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The boxes were made by one of the girls' mothers 'to stand out from the crowd'.
'We had a helicopter land here last week,' says Megan Giller, the functions coordinator at Orsett Hall near Thurrock in Essex, a former Grade II-listed manor and now a four-star hotel, which has hosted 18 proms this year.
On average boys in Essex spend less than girls: £300, compared with £525, according to a recent survey.
'The boys are more concerned with how they arrive,' Monique Wyatt says – dramatic entrances in limousines are par for the course. In Essex, where nearly every school hosts a prom or graduation ceremony, and where the glamour of the occasion is played for all its worth, the prom business for local spray-tan salons, nail bars and florists (for corsages) is estimated to be worth £5 million.
Now Lucy's hair is being backcombed and pinned with diamante clips into a flowing style with a small beehive. Lucy is getting ready for a special occasion that so far has cost about £500 (hair, evening dress, shoes, clutch bag, nails, jewellery, spray-tan, limousine hire).
On top of this, Lucy's parents – David, 49, a highways inspector, and Denise, 45, a childminder – have bought a pagoda and balloon arch (£120 and £50 respectively) for a pre-event party they are throwing in Lucy's honour at their home in Dagenham East in London.
Prom dresses in lovely sculptural shapes that combine sleek fabrics in jersey or chiffon with slashes, beads and sequins, cost £200 to £1,000 (12 of the most expensive were sold in Britain this year). The prom has also helped to transform the fortunes of Moss Bros.
'We've had parents phone up in tears saying we can't spend that type of money but my daughter loves it. Two years ago the company had losses of £2.8 million.
Although best known for dressing such celebrities as Kate Beckinsale, it is the prom collection that has boosted the company's sales by more than 40 per cent in the past couple of years in the UK.It is 11am on a Thursday in mid-July, and Lucy Holloway, 16, has an appointment at CC's Hair Salon in Rainham, Essex.Lucy has agonised for several weeks about her hair.'I've done 30 or so [prom] hairdos alone,' Carley Smith says.She offers a special prom deal of hair, make-up, eyelashes, a full set of acrylic nails and a spray tan for £90.
Ten years ago we did not have school proms to mark the milestones of GCSEs and A-levels. Now elaborate 'passing out' celebrations for Year 11 students (aged 15-16) and Year 13 (aged 17-18) have become a cultural phenomenon, stoking passions and rivalries, and refashioning our sense of what a school party should be.