The Dress Debate: What happened when girls were kicked out of prom for what they were wearing

by Rebecca Lumley

The prom, or debs/grad here in Ireland, is a rite of passage for school leavers and generally a lively topic of conversation for months in advance. Whether you’ve been dreaming of the dress you’d wear since first year (guilty) or just looking forward to a night out with your friends, it’s a big social occasion and something to look forward to amongst the stress of exams.

However, 2015 has seen a number of young ladies turned away from their prom because of what they were wearing. The last night of fun with their classmates was ripped away from these girls, all because the dresses they had chosen were deemed “too revealing”. When the cases were challenged by the students and parents affected, the schools refused to discuss the matter. You might be surprised by the offending dresses in  question.

Case 1: Mireya Briceno

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This gorgeous Michegan 18 year old was sent home after just one hour from her prom because the backless dress she wore was “inappropriate”. The school’s dress code stated that dresses showing skin “around the midriff” were forbidden, but had no such rule concerning backless dresses.The school principal, Brad Perkins, originally defended the decision but is now saying the dress code will be “reviewed” in the Autumn. Probably because of the internet storm the decision has caused.

Case 2: Alexus Miller-Wigfall

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This Pennsylvania teen wasn’t turned away from her actual prom, but issued a day’s school suspension after the event. This came as a complete shock to Alexus and her mother, who believes the targeting is weight related. The school’s dress code requires that “all body parts are covered”, including breasts. Alexus’ mother maintains that as Alexus has bigger boobs than several other students, she was punished over girls who were wearing more revealing clothing. To add insult to injury, her mother had emailed several photos of the dress to the school for their approval prior to the prom. “I don’t see anything wrong with that dress. What do they want her to wear, a turtleneck?” her mother said.

Case 3: Shelton High School

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This is perhaps the worst case of all as dozens of students have been affected and not just a few select individuals. Shelton High, a school in Connecticut, created an extensive list of dress code violations and have warned students that breaking the rules will see you denied entry from prom. The problem? They announced these rules a mere eight days before the event was set to take place. This late change in policy has naturally caused a wave of distress amongst students and parents, with many finding their pricey and often non-returnable dresses in violation. Above are two of the dresses rejected by the school. Determined to fight the unfair regulations, the students launched a petition that has gone viral in the last few days. They point out that:

“It takes a long time to pick out a dress or have one custom made, even longer for any necessary alterations to be made; it is unfair to release the dress guidelines eight days before the dance and expect every person to have a dress that follows them.”

The students also articulately  tackled the wider issue of double standards in the school.

“There is a sexist and backwards logic that girls must cover up so that boys are not distracted or tempted to behave inappropriately. If a girl wears a pair of shorts and a boy takes that as an invitation to touch her, who really needs to be told to control themselves? Don’t teach girls to hide their bodies; teach boys self control and that they aren’t entitled to a girl’s body just because she dressed in a way that made her feel beautiful or just didn’t want to get overheated.”

“There is no reason why the boys at Mr. Student Body should have been allowed to parade around the stage in nothing but their boxers but a girl can’t wear a backless dress to prom. This selective enforcement of school dress code is unacceptable.”

Read the full petition here.

The issue that the students of Shelton High so brilliantly address here is the crux of all of the prom debacles we’ve seen.

While prom is a school event and the school are entitled to ask for decent dress, the instances we have seen have gone too far. Is an exposed back really so “inappropriate” when women wear backless gowns getting married every day? Is a 1cm sliver of midriff really so offensive? Are people unaware of the fact that girls have boobs and are therefore startled when they see them in a v-neck dress? Is it reasonable to demand that ALL BODY PARTS be covered, as in the case of Alexus’ high school?

The idea these cases perpetuate is that it is unacceptable for women to show their bodies. These rules tell girls that it is their responsibility to cover up so boys aren’t distracted in class. They say girls should dress a certain way to avoid wolf whistles on the street or leering gazes in a nightclub. They tell people that there is something wrong with exposing skin. They place the blame on women for the way men react to womens’ bodies.

This often unrecognized attitude is an important mark of inequality in modern society. It shows society is still placing the blame on women for sexual harassment and even sexual assault because the inherrent attitude that women should cover up still exists. Is it fair for teenage girls to be banned from wearing sleeveless tops and shorts in school so the boys “aren’t distracted”? Is it fair that police still ask a woman what she was wearing in a case of sexual assault? Is it fair that girls were denied their prom because of the archaic idea that it is women’s duty to cover their skin?

The school administrations that are enforcing unfair rules clearly need to shift their focus. It is not the fault of the boys in a school, or men in general that such policies are being enforced but it is the fault of the policy makers. Instead of turning girls away from prom, maybe they should be teaching students that bare skin is never an invitation, that the female form is neither something to be feared nor overtly sexualised.

Take the blame off women as a whole for the actions of a few select men who believe certain clothes grant them entitlements. This is a minority mindset and one that must be done away with through education. As these girls have realised, this is about much more than missing out on prom.

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