The prom queens come,but the school disicos are gone
Standing before her parents in the changing rooms of a bridal boutique in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, Shannon Collingham is throwing what can only be described as a hissy fit. Swathed in an enormous frothy-skirted, crystal-encrusted wedding gown with a price tag of almost ￡1,200, Shannon is incredulous that her parents won't buy it for her.
And who can blame them? For she's not a bride-to-be excitedly trying on the dress of her dreams. She's 16 and on the hunt for a posh frock for her school prom.
As Shannon goes into meltdown at her dad Dean's refusal to stump up the cash he stands firm telling her: "It's a wedding dress and as beautiful as you look it's not appropriate for a prom!?We'd have to take out a second mortgage for it. "
Though Shannon's toddler-like behaviour may sound extreme many a changing room will have played host to a similar teenage tantrum because prom season is now serious business.
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Tonight a new documentary lifts the lid on the lengths to which Shannon and other teenagers go in their quest to be belles of the ball.
In the past 10 years all-American proms have reached fever pitch in the UK to the tune of more than ￡30million a year. Thousands of secondary schools now hold a prom for their year 11 students, a reward for finishing GCSEs and a farewell before they go on to A-levels, work or college.
For the kids it's an opportunity to dress up and show off as never before, usually with a red carpet thrown in and professional photographers to record the moment.
But it doesn't stop at posh frocks, tuxedos, hair extensions and spray tans. If you're going to town on your outfit you need to make a big impact by arriving at the prom in style - or not, as the case may be.
From limousines to Ferraris, helicopters to horseback there's nothing off limits for prom teens on a mission to impress. The average boy now spends ￡300 on the big event, while for girls the sky's the limit. One in 10 is estimated to spend well over ￡500.
Shannon has been planning what she'll wear to the prom since she was 12. Lying on her bed during the documentary, pre-wedding dress meltdown, she says: "Shoes for prom have got to be proper glitzy and glamoury. The dress has to be really big but I don't want it to be a tacky pink, I want it to be a nice elegant pink. I'd hate to be described as a tramp or tacky.
"I wouldn't want to be called a chav either. I'm just a glamorous girl - Princess Shannon. "
When it comes to dressing Britain's prom divas, Christine Rowland is a pro. Her whopping 8,000 sq ft shop Celebrity in Cannock, Staffordshire, is one of the biggest stockists of formal dresses in Europe.
Christine admits she and her staff can barely move for the 4,500 gowns she has in stock, most of them imported from America - where else? "We sell thousands of dresses every year," she says. "We're launching next year's prom dress collection during October half-term and we'll be inundated with girls already frantically planning their outfit. "
Christine's long formal dresses cost from ￡99 to ￡530 and the average spend is ￡260 with another ￡39.99 on top for a pair of "bling heels" to match. Once a deposit has been paid customers have six months to pay in full.
"That really helps a lot of families because proms are an expensive business," Christine continues. "We have customers from all over. Only last Monday a lady flew in from Austria to buy a dress and we recently sent one to New Zealand to a lady who bought it when she was here on holiday.
"A lot of people are negative about proms but you should see how excited the girls are. Unless they've ever been a bridesmaid what 15 or 16-year-old will ever have had the chance to dress up like this before? "My staff and I are all mums ourselves so we understand how important it is for the girls to feel special and happy and make sure that's the case, whatever the budget. "
Aware that competition is fierce Christine operates a shrewd system to ensure her customers don't bump into another girl in the same frock at their prom.
She explains: "We make a record of each girl, which design she's bought in which colour, plus which school she goes to. We guarantee we won't sell that dress in the same colour to any other girl from her school. "
Watching a sneak preview of the documentary it seems to me that the more garish the colour of the dress and the more bling attached to it, the better for Britain's prom teens. Think My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and you'll get the idea. Christine reveals her next prom collection is a completely different look. "It's phenomenal. It's got that Hollywood red-carpet feel to it and a lot of the formal dresses resemble the sort you see on Strictly Come Dancing. They're gorgeous. "
Although Christine doesn't sell men's clothing teenage boys are just as caught up in prom fever. Filmed preparing for his prom in Hemsworth, Yorkshire, Corey Collins, 16, is a good example. He's so concerned about his appearance that a tuxedo and slick of hair gel won't cut it. So he visits a beauty salon to get his eyebrows threaded and dyed, has his teeth whitened and slathers on the fake tan.
He says: "Everyone has to be dressed up and if you're not then it's going to be noticeable. If I try as hard as I can then people will see that I can look really good. "
He ensures he'll make an entrance at his prom by hiring a vintage tractor to carry him, his friend Tyler Morrell and their dates. Meanwhile his fellow pupils at Hemsworth Academy, Ella Ross, 16, and her pals Ellie Deakin, Jordan Willis and Tylah Johnson, are hell bent on having a horse-drawn carriage take them to the hotel where the prom is being held.
"We want to show everyone who we really are and stand out," says Ella.
Their parents club together to raise the eye-watering ￡600 needed to hire their chosen Cinderella-style carriage, covered in roses and pulled by two white stallions. Ella says: "I've always wanted to look like a princess. I proper love Cinderella. " She chooses an white formal dresses with a gold bodice but admits to suffering a serious case of prom pressure as the big event nears.
"I'm worried about everything, about looking nice on the day. If the dress didn't fit on the day it would be the worst thing ever, what would you do? I want to look like a princess.
"I don't like people to say nasty things about me, like they don't like my dress, but everyone's got their own opinion. Body image is a big issue. I don't want any back fat for prom. It could ruin my night. "
Fortunately her grand entrance goes to plan and she and her pals cause quite a stir as they arrive. As with most proms there's a huge crowd of family and neighbours gathered to soak up the spectacle. She concludes: "It was really nice seeing everyone react like they did. I think I've got more confidence from this experience. "d
As for shannon she eventually compromise, select a pink and black on the Internet to order less than ￡300.And properly handed her the title of drama queen every teacher Mr. Moss in the prize presentation ceremony of the party in the grand hotel.
"That's a bit cheeky," says Shannon as she stomps past the TV cameras clutching her award, all fake tan and flounce, on a mission to grab headmaster Mr Hickman for the first dance.
Whatever happened to buying a dress from Topshop and smooching to Spandau Ballet at the school disco? Prom Queen Divas UK, Channel 5, tonight, 8pm.