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Connecticut High School Students Petition Sexist Prom Dress Code Days Before Event

“Grace and cinematic allure,” heralded Vogue on the morning after the Met Gala this past week. “Sheer gorgeous glamour.”

Beyonce smiled triumphantly in her Givenchy Haute Couture gown, nude mesh and glittering gemstones cascading to the floor. The Vera Wang dress worn by Selena Gomez was heralded on dozens of “Best Of” lists, praising the tastefulness of the front cutout panel, the elegance of the backless drape.

Take note, fashion insiders: the slinky dress is back, and it’s here to stay! Unless, of course, you happen to be a high school girl headed to the prom in Shelton, Connecticut.

“I have cutouts in the back of my dress so parts of my back are visible,” Danielle Rieder told The New York Times yesterday, describing an interaction with the school’s headmaster. “She said that was inappropriate.”

Danielle, a junior at Shelton High School in Connecticut’s Fairfield County is the latest voice to join a chorus of students nationwide, voicing their frustrations with school officials’ dress code policies–particularly those which seem to crop up (no pun intended) right around prom season each year.

It doesn’t take more than a cursory Google search to discover that these stories are as commonplace as they are infuriating. Within the past two weeks alone, eighteen-year-old Mireye Briceno was ejected from her prom for wearing a backless dress, and plus-size teenager Alexus Miller-Wigfall was slapped with a one-day suspension for “violating dress code rules”–despite the fact that slimmer girls were wearing more revealing outfits to the exact same dance.

We’ve heard stories of girls being forced to wear jackets over their shoulders to gain entrance, and even submit photos of their dresses to administrators before being allowed to purchase their tickets.

And now the latest: Shelton administrators are under fire for announcing, mere days before the prom, that any dress which features a backless design, side cutout, or bare midriff would not be permitted and would result in the student being turned away at the door from entering the event.

The Students of Shelton High School/

“We want our young ladies to be dressed beautifully; we want them to be dressed with class and dignity. But we are going to draw the line relative to attire that would be deemed overexposing oneself,” said school superintendent Freeman Burr at a press conference in which he claimed that the incident had been “blown out of proportion.”

I would spend some time listing the ways in which the incident doesn’t seem blown out of proportion to, say, the teenagers who have been shopping for the perfect dress for months and to the parents who have already footed the bill, or explaining how the sexism of these arbitrary dress code rules is a double-standard that sexualizes and targets teenage girls unfairly. But I don’t have to: the students of Shelton High School have already done so spectacularly.

The Students of Shelton High School/

Credited to the “Croffy/Smith Siblings” as well as the student body of Shelton High School, this petition (the full text of which is available online) has been circulating throughout the school. Major props to the teens who have clearly been paying attention in English class: their arguments are well-supported and clear, pointing out the inherent hypocrisy in treating the boys differently than the girls when it comes to enforcing dress code requirements:

“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.”

The Students of Shelton High School/

Preach it, Shelton High. And major kudos to The New York Times for covering this issue. When one of the most widely regarded forces in modern-day journalism deems this a newsworthy story, perhaps that’s the wake-up call schools need to stop policing female bodies, once and for all.