Some say schools micromanage kids these days. Others argue there are so few boundaries that kids respect that they need to be micromanaged. This is not a problem new to 2011. Thanks to the marvy Rachel B. for tipping me off to this story.
Click here to view a pdf of one school’s dress code for 2011.
For Prom, Schools Say ‘No’ to the Dress
Dress Codes Deem Some Styles Too Sexy; Wielding a 3-Inch Ruler
By ELIZABETH HOLMES | wsj.com | March 29, 2012
This spring, Hal David, principal at Cedartown High School in northwest Georgia, has spent a lot of time thinking about evening gowns.
“Unacceptable,” he has labeled some dresses shown on posters plastered in the hallways to publicize the school’s first dress code for prom. The signs also show styles deemed “acceptable” for the event, set for April 21 at the local country club. “It’s a picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words kind of deal,” says Mr. David. “We don’t want somebody to spend a lot of money on a dress and then show up and there be an issue.”
Schools from Connecticut to Arizona are responding to risquÃ© prom dresses with elaborate dress codes. Prom fashion in some stores goes way beyond plunging necklines and hiked-up hems to include low-slung backs, thigh-high slits and midriff-bearing cutouts.
To avoid having to turn away tearful girls on the big night, prom organizers are taking pre-emptive action, issuing specific guidelines early, offering dress approval in advance and relying on image-heavy PowerPoint presentations to make it crystal clear what styles will, and won’t, be allowed at the dance.
Southmoore High School, outside Oklahoma City, has a 12-page prom dress code presentation, including one slide with four photos closely cropped on the armpits of girls wearing gowns with cutouts at the rib cage. “These are NO’S,” the guide states. “With arms at your side, no skin should show in front of your arms.” “Words don’t mean much to them,” says Cindi Lee, an Algebra II teacher and the school’s junior class co-sponsor. “They had to see the pictures.”
Last year on prom night, Ms. Lee had to turn away a small number of students. One girl whose dress violated the no-cutouts rule went to Target, bought a tank top and put it on underneath. Another went home to sew up a slit. “It seems kind of petty, but we really do want them to understand that we’re holding them to a high standard,” Ms. Lee says.
Prom, held as early as March at some schools and as late as May at others, is one of high school’s most-hyped momentsâ€”and an excuse to splurge. The average family with a high-school student spent $807 on prom last year, including clothing, transportation, tickets and pictures, according to a survey by Visa Inc.
Dress codes focus mainly on girls’ attire, but boys aren’t exempt. Most schools ban sneakers, jeans of any color and pants that sag. Others require accessories, such as hats and canes, to be left at coat check. Southmoore High’s guidelines say male students must keep their shirts on all night. “We don’t care that you work out,” the guide states.
The trend toward revealing prom dresses comes straight from Hollywood, says Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of trend-spotting firm Tobe. Teen girls notice Jennifer Lopez’s skintight dress at the Academy Awards, the barely-there costumes on TV hit “Dancing With the Stars” and the Real Housewives’ revealing wardrobes.
Retailers notice, too, and meet demand by offering both ball gowns and sleeker styles. At retail chain David’s Bridal, a category called “Sexy,” including dresses with cutouts and low backs, is making up roughly 35% of prom dress sales so far this year, says Marissa Rubinetti, senior buyer for special-occasion dresses. Customers have asked certain David’s Bridal locations to carry “more covered” looks, Ms. Rubinetti adds. The chain seeks a balance of styles, she says.
Retail website PromGirl.com, with more than 6,000 styles, says it has had a handful of returned dresses in recent years because they broke school rules. Kim Collins, chief merchandising officer, says the retailer keeps dress codes in mind when placing orders. “We are careful when purchasing the cutouts that it’s not overly cut out,” she says. One of PromGirl’s best-selling dresses this year is a yellow chiffon gown with a bra-like top connected to the skirt by a strip of beading.
Cedartown High took steps to create a dress code, with input from the prom committee made up of teachers and students, after two girls wore revealing gowns to the homecoming-court presentation last fall. “Girls just felt the more you show, the better everything is,” says Carrie Strickland, a Cedartown senior who was also on the homecoming court. For prom, students have to sign a document acknowledging they will abide by the dress code or be turned away at the door. “I think it’s a great idea,” says Holly Palmer, whose daughter, Ree, is a senior. “It gives the kids guidance.”
The dress code at Crawford High School, in Texas, shows dresses, with arrows and lines pointing to elements that make them appropriate, or not. Some students have shown library aide and prom sponsor Donna Lightfoot photos of themselves trying on styles they like. “If there’s a question about it, they will always bring it to me and say, ‘Will this work or will this not work?’ ” Ms. Lightfoot says.
It can be challenging to thwart teens looking for a loophole. Zachary Hobbs, principal of Sunnyvale High School near Dallas, spent weeks creating the dress code for prom last school year, trying to be thorough. A section on “Pinning and Fabric Inserts” states, “Fabric inserts must be sewn, not pinned on the dress, if, without the inserts, the dress does not meet the code.” “My fear was for them to cover something up temporarily just to get in the door and then make their way to the rest room and remove that,” Mr. Hobbs says.
llison Garrett, 17 and a junior at Lee County High School in Leesburg, Ga., tried on a dozen prom styles and found only a few that met the dress code. Ms. Garrett opted for a pink strapless gown that didn’t pose a problem. “It’s not like they’re asking you to dress like a nun or anything,” she says.
Come prom night, Lee County High administrators will be at the door enforcing the code. Ginger Lawrence, assistant principal, has several tricks for dealing with students who push the envelope. She brings a ruler broken off at 3 inches, and if a dress looks shorter than 3 inches above the knee, Ms. Lawrence hands the ruler to the teen and asks her to measure for herself.
To deal with cleavage, the dress code asks girls to place the index finger on one side of the collarbone and the thumb on the other. “If any skin shows beneath your handâ€¦your dress is too low-cut,” the dress code reads.
On the night of the dance, “you can just tell the child, ‘Put your hand up,’ and they know what to do,” Ms. Lawrence says. “If they’ve got a big hand, well, they just got lucky.”
Write to Elizabeth Holmes at firstname.lastname@example.org