What the REAL problem is with this 21-page high school prom dress code

We all remember our high school prom. For some of us it might be a painfully awkward memory, while for others it was a magical night. But no matter what kind of evening you had, you’ll likely never forget the awesomeness that was picking out your prom dress.

The Boylan Catholic High School in Rockford, IL has some different thoughts. Their 21-page Dress Code Guidelines for Prom 2017 poses a lot of restrictions on their prom dresses, which wouldn’t normally be that much of a problem, except there’s hardly anywhere in the dress code that addresses what the young men are or aren’t allowed to wear.

The vast majority of the document is dedicated specifically to what young woman are allowed to wear to prom. There’s a whole section on tops, which insists they must be “cut in a modest way without showing cleavage,” as well as a section on length, which says slits “may be no higher than three (3) inches from the knee.” Then there’s an even bigger section called miscellaneous.

The miscellaneous section demands that the female students wear no dresses with fabric cutouts, halter tops, or tight fitting material. You’re not allowed to show your belly button, and if your dress is a two-piece, the space between the top and bottom piece must be no more than two inches.

If your dress doesn't meet the very long list of requirements, you're not even allowed to enter prom with a cover-up or a shawl over your dress. Wow. We do not miss being in high school.

There are even a few parts where they show pictures of which dresses are inappropriate and which are allowed. Here’s an example of which necklines will be turned away at the door.


These are the two pieces that aren’t allowed.


As you can see, this school has some pretty strict requirements. As for the young men, there’s an extremely brief part of the dress code that lays out what the guys are allowed to wear. It basically says one sentence about tuxes and shoes — and that’s it.

At the very beginning of the dress code manual, Boylan High School insists that the prom is a place to reflect the school values, so there must be modesty in all prom dresses. It’s up to teachers and faculty to determine whether something is or isn’t modest enough to enter prom.

Here's the problem with this whole thing: Schools like Boylan High continue to put overwhelming emphasis on what young women wear, as if the behavior of everyone at prom depends on their attire.

Clearly, this school wants to uphold values of modesty, and they’ve made it evidently clear that the burden of modesty and good behavior lies exclusively on the females. The guys just have to show up, and from what the dress code suggests, they’ll act according to how appropriate the young women look at prom.

This is a dangerous and backwards way of thinking, and it sends the message to young women that what they wear determines how they will be treated and how their character will be judged. We would all do better to set aside these tired gender roles and instead teach all kids — girls, boys, non-binary identifying individuals, whoever — that their actions speak much louder than their clothes. And that they always have a choice to act as respectful, informed young adults.

We wish all the Boylan high schoolers a great time at their prom. We just hope they learn from other outlets in their lives that there’s so much more to who they are when what they wear at prom.

Filed Under