In the United States, the word “prom” was first coined in the 1890s. Since then, the annual high school tradition — considered by many a rite of passage for teenagers — has grown into big business.
In 2012, USA Today reported that a family can spend an average of $1,078 on the prom experience.
At Skeffington’s Formal Wear at Coralridge Mall, the busy season is in full swing.
“Spring can be particularly busy because we are not only fitting teens for prom, but we are also booking spring and summer wedding orders, having just finished up all the bridal shows in January and February,” General Manager John Feeney said.
Feeney said his store typically rents about 400 tuxedos per weekend. Skeffington’s tuxedos are stored in a warehouse in Des Moines, where the family-owned company — with locations around Central and Eastern Iowa — is headquartered. “Usually there is one weekend a year that can be tough to supply as proms in Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Des Moines will overlap.”
While he wouldn’t advise it, Feeney said they are able to get someone a tux just four or five days before the event.
At Prince Albert Tuxedos in Cedar Rapids, all of its tuxedo stock is housed in town.
Owner John Albert said the business also owns Citywide Cleaners, making the tuxedo-cleaning process particularly efficient. The third-generation, family-owned company as been in business since 1927 and started offering renting tuxs in the 1950s.
“Guys come in with a friend or their girlfriend or their mother to pick something out,” he said. “Our job is not to intimidate them but to educate them and help them figure what they want.
“Guys are excited about prom, too. This is a fun time.”
A little bit of everything
Elegant Repeats in Cedar Rapids, best known as a women’s consignment shop and bridal outlet, began offering tuxedo rental about 10 years ago as a way to supplement the bridal business.
“We wanted to become a one-stop shop for bridal parties,” co-owner Dayna Harrington said.
Elegant Repeats developed a partnership with Gordon’s Toggery — a small, locally owned formal wear shop in Dubuque — to supply all its tuxedos. Sample coats are available to try on, and tuxes are shipped in weekly.
While they are renting around 150 tuxedos during the entire prom season, the shop stays busy during the spring.
“Saturdays and Sundays are just packed,” Harrington said. He added that “A lot of guys are waiting until their date has her dress so they can match it.”
“If they bring in a dress swatch that is helpful because, if they come in and just tell us purple, that could mean a lot of different colors,” Feeney agreed.
Over the years, Albert has seen a number of trends come and go. But, he noted, “No matter the trend, people always want to show their originality.”
“Guys are going with trim fit, one-button coats” this year, Feeney said.
He also noted that brighter colors seem to be in, as well as the Johnny Cash approach of wearing all black.
“They seem to be going bright or very dark,” he said.
“Guys today are looking to do a little bit of everything. They are willing to be a bit flashier,” Albert said.
All three tuxedo shops said bow ties are starting to make a comeback in popularity as well.
With the high volume of rentals, especially at this time of year, these rental companies need to remain diligent about the quality of their tuxedos.
“Once they start to show even a little bit of wear they are pulled out of the system,” Feeney explained. Skeffington’s typically adds three to six new coats a year.
Albert noted that style changes may be another reason for pulling a tuxedo out of their offerings.
“If there is something that dates it, it is no longer a viable rental,” he said.