No parents should be paying £1,000 for a prom outfit

Fitting your daughter out with professional hair and makeup, a limo and a tiara? That is not a prom, that is just lunacy

My daughter's school is having a prom for the first time this year. What's a suitable prom outfit for a 14-year-old?Name withheld, by email

Yes, proms seem to be a thing in Britain now, don't they? They must be, seeing as they've already achieved the accolade of being deemed "the worst thing that happened to British schools in the past 20 years" by one ridiculous tabloid. Yes! So much worse than a narrowing curriculum, Michael Gove and an increasingly impossible workload for teachers. Damn you, proms!

Perhaps I need to explain what a prom is: a prom is a school disco. There! Done! Let's all go to the pub! What's that? You need more information? Boy, I sure am earning my salary today. American teen films have done a marvellous job of mythologising the prom, usually by making the prom the climactic scene. Grease, Back to the Future, Teen Wolf, Pretty in Pink, Flashdance, She's All That, Never Been Kissed, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls: nearly all of the most beloved teen films of the past few decades have featured a prom (noted exceptions include Clueless, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Say Anything), thus establishing in the minds of American kids that the prom matters and in the minds of non-American kids that the prom is a cool American import that allows one to live like a movie star. None of this is actually true – repeat, a prom is just a school disco. But never mind, if the kids enjoy it, fine.

But no! Not fine! Proms are evil! I've been reading a lot about proms in the British press of late and the objections raised are as follows:

1. Proms are now being marketed to some primary school children. Disgusting.

2. Proms are proof of the growing Americanisation of British culture. Disgusting.

3. Parents have to spend over a grand to send their kids to a prom. Disgusting.

Let's deal with this point by point.

1. Yes, absolutely, it is ridiculous if schools are telling nine-year-olds to go to a prom. They're nine. But surely the fault here lies with the school, not the prom, no? Next!

2. I may be biased here but I can't get too fussed about the idea of American culture influencing British school kids. Hell, it seems a lot less worrying than American kids listening to Coldplay. Is eating curry occasionally proof of the "growing Indianisation of British culture"? (Don't answer that, Nigel Farage.) Maybe I missed something, but I don't think proms involve teenagers burning union jack flags and applying for American citizenship. So unless that changes, I don't think any of us need to worry that the rise of proms will result in the toppling of the Queen. Next!

3. There was a popular story last week about a mother in England spending £1,000 on her 11-year-old daughter's prom, fitting her out with a handbag, professional hair and makeup, a limo and a tiara. People, please. That is not a prom: that is just lunacy. Take off your tiara and listen to a tale from the prom coalface: I went to proms in the States when I was a kid. In fact, I was voted prom queen when I was 12 or 13, and let me tell you how much my parents and I spent on my prom triumph: $0. No, there aren't any missing digits there: $0. I wore an old denim dress my mother had bought me ages ago from Gap, I didn't wear any makeup and I certainly didn't go to the hairdresser. At most, I might have had a bath and brushed my hair. Instead of a limo (limo!) I walked to the prom with my girlfriends, and we spent the night dancing to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Then, when I was made prom queen, I got a small crown made out of aluminium foil and a plastic rose. Then I walked home.

That, people, is a prom. I am sure the aforementioned 11-year-old's parents did what they did out of love, but a prom does not exist for parents to live out their Disney fantasies via their children. Nor is it an excuse for children to demand the hiring of a freaking limo. There are two rules in life: if someone asks if you're a god, you say yes, and if your kid asks for a £500 dress you say no. You're the parents, for heaven's sake! Unlike in movies, there is life after the prom – no end credits roll – so there is no excuse for bankrupting yourself or corrupting your child forever for some stupid school disco.

So what should your 14-year-old wear to the prom? Yes, there will be stupid companies telling you to spend a grand on your prom, but tell them to take a hike. Instead, take inspiration from Molly Ringwald in the most seminal prom film of all time, Pretty in Pink, in which her character spends precisely no money at all on her dress, wears a giant pink sack to the dance and ends up with her happy ending, without even a tiara. You can't go wrong with Ringwald, and that's a lesson for life.

Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email

Powered by article was written by Hadley Freeman, for The Guardian on Monday 14th July 2014 13.30 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010