Prom season, that time of gowns and tuxedos, limousines and after-parties, arrives this year in the midst of economic crisis.
But few teens -- or schools -- seem willing to make the party that caps off a student's high school experience a casualty of the recession.
Many teens say they are cutting corners, searching for bargains and spending less cash in other parts of their lives.
''I think people realize that prom is an only once-in-your-life type thing. It's something that everybody has to do,'' said David Argov, a senior at J.P. Taravella High in Coral Springs. ``They can cut other expenses such as not going to the movies as much or not going out to eat as much so they can go to prom.''
LOOKING FOR DEALS
David, 18, Taravella's senior class president, spoke about savings as he picked up his rental tuxedo at Men's Wearhouse. It would have cost him $170, but he took advantage of a promotional deal where each friend he referred got a $20 discount and knocked 10 percent off his bill.
''If I got 10 people, which I did -- which is awesome -- I got a free tux,'' David said.
At his school, like most, the senior class has been raising money throughout high school for prom, which costs $130 a person, including senior dues. At Miami High, students held fundraisers throughout their junior year to keep the cost of prom tickets down. The result: $40 tickets for those who raised money and $55 for those who didn't. The school will make free tickets available for students who can't pay.
''This is such a rite of passage,'' said Barbara Quintero, activities director at Miami Senior High. ``We strive to make sure every student can participate.''
While some kids are renting limos, she said, some are borrowing their parents' car -- or just getting dropped off and picked up.
Becca's Closet, a charity that provides free donated formal dresses to girls who couldn't otherwise afford them, has seen the number of teens seeking prom gowns nearly double over last year.
Jay Kirtman, co-chairman of the organization, said, ''We're seeing a lot of people that traditionally would never be in that situation.''
The organization, founded by Kirtman's daughter Rebecca before her death in a 2003 car accident at age 16, opened early for prom this year. They started working with girls the weekend of Valentine's Day at the Festival Flea Market Mall in Pompano Beach. Those who need a dress can still make an appointment at the Becca's Closet website. Some are gently used, and others are brand new, donated by dress companies.
CUTTING BACK IS TRENDY
Seventeen magazine's prom issue suggested girls consider whether they really need a limo and corsage, and included stories about do-it-yourself boutonnieres and where to find a dress for the right price.
Kori Lopez, 18, a senior at Dr. Michael M. Krop High, found her dress at Ross for $60: ''It's beautiful,'' she said. And she's wearing the same shoes she wore to homecoming.
Kori said a lot of her fellow students are pitching in for gas and carpooling, and others are renting cars instead of limos. And they are scrimping on non-prom spending, she said.