Controversial Prom Dress Code Includes Student’s Dates

Elise Solé
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

High school students are standing up to a “degrading” and “unfair” prom dress code policy.

Almost 800 students at Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia, Penn., have signed a petition protesting a rule that requires male and female students — and their dates, even from other schools — to submit photos of their prom outfits for approval before buying tickets to the junior and senior proms in April and May, respectively.

Students must send photos (full-body front and back) of themselves wearing their outfits to an email address monitored by two female and one male teacher. The photos will only be deleted when each student arrives at the event in the pre-approved clothing, presumably by an administrator who will be cross-referencing the outfits.

Currently, 150 dresses are approved, 11 are approved pending minor alterations, and 8 have been rejected.


Students have several complaints: The dress code poses an expense for those planning on borrowing or recycling outfits. The rule also risks body-shaming students because it doesn’t acknowledge diverse shapes and sizes — a dress that fits a slender student might be regarded as inappropriate on a plus-size body. Per the petition, “In today’s society, a woman’s body is constantly discriminated against and hyper-sexualized to the point where they can no longer wear the clothing that they feel comfortable in without the accusation and/or assumption that they are being provocative.” The rule is also hypocritical, say students, who argue that the Catholic Church doesn’t have a dress code.

What makes Archbishop Ryan’s dress code policy more eye-popping than policies such as the one recently enacted (and then revoked) in Minnesota, is that it also applies to students’s dates, even those who attend other schools.

Yet it’s not the first of its kind. Per the prom dress code policy at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, La., which interestingly bans earrings and canes, “All students and their guests who are in violation of the dress code will not be allowed to enter the Prom and they will be required to leave the premises altogether.” And female dates that attended John Paul II High School in Plano, Tex. must “be aware of the material that gathers and rises when you walk” per a 2012 handbook.

The school did not respond to Yahoo Style’s request for comment but the Archdiocese of Philadelphia released a statement reminding students that the dress code had been introduced in October and that parents have been supportive. However, it’s a different story on Twitter.

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What’s more, parents who signed the petition are calling the dress code “ridiculous” and “uptight.” One parent wrote, “The administration should actually go to the dress stores and look for themselves that the only dresses that fit the criteria are dresses that are the ugliest garments ever!”

A sales associate who works at a dress shop commented, “I have seen firsthand how hard it is for some of these young ladies of many different catholic schools to find an appropriate and flattering prom dress that meets school standards.” And a school alumni argued that the policy “teaches these young women all the wrong lessons about their autonomy, their intelligence, and their right to exist in the world without being patronized or infantilized. There is a whole wide world beyond Ryan, girls, and standing up for yourselves is a big first step to claiming your place in it.”

Anonymous students and parents also shared photos of rejected dresses to CBS Philly Eyewitness News. “I mean I went to Catholic school, but this is archaic,” one parent told the news station. “It has a slit in the side and it went right above the knee. According to them, when she moved it would show too much. If I think something’s acceptable for my daughter, why do I need someone else telling me yes it is or no its not?” Another student was told to sew up the neckline of her floor-length gown.

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