research into the impact ‘prom fever’ can have on poorer families.

Certainly, the scale and number of high school proms across the entire UK have erupted. Prom dresses are now said to cost an average of £220 – plus around twice that for accessories and beauty treatments. Nationwide, around £90 million is spent in the UK each year on prom-related outfits, styling and extras like hire cars.

Lesley Christie of bespoke bridal and eveningwear specialist Christie Couture in Clarkston says there’s been a definite increase in prom spending. “You have hundreds of girls all looking at dresses at the same time, so their parents will pay more to find them something unique.

“My most expensive dress is £250, but it’s not unusual for people to spend £400 to £700. There are people who have spent up to £900 on a prom dress.

“But at the same time, plenty go to TK Maxx and pick up a dress for a fraction of the cost.

“To be honest, that’s almost nicer - there’s almost a stereotypical prom look, and all the girls can end up looking the same.”

She has sympathy with parents who, caught in the emotion of seeing children morph into young men and women, can easily find themselves forking out over the odds.

And she is braced for what may be ahead with her own daughter, Cameron, 11, who is currently looking forward to Giffnock Primary’s P7 end of term ceilidh. “It’s not called a prom,” she adds. “Because it’s a ceilidh there’s a feeling that it’s not about getting dressed to excess.

“She’ll wear white plimsols and white knee socks and an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ dress from Monsoon.

“I’m not saying she won’t be in full prom mode when she leaves high school, but right now she’s a child.”

Yet there is evidence that some primary school end of term discos have evolved into red carpet parties, with 12-year-old girls in off-the-shoulder cocktail frocks, full makeup and tottering on towering heels.

It certainly doesn’t get more extreme than the incident in 2010, when East Renfrewshire Council rejected a request to land a helicopter in the grounds of Mearns Primary in Newton Mearns.

At Exquisite Limousines in Dunfermline, the fleet of four Californian built stretch limos are currently polished to perfection, tinted windows and mirrored ceiling streak-free, interior disco lights and sound system tested and ready for the next prom run.

In the past they would ferry groomed high school leavers to local hotels, these days it’s more likely to be giggling gangs of P7s. “There’s been a vast reduction in the amount of high school prom bookings,” says a spokesman. “Now, it’s more primary school kids. It’s just 10% high school and 90% primary school proms.”

But for older teens, there’s no denying the excitement of the high school prom. Last week Katie Hamilton, 17, and friends from Douglas Academy were among the countless Scottish S5 and S6 pupils who dressed to the nines and partied away their final school hours.

“There were girls wearing dresses that cost £500 to £600,” she says. “I tried to find a dress for under £100 but there just wasn’t anything that I wanted. I spent around £200, but it was the perfect dress.

“I did my own nails, make-up and tan - I’m not spending £25 on my make up when I can just do it myself.”

The prom at Ingliston Country Club and Hotel cost £60 a head. For parents who waved their children off, the evening perfectly captured that fleeting moment between childhood, school stresses and the edge of adulthood.

“I can’t deny it wasn’t emotional,” says Jan Mackay, whose son, Ciaran, waited in a huge queue of teenagers at Slaters to pick his suit for the Douglas Academy prom.

“The kids were dead excited and it’s at that funny point where they’re no longer schoolkids and on the brink of moving on but not quite there yet.

“It feels like the end of something big and, of course, there’s a degree of hysteria.”

But not all prom nights have to be crushingly expensive. In Edinburgh’s plush five-star Balmoral Hotel, 18-year-old Jayda Puren and her best friend Eve Woehrling, 17, rolled up to the St Thomas of Aquin’s High School prom looking stunning in their second-hand dresses.

“We decided a little while ago to stop buying new clothes to reduce our carbon footprint,” says Jayda. “The most expensive thing was probably my dress, but that was only about £30 or £40.”

Her class of ’19 paid £75 a head for their night out, but Jayda would have been just as happy with something less lavish.

“I would’ve been fine if someone did like a McDonald's run and we all just went off to a public hall to dance and have fun.

“No one even knew what was in the food anyway, it was all so posh. One of my friends spent around £100 on drinks alone, so yeah, ridiculous might be an understatement.”

Prom, she reckons, is a little over-hyped. “That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be fun to dress up and see your friends but I don’t think people get that it’s not all it’s chalked up to be,” she adds.

“Prom for me was just a glorified school disco.”