By Nancy Jeffrey
May 30, 2005 12:00 PM

Designer gowns, borrowed gems, stretch Hummers and surgically altered curves. Academy Awards night? Actually, it just might be your local prom. In a far cry from the days of Dad’s car and a rented powder-blue tux, today’s senior-class rite of spring has become an increasingly blingy bash: The average cost has jumped to $800 per couple vs. $300 just five years ago, according to Prom Guide magazine. “It’s our own mini-Oscars,” says Becca Durr, 17, senior class president of McCallum High School in Austin, Texas, who shelled out $3,000 for her dance, including $500 for Dolce & Gabbana shoes. The senior class of one high school in Houston raised $100,000 for a theme-park after party, and a Hartsdale, N.Y., spa reports 24 takers for its $1,300 Prom Special six-week course of treatments. Amid all the conspicuous consumption, making a mark is getting harder than ever. In Vermilion, Ohio, Kristen Phillips’s older brother arrived at his prom three years ago by helicopter. Not to be outdone, she booked a hot-air balloon—until bad weather grounded her plans May 14. Not to worry: An uncle lent his Jaguar. “It was a blast,” she says. “I had so much fun.”

Ivy Howard, Killeen, Texas



Only one thing stood between Howard and the Chinese-style dress she hoped to wear to Ellison High School’s Whispers of the Orient prom—some extra padding around her middle. “Everybody goes all out for the prom,” says Howard, 18. “I wanted to look good.” For months she had been pondering liposuction. With the end of the school year approaching, Howard asked her mother—a contract worker on a four-month stint in the African city of Djibouti—for $5,000 to pay for the surgery. Mom gave the green light, and, a week and a half before the prom, Austin surgeon Robert A. Ersek (whose work has been seen on MTV’s I Want a Famous Face) removed 40 pounds from Howard’s hips and thighs. Although she still had postoperative swelling on prom night, her dress fit perfectly, and she had a ball. Her date for the evening, Ellison varsity basketball player Monty Burton, 16, says that although his “jaw dropped” when he first heard her plan—”I told her she didn’t need liposuction, that she was fine the way she was,” he says—when the big night arrived, “Ivy was looking really, really nice.”

Jocelyn Bower, Clovis, Calif.



She wasn’t sure how she was going to top the stunning $5,000 gown she wore to her school’s winter formal. But last month Bower, a junior at Buchanan High School in Clovis, Calif., a suburb of Fresno, found the slinky solution hanging on a rack of a Versace boutique while vacationing in Las Vegas—an $8,275 fluorescent-coral dress with a gathered waist and a beaded back. “It was the most expensive dress they sold for a prom,” says Bower, 17, who hopes to study business in college and open her own restaurant. Her mom and dad are divided over the extravagant dress, which was paid for by a wealthy uncle, a regular Versace customer, who didn’t even ask the price. Cheryl Bower, a hospital chemist, says her daughter, who is a 4.0 student, deserves the best: “I say, ‘You go, girl. You do what you want to do.'” Dad David, 55, an elementary school principal, “wants me to be fully cognizant that not everything in life is like this,” says Jocelyn. Whatever. The dress fit beautifully on Bower’s 5’11” frame, and a jeweler who is a friend of the family’s lent a matching diamond-and-pink-sapphire necklace and bracelet worth $86,000. How to top that for the senior prom next year? “We’ll hopefully go back to Versace and get an even more expensive dress!” she says.

Aaron Ryckman, Scottsdale, Ariz.



Your average guy preps for the prom with a shower, a shave (if necessary) and, maybe, deodorant. Ryckman’s ritual was more elaborate. The 17-year-old from Scottsdale spent a week at the Cal-a-Vie Spa in Vista, Calif., where his treatments included a hot-stone facial (“awesome,” he says), a massage (“heaven”), a pedicure (“too girly”) and a seaweed wrap (“gross”)—all courtesy of his dad, Larry, 45, an investment banker. At the spa the two occupied separate villas, ate according to a nutritionist-designed 1,800-calorie-a-day diet—except when Aaron ordered a grilled cheese for breakfast—and did yoga, Pilates, aerobics and Latin dance. Ryckman says he left a satisfied customer—”I couldn’t believe how much it revitalized me”—and reaped obvious benefits at the Horizon High School senior prom, where a male friend tapped him on the shoulder and commented on his healthy glow. “He noticed that my skin looked better,” says Aaron.

Melissa Saunders, Philadelphia



Saunders isn’t a desperate housewife—she’s single and only 18—but at her prom she did her best to look like one. While watching the debut episode of her now—favorite show last fall, Saunders, captain of her cheerleading team at Philadelphia’s St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls, was amused when Housewives star Eva Longoria mowed her lawn on Wisteria Lane dressed in a beaded, salmon-colored evening gown by designer Eduardo Lucero. Saunders wanted something similar for her April 29 prom and immediately wrote a letter to the show’s producers. “I told them how much I love the show, and asked for pictures of the dress so I could buy something like it,” she says. Touched by their first piece of fan mail, the show’s costumers decided “maybe we can do something special for her,” says Roemehl Hawkins, a wardrobe assistant. Two weeks before prom day, they sent the actual dress by FedEx. Saunders wears the same size as Longoria, so the fit was near-perfect (although she did add a liner to make the dress less revealing). Arriving at her prom on the arm of friend Keith Sevick “felt like a dream,” she says. “Then I was dancing, and it hit me—’Oh my God, I’m really wearing this dress!'”

Nancy Jeffrey; Shermakaye Bass in Austin; Darla Atlas in Fort Worth; Howard Breuer in Los Angeles; Carolyn Campbell in Salt Lake City; Sean Scully in Philadelphia; Amy Green in Nashville; Caroline Howard; Susanna Schrobsdorff; Michelle Tan in New York