When, precisely, did prom turn into a dress rehearsal for a wedding except, you know, with more sequins and beer?

Crowding the newsstands are Cosmo Girl Prom, Teen Prom, Your Prom and Seventeen Prom, all catalogs for enough rhinestone-encrusted Lycra gowns to put the Czech Republic and DuPont out of business.

With a few exceptions - the four or five pages devoted to editorial - most of the dresses have a distinct escort-service aesthetic.

They look cheap.

Except they're not, most hovering around $350.

The Vegas showgirl colors, not found in nature, are enough to induce hangovers before bingeing commences. All this money is being devoted to evanescent style. You think teenagers don't have questionable judgment? They should check out their mother's prom hair. And the color of their father's tux.

Then there are shoes almost no (non-working) girl can walk in, Beyoncé jewelry, sequined handbags, makeup, hair, hair extensions, mani-pedis and Botox and Restylane shots.

You think I kid? I do not. Prom is sooooo stressful.

There is, of course, the necessity to rent a white stretch limo, because bad taste can never start early enough while leaving massive carbon tire tracks by the young people claiming to love the environment so. Soon someone will create a stretch Prius. (Whoops, just located one in San Francisco.)

The limo, to quote the noted philosopher Pink, is to get the party started. And to keep the interstates a tad safer that night.

Proms are a tremendous business, exploding into $6.6 billion annually from $4 billion two years ago, according to Condé Nast Bridal Media. Most couples average $1,000 on attire and transportation. If only we could invest in prom futures.

Teenagers are turbocharged diesel shopping engines except, in most cases, it's their parents' money, people who may never dress like this in their lifetimes and, perhaps, never did.

If the teenager has worked and saved for the moment, this isn't a rosy harbinger of future spending practices. All that money might have been used for a trip - a trip to, say, Europe instead of the local Marriott - or perhaps college tuition.

Prom isn't the main event anymore now that it's essential to cook up a huge post-prom gathering that dwarfs most state dinners. Almost 70 percent of all attendees go on to a post-prom gathering, according to TRU, a leading research firm of teenage trends. Some high school administrators have gone so far as to cancel proms - some lingering rumors of decadence and debauchery, to say nothing of wardrobe malfunctions - which is fine with the kids. This just means they'll get to the after-prom party sooner.

It's become common practice to head to the Shore or the country or some poor unwitting family's home, provided the rest of the family isn't there or is already asleep and as many students can be jammed into the premises as possible. On Long Island, a group of 45 revelers is renting a Hamptons estate for a night and a day. For $18,000.

Which is way too cheap.

Forty-five teenagers, and that's the lowball official count, can do way more than $18,000 worth of damage in a night and day if they really, really put their hearts and stomach contents into it, applying themselves to prom and post-prom in a way that they perhaps never quite managed to do with their education.

Proms and weddings have become spikes on life's EKG, an occasion for fretting, shopping, primping, more aqua tulle than can possibly be healthy (wait until their children get hold of those photos), bad behavior, temporary memory loss and upstaging the main event, the end of high school or the beginning of a marriage.

Prom is but one night, a night of excess and questionable sartorial judgment and significant of perhaps nothing but sequins and beer.

There's really nothing like prom - after all, you can get married again and again until you get it right - and, for that, the nation is grateful.

Contact staff writer Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com.