One of the founding members of TEAM CHEAPIOSITY has been a longtime rabid collector of clothing and costume pieces for her job as freelance theatrical costumer, part-time hobbyist, and fulltime cheapskate. She rarely throws anything away and has accumulated most of her impressive costume collection at thrift shops and on eBay. Few pieces cost more than five dollars; in fact, $2.95 is her magic price point for collecting random items; for specific garments, she's been known to spend as much as a tenspot.
This year, TEAM CHEAPIOSITY offered to clothe some high school senior friends for their Prom. Gratis. Tuxedo shirts cost savvy thriftshoppers between two and five dollars each, and over the years, she's amassed quite a pile of them in almost every size. In preparation for a show, our costumer friend recently purchased six complete sets of bowties and vests from a tux rental place on eBay for less than twenty dollars total including shipping. Tux jackets and trousers are a little rarer to find, but she's located a precious few over the years, and it's possible you can too. Black suit pants will do in a pinch. (Tux rental places update their stock from time to time; it's worth asking your local provider how and when they rotate their old stock.) Owning secondhand formal wear pays for itself instantly, and repeated use amortises the cost to pennies a wearing.
Slightly used and never-worn formal gowns are thick as fleas in thrift stores, and our collection rivals any department store. None cost more than five dollars. (Cynics can even find wedding gowns and bridesmaid horrors by the score.) We made a party of it, celebrating frugality and spending nothing on Prom. Not a cent. Our fondest hope is that kids with money to burn could donate their promwear funds to a worthy cause instead of flushing it.
Most rental places gouge graduating seniors well more than a hundred dollars for tux rental, and girls spend twice or three times that on average on dresses and shoes and the rest. We officially challenge anyone with a formal occasion to hit the thrift stores long and hard before stepping foot in a mall. Our costumer cohort spent six dollars on the dress she wore to the Emmys last year and even managed to keep the good news to herself. That part was hard. It's easy to look great for next to nothing.