Dressing to the max for school balls

GLAMOUR GIRLS: Miss Manawatu 2013 contestants Caroline Wall (left) and Amy Carlyon raid the collection at 'Dusk 2 Dawn'.
GLAMOUR GIRLS: Miss Manawatu 2013 contestants Caroline Wall (left) and Amy Carlyon raid the collection at 'Dusk 2 Dawn'.

Retailers say girls' school ball spending is reaching "wedding" heights as social media exposure ensures a traditional night of glitz and glamour is also the most extravagant on teenagers' social calendars.

Retailers in Palmerston North say they are doing a roaring trade in gowns, hair services and makeovers as the school ball season starts - with some comparing the events with beauty pageants and weddings as families splurge on girls wanting the full glamour package.

But others find ways to keep the special evening cheap - with home-made dresses, hand-me-downs and DIY preening reining in some girls' school ball spend.

Dusk 2 Dawn in Princess St, Palmerston North, has ball gowns fit for queens, and owner Annette Jury is busy with her first ball season selling from the shop-floor.

She recently moved her business from her home in Feilding to Palmerston North to meet demand and says the crystal-encrusted pageant dresses she ships from the United States are attracting customers from as far afield as Tauranga and Wellington.

The dresses' prices range from about $200 to $700 and Mrs Jury believes Dusk 2 Dawn's popularity is partly because it allows the most expensive gowns to be hired.

Some girls also attend several balls a season, and she offers package deals to help parents keep costs down. Mrs Jury said girls were buying full-length pageant gowns that would not be out of place on the red carpet.

"They are getting very sparkly, very full on," she said. "I think it does have to do with media; they are putting a lot of care into it."

Spectra Hair owner Gabrielle Bundy-Cook said school balls were traditionally a night for glamour but price seemed to be no object for some families.

"All of a sudden the cost is comparable with weddings - there's no limit - there's the hair, the photography. It's a fashion thing. It's a society of materialism - we all want to look and feel good."

Social media such as Facebook and Instagram on smartphones gave teens the ability to splash pictures of their night all over the internet. This may have had a bearing on a marked investment in glamour, Mrs Bundy-Cooke said.

"People can see what you look like instantly now. Hundreds can see you, not just at the ball, on the internet it's all around the country, isn't it?"

Hairdresser Denise Thorby said the level of primping had ramped up heavily in her five years' styling.

"It's a lot more intense than what I did for my school ball," she said. "It's like a mini wedding. It's interesting to see they will pay hundreds for colour and hair-ups."

Makeup artist Christiana Cleland said spending reflected more refined tastes - she was seeing fewer "orange" fake tans.

"I have been really impressed with their taste. The girls have a good idea about what they want."

Palmerston North Girls' High and Nga Tawa College started the Manawatu ball season this year, and Girls' High students gave their insight into what they said was a highlight of their senior years.

The ball was tipped to be a paler affair this winter after sunbed use was restricted to over-18s in April because of skin cancer concerns.

Head girl Stevie Waerea spent $700, buying her dress online and getting her hair and makeup done professionally to celebrate her milestone.

"It was really special, I was really looking forward to it. I wanted it to be a special night."

Year 13 student Leonie Helu preferred not to say what she spent - having a dress tailormade for her flown over from Tonga. Year 12 students Willow Aldrich and Aria Tong opted to make their own dresses, spending $300 and $200, respectively, and having their hair and makeup done at home.

Want to show off your ball dress? Email pictures to editor@msl.co.nz

Manawatu Standard