by Karen Alberg Grossman

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Baby Boomers might (or might not, with our faltering memories) recall the excitement and drama of high school prom. For girls, it was weeks and weeks of shopping for the perfect dress (and dyed to match shoes), all while fighting non-stop with mom over whether the dress of our dreams is too revealing, too trendy or just too expensive. For a guy, the main challenge was getting up the courage to invite his favorite girl and then praying she’d accept. As for his outfit: it involved little more than a quick run to the local formalwear shop to rent the exact same cheap black tux that all the other guys would be wearing.

Thank goodness, times have changed! While prom is still mostly about her dress, guys can now venture into the world of separates, fashion sneakers, accessories and customization, thereby adding some personality to their prom attire.

Says Vince Marrone of Paisley & Gray, who does a healthy prom business in stores like Nordstrom Rack and Men’s Wearhouse, their success secret is fashion, fit and affordability. Ticket prices are $180 on jackets, $90 on pants; fabrics are mostly poly/rayon with some linen blends.


Says Marrone, “Our designer comes up with some terrific fabrics for today’s prom customers who are looking for cool jackets they can ultimately wear with jeans. The Rat Pack look is big these days so we do well with tuxedo styling in silver, silver/black, and also white. We add some really fun linings, so there’s often a cool surprise inside.”

Ron Wurtzburger from Peerless has had major success for prom season with Tallia Orange. “There’s a new breed of young guys who want to express themselves by creating their own formalwear look. Paisleys in both dark and bright shades are hot. Bold colors sell well: guys can wear these jackets out to clubs with their jeans.”

Some of the best retail insight on building a prom business comes from Dana Katz of Miltons, with two stores near Boston. “Our approach to prom is similar to our approach to weddings. We address the value equation by offering excellent prices for purchasing outfits, thereby trumping the notion of renting. We find this is particularly attractive to guys who plan to go to several proms.”

“From a product point of view, it’s offering great looking and trim fitting tuxedos that start at $99.99 in black and navy and in a variety of models,” continues Katz. “We also offer vested suits in black, navy, charcoal and light grey. When it comes to accessorizing, the shirts (formal or otherwise) are all offered in slim and extreme slim fits; and we show both bow ties and skinny ties in a wide range of colors to match the girls’ dresses. Pocket squares, tie bars, patterned colorful socks and leather sneakers complete the outfit.”


Obviously, even with a hundred dollar suit, this can add up to a significant sale. “The bottom line is that the guy ends up with an outfit that is his,” maintains Katz. “He can tweak the accessories to make it look different for the next prom he has in two weeks’ time without having to rent again. And best of all, you introduce him to your store and all you have to offer for years to come.”

Other insight comes from Greg Kaleel, a Chicago merchant who ran a menswear store (American Male) for 40 years but now sells 4,000 to 5,000 prom dresses annually, ranging from $100 to $1000 but mostly in the $350 to $600 retail range. (His Prom Shoppe has 35 dressing rooms and is always packed; customers give their cell phone number upon arrival and receive a text when a fitting room opens up. (The average wait time in prom season is 30 minutes to an hour.)

“It’s a healthy business,” says Kaleel. “Prom runs from Christmas through May; homecoming from August through October. We also do tuxedo rentals (the girl gets a tux rental coupon when she buys a dress) and we sell men’s accessories to match the girl’s dress: shirts, bowties, suspenders, socks. But while the women start coming in right after Christmas, the guys wait ‘til April. So prom season is mostly about the hunt for a dress. The guy is just an accessory.”