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For Prom Night, Beauty Is Weeks in the Making

PRIMPING for the prom involves more than shopping for the perfect dress, shoes and purse.

About a month before the big night, Eleanor Jailer-Coley, 17, a senior at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, N.Y., was hopscotching from salon to salon, beginning her beauty regimen.

For $100, she had a facial to clean, steam and exfoliate, only partly to address a sprinkle of acne on her slightly freckled face. Included in the price was a light massage and skin treatment that she wanted because she was going to wear a ball gown with a low-cut back.

The same day, she sat for two hours in a stylist's chair at Zing! for Hair, a local salon, trying out styles. First Deena Borriello, a stylist and Zing's owner, trimmed Ms. Jailer-Coley's thick, curly hair for $55. Then, for another $55, Ms. Borriello blew it straight, set it in hot rollers and twisted it into various styles for Eleanor to choose from.

Last Monday, Ms. Jailer-Coley had an appointment to have her hair dyed a neutral brown from the previous reddish tint ($35, done by a colorist her mother knows who makes house calls).

"I don't want it to contrast with my dress too much," she said.

For a girl who is usually very laid back about her appearance, this is a lot of pampering. But it is not unusual among teenagers, who pour enormous amounts of time — not to mention their parents' money — into getting ready for the culminating social event of their high school years.

Just as proms have gotten more elaborate — and costlier — so have the beauty regimens of the teenage girls who go to them. This time of year, they make up a large part of the clientele at salons, gathering in small, chattering groups or sitting anxiously with their mothers hovering by their sides.

"Prom is a big night," Eleanor said, explaining why she is so immersed in the beautifying process.

It's very big at her Long Island school, in fact. The event, scheduled for June 23 at Hempstead House, a castlelike former Guggenheim estate in Sands Point, includes an Oscars'-style red carpet upon which the seniors will make their grand entrance (all videotaped and available for purchase).

"You want to feel your best and look your best," said Ms. Jailer-Coley, who has watched her older brother's prom video repeatedly.

Getting ready to make the momentous walk only started with the $350 iced turquoise dress she found at a popular local shop. (Last week, she was still searching for the right retro necklace to drip down her back.) By her calculations, she needed about nine skin, hair and body procedures that would get her down the red carpet in style.

Altogether, she estimated that she would spend about $350 for the facial, light massage and back treatment, a haircut, a trial run to find a hairstyle, hair color, brow wax, manicure, pedicure and makeup application on the day of the prom. (She planned to save money by visiting the Macy's Clinique counter the afternoon before prom, where she said she would buy a lip gloss for $13.50 and get a full makeup application.)

Other girls also plan extra visits to the gym, tooth-whitening procedures, waxing and bronzing sessions at the tanning parlors.

"The last few months it's been like prom, prom, prom," Ms. Jailer-Coley said, not just about the conversation among her girlfriends. She was also referring to her efforts to watch what she ate, both for her waistline and to keep her skin looking creamy and clear.

Michael Mazzei, owner of Nubest Salon and Spa in Manhasset, N.Y., said that in recent years he has seen hair become more dramatic, facials become increasingly popular and fake eyelashes become hot.

"It seems like every year it steps up a notch," said Mr. Mazzei, who expects more than 100 girls to come in for facials, hair styling, special spa manicures and pedicures and makeup applications this prom season. "They like to ramp it up for sure."

William B. Helmreich, a sociologist and professor of consumer behavior at CUNY Graduate Center, said that the prom is a "backwards-forwards rite of passage" symbolized by dressing up.

"Prom seems to mark the age that you are departing from, but in reality it marks the age you are entering," Dr. Helmreich said. "That's why they dress so carefully and prepare so elaborately."

Shows like MTV's "My Super Sweet 16" and Hollywood also influence the intensity with which girls prepare for the prom.

Jessica Heimler, a senior at Roslyn High School in Roslyn, N.Y., was at Nubest two weeks before her prom — which is tonight — for a hair and makeup tryout.

"I have to see how it looks before I go to prom," Ms. Heimler said. She usually tames her long, wavy hair with lots of gel, but wanted it professionally set with fat curls that would set off her antique earrings and augment her Grecian-looking gown.

"This is my senior prom. It's not my junior prom; it's not my sister's bat mitzvah. It's my prom," she said.

A survey by Your Prom magazine found that 74 percent of girls ratchet up spending on beauty products like artificial nails and lip gloss during prom season. The average student spends $638 on the prom, a $4 billion industry, according to the Condι Nast Bridal Group, which owns Your Prom. (That figure is likely much higher in and around big cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Houston and Los Angeles.)

Girls are naturally drawn "to the princessy part of prom," said Antonia Van Der Meer, editor-in-chief of Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Your Prom magazines. "This is their red carpet moment," Ms. Van Der Meer said. "Unlike celebrities, this is their only moment to dress like that and do their hair."

It is also a moment, Ms. Van Der Meer said, when a young woman announces to the world: "This is my style."

Lauren Kaminsky, 17, a senior at Roslyn High School, said her pre-prom to-do list included a bikini wax and leg wax to prepare her for the post-prom beach visit, a tradition at many schools in the New York suburbs.

Her mother, Kim Kaminsky, said she would pay for the entire regimen, which she estimated would cost more than $1,000.

"They are used to having the best," Kim Kaminsky said, referring to her daughter's circle of friends, who normally go for weekly manicures and pedicures. "They are all stressed out about having everything so perfect, whether it's the boy or the dress or the shoes or the jewelry or the hair — every little detail they are worried about."

And then the big day arrives. Jaclyn York, 16, a junior at Jericho High School in Jericho, N.Y., had her hair done and her makeup professionally applied for a prom she was attending that evening with a former boyfriend, a student at Elizabeth Irwin High School in Manhattan.

"Can I get smoky and green?" she asked, as Jessica DeRosa, a makeup artist at Nubest, smoothed concealer around Ms. York's eyes to make them look bigger before applying eye shadow ($45) and fake lashes ($25).

"It looks better when they do it," Ms. York said.

She wasn't quite as happy about her skin's ruddy glow, the results of a spray-tanning session two days earlier ($40).

For Melanie Kovacs, 18 and president of the senior class at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens, the prom is a chance to take chances. Usually she wears her shoulder-length hair straight and center parted. For her prom, she wasn't sure if she wanted a partial or full up-do to go with her long, champagne-colored gown.

"I want something that looks different but people can still see it's me," Ms. Kovacs said as a stylist snipped her bangs and swept the rest of her hair into a cascade of curls.

"There is no other event as big as this one other than your sweet 16 and your wedding," Ms. Kovacs said, deciding on the total up-do. "Prom is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. And after prom and after graduation, real life begins."