Parents spending thousands on 'Americanised' school balls

A lot of time, money and planning goes into attending the school ball. Photo: Supplied via RNZ
A lot of time, money and planning goes into attending the school ball. Photo: Supplied via RNZ
Parents of high school students are forking out thousands to give their teenagers the "school ball experience".

The cost of school balls has continued to rise, with parents and schools struggling to keep up with increased costs - tickets to a school ball can range from $100 to more than $300.

Hayley Abbott has two teenage girls who went to four school balls between them in the past year, and she says she would have spent "a couple of thousand dollars" on the events.

"My daughters were guests at three of the balls they attended, but the ticket for my eldest to attend Epsom Girls Grammar's ball was $130 for the ticket, but there's so much more in the price than just that."

Abbott said the prices of everything involved with ball preparation was "horrendous" and included dresses, shoes, hair and makeup, nails and pedicure, accessories, transport, a corsage and costs associated with pre-balls and after balls.

"It's becoming more Americanised through TV, movies and social media, and these are things kids expect to have now."

But Abbott said it was worth it as it gave her daughter a "huge confidence boost" and was a chance to celebrate her last year of school.

"It's been a challenging few years with Covid-19 and such, so I encouraged her to choose a nice bag and shoes and she was grateful for it.

"It would be awkward, however, if you weren't able to afford things like that because you want to be able to make your child feel special."

How schools cope

Selwyn College principal Sheryll Offner said her school aimed to keep ticket prices under $100 so it was more accessible for families, despite their financial situations.

The college's ball committee - made up of a group of students - helped keep costs down by fund-raising throughout the year, she said.

While prices for this year's ball had not been decided, Offner said tickets cost $95 each in 2023.

"I think the rising cost of venues is often behind the tickets going up, but we've been really lucky to be able to use the same, affordable venue the last few years."

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault agreed with Offner, but said the reality was that while schools could help students and parents with tickets, students who could not afford all the extras would end up not attending.

"At the end of the day, there's a significant cost involved with attending a ball, especially the dresses, and that's something the school can't help with."

Dressing on a budget

Ballgowns, Bridal and Beyond shop owner Nadine Crozier said she had recently seen more parents coming through the store who were conscious of the budget of the dress.

But while the parents were more budget-conscious, she said this did not often impact the students.

"Young people want to feel confident on their big day, and the girls are still very particular of what they want despite budget constraints. I think for them it's more about how they feel in a dress, rather than its price."

Crozier said she had noticed a down-turn in customers looking for ball dresses since the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Things have never gone back to how they were before 2020, it's just not the same. A lot of girls do buy their dresses online more now, so we work hard to try and have a good price point and offer affordable second-hand dresses."