Spring brings many things: flowers, mud, sunshine – and for high school students across North America, Prom. Prom, with the tuxes, the limos, the corsages and the dresses. Especially the dresses.
Whether tulle, silk, ball-gown or retro, many young ladies spend hours browsing boutiques and scanning websites to find their dress. But are these dresses “school appropriate?” That’s the question schools administrators are setting out to answer.
The rules that many schools have laid down over what is appropriate are nothing revolutionary. No “plunging necklines,” no thigh-high slits, no midriff-baring cut-outs. It seems straight-forward. Dress codes in school are nothing new and prom is a formal event, which means formal attire.
Yet, I’m torn about this topic.
The way you dress can be a mode of expression, a way of stating, “I’m femme,” or, “I’m butch” or the classi “I have three finals this week and no time to wiggle into skinny jeans, so I’m wearing sweat-pants damn it.” Consciously or not, how you dress talks. It may scream loudly, or whisper demurely, but attire does talk.
So, what if these ladies want to wear provocative dresses? What does that communicate?
Maybe it’s their way of feeling confident, like a femme-fatale strolling into the spotlight at their prom. Perhaps baring more skin is how they act out their sexuality, a case of Judith Butler’s gender performativity. Or maybe, these ladies thought these dresses were gorgeous and wanted to look just as gorgeous on their prom night.
Yet, I’m hesitant to just go ahead and say we should have dress code anarchy.
For one, as I mentioned before, prom is a formal event. Generally speaking that means no club wear, no micro-minis and no cut outs. School administrators warn that they might have to kick out those who don’t abide by the dress code. That’s hardly how anyone wants to remember their prom night.
Secondly, are these young women wearing these revealing dresses for their own benefit, or in the hopes of getting approval from others? The influence of the gaze strongly comes into play here. Going scantily clad in hopes of having someone say, “hey, you’re hot,” makes the day less about achievements of graduating women, and more about how much flesh they’re showing. In this way, Prom becomes a smorgasbord for perverted stares, and a buffet of objectified women.
So, I’m torn on this issue. Where do we draw the line between self-expression and formality? Is there a point where self-expression merely caters to a demand for over-sexualized, objectified women? It’s worth noting that many young women at Prom are still under the age of majority. Does that give them less leeway?
No matter what you think of these barely-there dresses, the young women who wear them do not deserve to be shamed. I repeat, no shaming! At events like these, there’s almost always an inevitable backlash against a woman who wears something “racy.” People insinuate that she’s promiscuous, an attention whore or most telling, “slutty.” People use this as reasons not to respect her. People claim she deserves to be insulted. No, no and no.
She does not “deserve” insults. She does not “deserve” disrespect.
So, the next time you’re out dress shopping, mind how you talk about those “barely-there” dresses. More importantly, don’t insult women who wear these dresses. The only thing they deserve is your respect. And remember: No shaming at Prom!