The perfect prom has become a perfect storm of spending for high schoolers and their families.
The northeast leads the nation in costs, with a total average bill of $1,169, according to an annual study by Visa.
Dresses, tuxes, flowers, limos, photo, food and more added up to $738. And for the first time, Visa added a category for “promposals,” which added $431 to the overall cost.
High schoolers want to make prom night flawless, and Amelia Templeton is no different.
But her search for the perfect dress detoured with a dress shop dispute — a dispute in which both parties insist their side is the accurate one.
Amelia and her mom, Leanne Templeton, started their hunt for a dress in January. Plenty of time, they thought, before Cranford High School’s June 19 prom.
“She envisioned a Cinderella-inspired dress,” Leanne Templeton said. “We hunted in every department store, mall and specialty store.”
Weeks passed, but no dress called to Amelia.
A friend recommended they try Seng Couture in Fanwood.
The mom and daughter looked at the store’s web site, and they were intrigued by dress by designer Sherri Hill. So they made an appointment at the shop for March 17.
Still plenty of time before the big day.
At the appointment, Leanne Templeton said, the saleswoman pulled a bunch of other dresses for Amelia to try, but none were what she wanted. Then the owner, Chamroen Seng, offered some of her original designs, Templeton said. They finally asked to see the Sherri Hill dress they saw on the store web site.
“And that was it, Amelia’s 2015 version of Cinderella’s dress,” Templeton said.
Then they learned the price: $450. The pair had budgeted for $200. Amelia offered to pay the difference from money she earns giving swimming lessons, and her mom agreed.
They decided to order the dress one size larger than the sample.
“The odd thing was… the [owner’s] daughter disappeared in the back and came back in a minute or two. She said the manufacturer only had this size in stock,” Templeton said.
Templeton said she had to put down a $230 deposit before the store would allow her to take photos of Amelia in the dress. So she did.
The mother and daughter received a call that the dress was in, and they returned to the store on May 29.
“They had a rolling rack with five or six dresses on it. The dresses were in clear zippered garment bags and looked like they were stuffed with tissue to hold their shape,” Templeton said. “Except for one dress — it had one crumpled tissue paper over it with a dry cleaner plastic bag over it. Seemed so strange.”
That was Amelia’s dress, Templeton said. They went to the dressing room and saw something was very wrong.
“We realized this was the same sample Amelia tried on back in March. Same sequins missing on the shoulder and missing pieces of lace,” Templeton said. “The bottom of the dress was chiffon but now was crumpled with at least three different stains. One looked like drizzled icing, one maybe an oil stain? Puckers, a snag and then it looked like someone ripped an entire seam.”
Templeton asked about the imperfections, and Seng said that they were having problems with the manufacturer, Templeton said.
“I mentioned it had the same wear and tear as the sample Amelia tried on previously. She then went and got her husband,” she said.
Templeton said she showed Sahn Truong the flaws, and he offered a 10 percent discount.
Templeton wasn’t satisfied.
“When I asked for an invoice dated after March 17, showing that they did indeed order a new dress for Amelia, he went to 50 percent off,” Templeton said. “The bottom line is they substituted a worn sample for first quality goods. And insisted that the designer has been shipping very poor quality this year.”
Templeton said Truong promised to have the dress cleaned, but they wouldn’t budge on the $80 alteration price.
Because time was short, Templeton said, she agreed to accept the deal if the cleaning was a success.
But on June 1, Truong called to say some of the spots couldn’t be removed. He said if the Templetons wanted a different dress, he’d have it overnighted from Sherri Hill, Templeton said.
“I would call him throughout the day giving him style numbers that Amelia selected from the Sherri Hill website,” Templeton said.
Some styles were not in their price range, Templeton said she was told, so they’d cross those off the list. Others were not available in Amelia’s size.
“Thirty-two styles later, three were available in her size,” Templeton said.
They picked one that wasn’t quite perfect, Templeton said, but with 18 days to the prom date, they felt they were running out of options.
Then Templeton learned the price: $850, plus alterations.
“I asked him to meet the $450 price of the original dress,” she said. “He told me the best he could do was $600.”
They said forget it, and Templeton asked for her $230 deposit back.
The store agreed in an email to return the deposit, but a week later, the refund hadn’t posted yet. And Templeton said she asked in an email for a receipt showing the refund, but the store gave her nothing.
WAS IT ORDERED OR NOT?
We reviewed the Templeton’s paperwork, which included the refund promise email.
Seng Couture has no complaints with Consumer Affairs, and there’s one Better Business Bureau complaint that is marked as not being resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. The company still has an A+ rating.
We sent an email and left a phone message with the store.
Then we reached out to the designer, Sherri Hill, hoping it could confirm whether or not Seng Couture placed an order for a new dress for the Templetons.
A company spokesperson said for legal purposes, the company couldn’t respond to the question. It also didn’t have the dress available is Amelia’s size and color, and the company otherwise wouldn’t talk on the record for this story.
We then received an email from Seng Couture, saying its lawyer would be in touch.
We looked to see if Amelia’s dress could be found elsewhere, but it was either out of stock or otherwise unavailable.
So the Templetons went to yet another store and picked out a different Sherri Hill dress in the same color scheme. Amelia wouldn’t be dressed in Cinderella’s rags for the prom.
We still didn’t hear from Seng Couture’s attorney, so we emailed again.
This time, Sahn Truong agreed to chat.
He said he processed the refund on June 2, but that it typically takes time for a credit to appear.
That’s true. But as of June 10, the refund still wasn’t showing on Templeton’s credit card account.
Truong strongly denied the allegation that the store tried to sell the Templetons a sample or used dress.
We asked about the identical imperfections the Templetons said were on the dress Amelia tried on March 17, and the dress she tried on May 29.
“That’s her point of view,” Truong said. “Every dress sometimes comes in and has damage here and there. There is nothing perfect if a dress has a lot of bead work, and they may have a stain here and there. If you don’t like it, you return it.”
We asked to see his order form for Amelia’s dress. Truong said he had one, but he refused to email or fax it to us.
“It’s against store policy,” he said.
But he and his wife are the store’s owners, we said. Perhaps they could make an exception.
He again refused.
Maybe he could take a cell phone photo of the document?
He again said no, but he offered to show it in person.
So we visited the store, meeting with Chamroen Seng and Sahn Truong.
The couple produced a document that listed a dress that matched the style number, size and color that Amelia wanted, along with some other dresses, which they said was the order form. It was dated March 18, the day after the Templetons placed their order.
We can’t verify the validity of the document, one way or the other.
The dress Amelia tried as a sample was sold, Seng and Truong said, and they showed us the dress they said was ordered for Amelia.
The dress had some lace imperfections, which Seng and Truong said was because the dress was stitched by hand. There were a couple of stains on the skirt, but the one that Templeton described as “drizzled icing” wasn’t there. They couldn’t explain the stains, but said many dresses are delivered to the store with imperfections.
We can’t verify whether or not this was the dress Amelia tried on. We can only take the store’s word.
Templeton is still waiting for her refund, and she’s just glad her daughter now has a dress for the prom.
“The irony of it all is that my daughter wanted to be Cinderella for the prom, and was delivered the dress torn, like the story,” Templeton said. “Can’t get any crazier than that.”
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.