The dress, the date, the dinner, the dance - when it all comes together, it's magical. But sometimes it's the little things that transform prom into the best party of the year.
"Prom is incredibly important in high school culture. Teens don't have many opportunities to get dressed up and attend formal events, so it's important to make the most of your evening," said Sarah Burningham, author of "How to Raise Your Parents: A Teen Girl's Survival Guide" (Chronicle Books, $13).
While researching her new book, Burningham spoke with more than 2,000 teens and learned a few secrets about planning the perfect a prom.
Negotiate Your Curfew
"Prom is one of those big occasions that warrants a later curfew," Burningham said. "Because most parents experienced prom themselves, they're more flexible - as long as they know how to get in touch with you."
The key to striking a happy compromise with your parents? Get them involved. Ask your mom to help pick out the perfect dress. Ask you dad for dinner recommendations. On prom night, give them the chance to snap some photos - and be patient as they fawn and fuss over how great you look.
Let them meet your date ahead of time, and be sure to give them all the details - the who, what, when and where.
"The more your parents know, the less worried they're going to be - and the more flexible they will be with your curfew."
Discuss the Bill Beforehand
In the past, custom called for the gentleman to pay for prom, or at least pick up the tab for the dinner, tickets and photos, but all of that is changing. "Prom is simply too expensive for one person to cover everything," Burningham said.
Decide who pays for what ahead of time to avoid any uncomfortable surprises. The simplest solution is going Dutch, but at the very least, each person should cover a portion of the expense - he pays for the tickets and dinner if she pays for the photo and after-party, for example.
Go as a Group
"The teens who have the most fun at prom are the ones who go as a group," Burningham said. "If you have your friends with you, you're probably going to have a better time."
Group outings mean no awkward silences, no struggling for conversation topics, no wondering what to do with yourself when your date slips off to the restroom. In other words, no stress.
"A lot of teens say that things are just a little more relaxed in a group. You don't feel as much social pressure if you have others with you."
Plus, going with a group has plenty of perks that you can't get as a couple, from splitting the cost of a limousine rental to booking a private banquet room for dinner.
Spring for the Limo
Hire a limo. It lets everyone off the hook. "Limousines are expensive, but they are a good idea for prom," Burningham said.
"There is so much interaction on prom night that it could be hard for a teen driver to focus. If you have someone devoted exclusively to safe driving, it's definitely a good thing."
If you can't afford the limo or if it's just the two of you, ask an older brother or sister to chauffeur for the evening. That way, no one in your group bears the responsibility of focusing on the road while friends have all the fun in the back.
Go with the Flow
If you find yourself in a truly uncomfortable situation, it is OK to make an emergency exit. But in the midst of a minor calamity, it pays to keep your cool.
"I went as part of a group," Burningham said. "During dinner, a waiter spilled water all over one of my friends. It could have ruined her night - and everyone else's - but we patted her dry, the restaurant gave us a discount and she laughed it off.
"It could have gone either way, but she decided not to make it a big deal and she had a great time."
The bottom line: Ultimately, you are in charge of what kind of evening you have, so go with flow and have fun.