Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The evolution of prom April 28, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,
Me in the dress I stitched for prom in 1974, my senior year of high school.

Me in the dress I stitched for prom in 1974, my senior year of high school. I went with a date that year.

THERE WAS A TIME when prom was as simple as a bunch of girls and guys dressing up, dining in the school cafeteria and then dancing the night away under crepe paper streamers. No need to have a date, no flowers required, no professional photos, no getting your hair and nails done. No spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars for an evening of fun which, decades later, is mostly forgotten.

I recall few details of my high school proms except the dresses I stitched from flocked gingham and dotted Swiss fabrics.

If there was a grand march at the prom site, the Wanda American Legion, I don’t remember it and my parents were certainly not there to watch. My friends and I snapped pictures of each other with our Instamatic cameras. Many of us came with friends, not dates.

Today’s proms, with expensive formals and flowers and photos and everything else, are nothing like those of 40 years ago. Today even asking someone to prom is a big deal. Take Faribault High School. Student organizers set up a Twitter account encouraging prom goers to submit their promposals. The entry with the most “favorites” won a prize at prom, which was held on Saturday.

I amused myself scrolling through the creative prom invitations. Using Van shoes to arrows to cats, tennis balls, a watch, balloons, dinner out at a Japanese restaurant, bananas, Girl Scout cookies, a horse and more, these students asked each other to prom.

The winner popped his promposal during previews to a movie.

But if I was to choose the winner, I would have selected David, who penned lyrics to his girlfriend, Katie, to the tune of “Marry Me” by Jason Derulo. I don’t know the song. I don’t know the artist. But I do know that writing a song takes time and thought. And I have, as you would expect, an affinity for words.

What are your thoughts on prom and promposals? Have they gone over the top, gotten too expensive, become too important? Or do you like how prom has evolved to what it is today?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advertisements
 

Bringing the magic of prom to a Minnesota nursing home May 6, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 

TIS PROM SEASON in Minnesota, that annual rite of spring which throws teenage girls into a spin over finding just the right dress, getting a fabulous up-do, planning photo sessions and doing whatever to create the perfect evening.

That’s all delightful, to live in a fairytale world.

But what a group of girls in rural southwestern Minnesota did on the day of their high school prom impresses me more than all the magical glitz and glam.

They took the time last weekend to share prom with the residents of a small town nursing home.

This my mother, who recently moved into Parkview Home in Belview, shared with me during our weekly Sunday evening phone conversation.

If those teens could have eavesdropped on our exchange, they would know just how happy they made my mom by stopping at their workplace before prom to show off their Cinderella selves.

Mom didn’t comment specifically on the dresses, although she did on the “fancy hair.”

And, she noted, some of the girls brought their dates, who, she laughed, looked a bit bored and “were probably wondering when they could leave.”

I don’t doubt her observation. Physically Mom is limited in her abilities. But mentally she is still, as they say, sharp as a tack.

This isn’t about my mother, though, who also profusely praised those prom-goers as kind and thoughtful.

Rather, this is about these young women and, yes, their dates, too. I am impressed by their care, kindness and generosity of spirit. They could have gone on their way, without a thought of stopping at Parkview. But they did. And for that, this daughter is grateful.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The cost of prom and ways to save money April 28, 2012

A 1984 bridesmaid's dress I donated last year to the Faribault High School National Honor Society Prom Dress Drive.

EVEN I WAS SHOCKED when I read the number: $1,078.

That, dear readers, is the average amount American teens are spending on their high school proms this spring, according to results of a Visa Inc. Prom Spending Survey.

Surprised?

I knew the cost of prom was over-the-top, but not to that level of out-of-control spending.

If it’s any solace, here in the Midwest, prom-going teens spend $696, the least of anywhere in the nation. Those in the Northeast shell out $1,944. Southern teens spend an average of $1,047 and those on the West Coast, $744.

Surprised? Shocked? I am.

But wait, there’s more. According to the survey (click here to read a complete report), prom spending is up nearly 34 percent from the 2011 average of $807.

Surprised? Shocked? I am.

That all said, there are ways to cut prom costs, still look great and enjoy this special high school event. Readers of this blog offered plenty of creative money-saving ideas earlier this week after I posted about prom. Since I expect not all readers peruse the comments, here are the suggestions they offered:

No one was more adamant about cutting prom costs than Joan, who advocates thrift store shopping to save significant dollars. Her son picked up a second-hand suit at a local thrift store and his date is wearing a $20 dress from the Salvation Army. Joan spent $10 for the silk flowers she purchased at a craft store and then crafted. Another $45 goes for two prom tickets. She’s spent $10 for after-prom food and will spend an additional amount for her son’s dinner out. Add those numbers, and the cost for Joan’s son to attend prom will likely be around $100.

Affordable? Yes.

A friend of mine, a young mother who lives in Washington D.C., sent a link to a Utah-based business that rents prom dresses for $39 – $99, plus a cleaning fee. Modest Prom lists its mission: Help you find a modest prom dress. Click here to learn about this rental option.

Another reader, a South Dakota mom who last year spent $280 on her daughter’s prom dress, recouped 75 percent of the cost by selling the dress after prom. This year that same mom shelled out $400 for her daughter’s gown.

A similar strategy is recommended by another reader. Her friend bought a dress after prom for a fraction of the price. “Styles don’t change dramatically in a year,” she says.

In Australia, another mom says her daughter is covering some of the costs for attending her school formal.

And then there’s the Twin Cities metro area mother who offers this alternative. Her son, on prom night, invited friends over for pizza, prom night movies and video games. “He got a great turnout, and the kids had a blast,” she says.

My 18-year-old isn’t attending Faribault High School’s prom tonight. His older sisters never attended prom either. I, however, went to my high school proms in 1973 and 1974. Things were different back then. I sewed my dresses. Girls and guys could go solo. We didn’t get our hair or nails done or pay photographers or dine out or ride in limos or… Prom was much simpler back then and certainly way cheaper.

Times have changed and as much as I’d like to sometimes turn the clock back to those simpler days, I can’t.

But I do have two ideas to cut prom costs. How about cooking a fancy meal in your home for your prom-going son/daughter and his/her date? My mom did that for my youngest brother back in the day. Today my brother’s married to his prom date.

The other idea isn’t really mine, but is one the Faribault High School National Honor Society came up with last year. The NHS held a Prom Dress Drive, collecting and recycling prom dresses. You can read about that by clicking here. I know this has been done elsewhere and I consider it a fabulous alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on a new dress.

So there you go. Prom can cost less than the nation-wide average of $1,078 if you’re willing to think creatively, shop thrift stores and simply say “no” to your son/daughter.

IF YOU HAVE ADDITIONAL cost-saving suggestions or prom alternatives, please submit your ideas via a comment on this post. We can all learn from each other. Thank you to all who earlier submitted their great ideas.

FYI: Visa survey results were based on 1,000 telephone interviews conducted nation-wide between March 30 – April 1, 2012.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Prom economics 101: Lessons in giving March 30, 2011

The 1984 formal I donated to the FHS NHS Prom Dress Drive .

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO my husband stuffed a 1984 lavender formal into the back seat of our car and delivered it to Faribault High School. (I was sick that day or I would have dropped off the old bridesmaid’s dress myself.)

He was donating my dress, which has hung in an upstairs closet for decades, to the FHS National Honor Society’s first-ever Prom Dress Drive.

Naturally, I couldn’t allow this event to pass without asking whether a local high school student will wear “my” dress to the April 30 FHS prom. I also wanted to know how the drive went.

Although several young women tried on my lavender formal and one in particular with sewing abilities considered changing it up, no one bought it, says NHS co-advisor and FHS English language arts instructor Rachael Hoffman.

However, Hoffman, who is also the FHS theater wardrobe director, says she’s keeping my cast-off for possible use in future FHS theatrical productions.

Of 80 – 85 donated dresses, about 15 were sold with prices ranging from $2 – $50 and averaging around $20. Donations included vintage to current fashionable dresses, a few with price tags still attached. Shoes and jewelry were also contributed.

Hoffman, while grateful for the quantity of dresses donated, was hoping for more shoppers. Yet her enthusiasm for the project and its purpose cannot be quelled.

I’ll let her share a story that nearly moved me to tears. “I was overjoyed to hear a student say that she wouldn’t have to order a dress to fit her size this year since she found one at our drive,” Hoffman writes in an e-mail. “You could see on her face that she felt pretty and I really felt that made the drive worth it.

I also think that some of the NHS students who worked at the drive with me got to put themselves in other students’ shoes for a moment. It was a valuable experience.”

Lessons like that can’t be taught in a classroom.

While the project was a fundraiser for the NHS (the group raised about $400), Hoffman says more importantly that it was a service to the students and the community during difficult economic times. “It was my personal hope that a student who could not afford a dress would come and buy one. We did, in fact, have a few students who showed up with this purpose. It was a wonderful reward.”

Lessons like that can’t be taught in a classroom.

Hoffman clearly understands her students. “As a teacher at FHS, I know that many of these young people work jobs not merely for themselves but to contribute to their families in these hard times, or to save for college,” this astute educator observes. “We really wanted to serve our community in this way. Prom is a special occasion and many families cannot afford ‘extras’ right now. We wanted to make this less of a stressor on normal working families and more of an event to look forward to for the students.”

No one left the Prom Dress Drive without a dress, if they wanted one, Hoffman says. Prices were negotiable and most donors told organizers to give away their dresses (if they could not sell them) to anyone who needed a formal.

Lessons like that in giving from the heart can’t be taught in a classroom.

Details on the front of a lovely formal that also hangs in my closet and which my eldest wore in a friend's wedding. It would make a lovely prom dress, but it wasn't mine to give. Maybe next year?

THE GIVING DIDN’T END in Faribault. Extra Prom Dress Drive formals which won’t be utilized locally were donated to Total Care Cleaners. The south metro business sells the dresses for $10 to any prom-goer who needs one. Total Care also gives away $10 in dry cleaning services for each donated dress.

“They were so appreciative of the donations and excited to give more students this option for a prom dress,” says Julie Petersen, a co-advisor for Faribault’s NHS and a FHS Spanish instructor. “The owner said that many of the girls he helps would not be able to go to prom if not for the dresses he gets donated.”

That economic reality extends nationwide. At donatemydress.org, a national network connecting local dress drive organizations across the country, you’ll find a state-by-state listing of groups sponsoring these dress projects. Scroll to Minnesota and you can link to five metro area formal dress drives—Ever After Gowns, Operation Glass Slipper and The Paperbag Princess—and the two businesses-based projects at Vista Images and Total Care Cleaners.

I expect there are other Minnesota dress drives not listed on this website.

At least one of the prom projects, South St. Paul-based The Paperbag Princess, also accepts suits. Some take accessories too. Ever After Gowns will even accept spa products and new makeup.

I commend groups like the FHS National Honor Society for undertaking a drive like this which offers affordable prom attire to young women. NHS members seem to have benefited from the project, in lessons learned, as much as the young women who found prom formals.

Now, if only the cost of attending the FHS prom—$175 per couple for the event to be held at a South Saint Paul night club—would be more affordable…

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dressing up like Cinderella on the cheap March 1, 2011

TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES prompt us to look for creative ways to save money.

That stated, if you are the parent of a high school age daughter who will attend prom in a month or two, listen up. Your girl can dress up like Cinderella without breaking the bank.

I would love to take credit for the following thrifty idea, but I can’t. I’m sure it’s been tried many other places. But this is the first time I’ve heard of a Prom Dress Drive in Faribault.

I learned of the drive, sponsored by the Faribault High School National Honor Society, via an insert included with my son’s mid-quarter grades.

NHS members are accepting donations of formal dresses that are in “good, sellable condition.” They promise to reasonably price and sell the formals to prom-goers.

I didn’t see any other restrictions listed…which means maybe I can get rid of that purple and lavender bridesmaid dress hanging in my closet since, oh, 1984. I actually loved the dress when I wore it. A young woman who is a size 12 might like it too. I have no use for the formal and when I slipped the cinching waistband around my waist, let’s just say I couldn’t button it in place.

A belted waistband buttons at the back of the bridesmaid dress I wore in 1984.

Ruffles accent the neckline of the dress.

Layers and bows define the full skirt. Follow this post to the end for a view of the entire dress.

Anyone may donate dresses to the Prom Dress Drive from 4 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 11, and from 12:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 12, at the FHS Black Box Theater. Enter through the northeast doors at the front of the building.

Then, from 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16, and Thursday, March 17, doors on the northeast side of FHS will be open for prom-goers to try on and purchase dresses.

To me this seems like a win-win situation. Donors clear their closets of unwanted formals given to a good cause. NHS kids earn money. And prom-goers save money.

The NHS students are also accepting cash donations, although they don’t explain why they want cash too. Are they giving out a random cash prize? Are they donating the cash to charity? How will the money be used?

For now, women, check your closets and consider donating to this project. I’m all for a drive like this that will help make prom more affordable. I don’t know the costs of attending prom. But with attire, flowers, food, photos, salon and transportation expenses, I bet attendees who don’t penny-pinch easily spend $500.

Other affordable options for dresses include borrowing a formal, shopping at a thrift or second-hand store or browsing the classified ads. In local recently-published classifieds, I saw a candy apple green dress advertised for $90. It cost $300 new. Another seller was pushing a baby blue ballroom-style prom dress for $150. I expect lots more of these ads as prom time draws nearer.

Those who wish to save even more money can consider foregoing the dining out experience by dining in. Back in the 1980s, my youngest brother and his date, now his wife of 22 years, sat down to a pre-prom dinner at my parents’ house. This year my niece and her friends plan to gather at her dad’s house for a prom dinner.

(The in-house dining has the added benefit of parental supervision and keeping kids safer by cutting out the long-distance travel to dine out.)

Nothing says you have to follow the expected norm.

I say when times are tough, and even when they’re not tough, curtail your spending at prom time. Be proud of your frugality.

I hope young women and parents embrace this recycled prom dress idea and realize that prom can be just as enjoyable in a second-hand dress as in a new dress.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on this dress drive and/or the cost of attending prom? Do you have any money-saving tips for prom to pass along?

 

Should I donate this 1984 formal to the Prom Dress Drive? Will today's teen think it cool vintage chic or totally outdated? I value honesty. I paid $124 for this dress 27 years ago and wore it once.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A “prom pioneer” in Wasilla, Alaska May 8, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:25 AM
Tags: , ,

Sean dances the night away in his homemade kilt at a 70s disco style prom in Wasilla, Alaska.

MENTION WASILLA, ALASKA, and most folks automatically think “Sarah Palin.”

Mention Wasilla to me, and I’ll tell you about my nephew, Sean. He attends Matanuska-Susitna Career and Technical High School there. And recently, this soon-to-be-graduate went to prom dressed in a Scottish kilt. What’s even more impressive, Sean, who is of partial Scottish descent, sewed his attire from Scottish McLain tartan fabric. He’s an accomplished seamster.

Now, 100 percent German that I am, I know very little about kilts, tartan fabrics or Scotland.

But Sean clearly values his heritage. “Sean is proud of his heritage because he knows the Scottish are hard-working, resourceful and tenacious people who have the ability to survive on nothing but passion,” his mom, Rena, says.

She calls him “an unabashed prom pioneer” for choosing to wear something other than the traditional prom suit.

I’ve got to hand it to my nephew. He’s one self-confident and brave young man to go solo to prom wearing a skirt.

© Text copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of Rena Helbling