Why Were These Prom Outfits "Offensive"?

Photo: Getty Images.
This story was originally published on May 19, 2016.

Prom season is in full swing, bringing about a flurry of creative “prom-posals,” the occasional touching tale of a particularly meaningful dress, and stories involving some very deserving kids. The big occasion also entails prom horror stories (being stood up, like Lupita, e.g.) — and, for some, unsolicited mass shipments of Crocs. Unfortunately, the high school milestone that many students partake in also inevitably involves a slew of supposed dress code violations. As for the looks that have gotten people booted out of the grand event (or, for some, barred from even stepping foot inside)? They range from legitimately puzzling to offensive…that they’re considered offensive.

Oh, and did we mention that these ostensibly “inappropriate” looks are just from this year’s prom season? (There were plenty of questionable dress code calls in 2015, too.) Click through for six prom-dressing violations that have to be seen to be believed.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mayalaya Zanders' Instagram.
Ohio: Girl's Ankara-Printed Dress Called "Tacky For Prom," & She Rocks It Anyway
As far as inappropriate comments go, this one's pretty up there for the prom '16 season: When Mayalaya Zanders, a high school student in Cleveland, shared her plans to wear an Ankara-printed dress to the annual event, a white teacher apparently told her the style would be "tacky for prom," Yahoo reports.

She didn't let the comment foil her plans, however. Instead, the 17-year-old worked with local designer DeAndre Crenshaw of IndelibleDC to create her dream gown, inspired by a dress model Jessica Chibueze wore to a recent gala. The final number featured a royal blue Ankara print shaped into a silhouette featuring a sweetheart neckline and mermaid skirt — and it slayed.

Not only did it invite a flurry of positive comments, the dress went viral on social media. Even Chibueze took notice, and gave the student a shoutout on her own page.

“Thank you to everyone who gave me kind words on my prom dress,” Mayalaya posted on her Instagram (which has since been made private). “My dress was to make a point. That African style is beautiful. That I am comfortable with my melanin and roots. And finally that there’s nothing like black girl magic.”

She also posted on Instagram about her intended takeaway from the whole ordeal: "I would not like to focus on the comment made by the teacher mostly because she apologized and [I] do not want this to overshadow the gown. This is not about black or white, just appreciation of our heritage."
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Photo: Courtesy of Aniya Wolf.
Pennsylvania: Student Turned Away For Wearing A Suit
Ludicrous dress code “violations” definitely don’t stay confined to local newspapers these days — sometimes they even spur national, hash-tagged solidarity on social media. Case in point: Aniya Wolf, a female junior at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, PA, who identifies as a lesbian, was sent home from prom for wearing a suit. The school informed families prior to prom (whether the notification was last minute or two months in advance is up for debate) that female students were required to wear dresses. When Wolf’s mom, Carolyn, called the school about the “very unfair” dress code mandate, she was urged to convince Aniya to ditch the brand-new suit purchased for the occasion.

“The dress code for the prom specified girls must wear formal dresses,” the school said in a statement, according to The New York Daily News. “It also stated that students who failed to follow the dress code would not be admitted.”

As for the social-media enabled silver lining: People began tweeting about the unjust outfit scenario using the hashtag #suitsforaniya, per CNN, including students pledging to wear pants or suits in solidarity. A local school, William Penn High School, has invited Wolf and a date to attend its prom this Saturday instead, and she plans to go.

“I think my daughter is beautiful in a suit,” Carolyn Wold told a local ABC affiliate. We agree.

The story doesn't end there — although, it does take a much more uplifting turn. Despite not making it to her own prom, Wolf eventually did make it to a prom, looking fly in a suit.

Following an outpouring of support (everyone from classmates to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Rob McElhenney had her back), the high school junior was invited to William Penn High School's prom, which took place on Saturday night in York, PA, a local ABC affiliate reported. Best of all, she didn't need to worry about any arbitrary dress code. According to People, she got to wear exactly what she wanted.
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Photo: Cleveland High School.
North Carolina: High School Releases Slut-Shamey Video Of What's "Prom-'Propriate"
This cringe-y situation doesn’t involve a specific prom banishment. Instead, it’s a ridiculous “how to dress for prom” video that’s been called out for being slut-shaming, body-shaming, and, oh, focusing only on policing what female students can wear. Released by Cleveland High School in North Carolina, it opens with the query, “So you think you’re prom-‘propriate?”

A panel of students are shown as judges, weighing in on three rounds of images (only the more exposed dresses garner boos) followed by lists of what’s considered appropriate and inappropriate for prom. The problem: All of the unacceptable garb for the big occasion happens to be dresses, and thus the rules are aimed squarely at girls while sparing the guys any dress-code mandates, as Seventeen pointed out.

As for the the video’s message — definitely not “‘propriate” for prom (or any occasion).
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Photo: Getty Images.
California: School Makes Students Sign Dress Code Contract Before Prom
What’s arguably harsher than a “prom ‘propriate” video or a pre-approval rule? A contract students must ink prior to prom that gets a dress code in writing — that was the case at Ceres High School in Sacramento, CA. The school mandated that prom-going pupils had to sign the form, which nixed exposed midriff, high slits, low-cut, or backless looks, as well as shorts, denim… Oh, and “back-to-front dancing,” according to Today.

Ceres High School senior Nado Abdo spoke out about the contract’s sexist dress-code portion to the local CBS affiliate. She also pointed out the code’s size discrimination: “I don’t know what to do, especially since I’m plus-sized. I have an even more narrow set of dresses that I can choose from.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Tiffani Taylor's Facebook.
Tennessee: Student Asked To Cover Up With Vice Principal's Jacket
Amy Steverson, a student in Maryville, TN, wasn’t allowed into her school’s prom unless she was more modestly dressed — she was asked to put the vice principal’s jacket over her off-the-shoulder prom gown in order to attend the event.

Tiffani Taylor, the mother of one of Steverson’s friends, shared a photo of Amy dressed for the dance on Facebook (which has since been made private), detailing that the student was “told by a teacher repeatedly ‘us big girls gotta cover up,’” Huffington Post reports. A representative for the school told a local ABC affiliate that there's no official dress code policy for prom.

Steverson apparently left the incident in tears. “This young girl was shamed for having breasts,” Taylor wrote in her caption. “Her excitement during this memorable time of her life turned into embarrassment at the hands of adults who are supposed to be leading her… I think you look amazing, Amy.”
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Photo: Getty Images.
Florida: ACLU Intervenes When School Tells Student He Can't Wear A Dress To Prom
A lot of the discussion about outdated prom dress codes revolve around how inherently gendered they are. That's slowly changing — but not without a little outside intervention.

When a senior at Vanguard High School who identifies as gender fluid shared his plans to wear a dress to prom with administrators, the principal shut it down, the Ocala Star Banner reports. So he went to the ACLU, which sent a letter to the school denouncing its policy that says students must wear clothing that aligns with their gender assigned at birth. The principal conceded. What's more, a representative for the Marion County school board told a local ABC affiliate that it's considering removing gendered restrictions from its dress code altogether.

It isn't even the first time this Marion County school has faced criticism from the ACLU: The organization filed a Title IX complaint against the district due to its transgender bathroom policy, which has also been the subject of student-led protests.
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Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
Michigan: $500 Two-Piece Dress Banned From Prom
Southwestern Academy, a high school in Flint, MI, required students to send photos of their prom getups for pre-approval. One senior at the school (who remains anonymous) was told her two-piece prom gown (with a narrow swath of ribcage exposed) wasn’t appropriate.

“I wanted my daughter to be tasteful, so the dress is really not showing much skin at all,” the student’s mother, Kara Morris, told a local ABC affiliate.

Southwestern’s principal deemed the beaded, aqua-hued dress, which Morris had already shelled out $500 for, too revealing. So, looks like cheesy videos aren’t the only way schools can potentially piss people off with dress codes. The saga's not over yet, though: The school requested more shots of the dress to evaluate, WGN TV reports, so there's still hope for this dress, at least, to have a night to remember.
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