Catholic School's 21-Page Prom Dress Code Accused of Body-Shaming

Prom season is still months away, but some schools are getting a head start on what’s become a controversial aspect of the formal dance: dress codes. A Catholic school in Illinois gave students a 21-page book of guidelines for proper attire, which some students say place an undue burden on girls.

“We think it’s important as a Catholic institution to help our students see that they can be elegant and modest and beautiful at the same time,” Amy Ott, president of Boylan Catholic High School in Rockford, Ill., told the Rockford Register Star.

Photo: Boylan Catholic High School

While the rule for boys is just one line, requiring them to wear a “tuxedo, suit with a tie, or sport coat and slacks with a tie,” the rest of the guidelines pertain to girls’s dresses, complete with photos demonstrating acceptable and unacceptable styles. The rules prohibit necklines that show cleavage, two-pieces revealing more than 3 inches of skin or anything below the navel, skirts that fall above mid-thigh or have slits higher than mid-thigh, cut-outs, nude-colored dresses with lace overlays, and “excessively tight” dresses.

Photo: Boylan Catholic High School
Photo: Boylan Catholic High School

“Some girls may wear the same dress, but due to body types, one dress may be acceptable while the other is not,” the book states. That smells like body shaming to one expert.

Photo: Boylan Catholic High School
Photo: Boylan Catholic High School
Photo: Boylan Catholic High School

“This line in the code is discriminatory and supports body shaming,” Robyn Goodman of the University of Florida told the Register Star. “Girls do not have a choice in how their bodies were made so more voluptuous bodies are going to have more cleavage and curves. Taller girls’ dresses will hit higher up on the leg than a shorter girl. It’s nature.”

This isn’t sitting well with many students at the school.

“There is a lot of understandable discontent among the girls over the strict enforcement of the new dress code,” Boylan Student Council President Kaleigh Brauns told the paper.

Some took to Twitter after they learned the rules at a school presentation.

“It’s already hard enough to find the perfect prom dress that’s worth the money W/O boylan’s ridiculous rules,” Seanna, who identifies herself as a senior and varsity cheerleader at the school, tweeted. “I’ll never not be salty abt it.”




In the comments section of the Register Star article, a reader posted, “Hi! I am a senior at Boylan. I would just like to inform you that at our prom dress code meeting, the girls were informed that this dress code was implemented to ‘protect the boys.’ ”

Photo: Boylan Catholic High School
Photo: Boylan Catholic High School
Photo: Boylan Catholic High School
Photo: Boylan Catholic High School

But another student on Twitter thought the fuss was overblown. “If you’re going to complain about the boylan prom dress code don’t go,” Abbie tweeted.


Meanwhile, administrators at Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia decided that the best way to enforce its dress code for junior and senior proms would be to require prior approval of dresses before selling tickets to students. They have to email photos of themselves in the dresses to be evaluated by a committee of one male and two female administrators. The code is similar to Boylan’s but parents and students have complained that the committee’s judgment is arbitrary.

A statement from a rep for Archbishop Ryan given to Philly Voice said that the dress code and approval process has been in place since October, giving students ample time to shop.

“Parent feedback received by the school has illustrated support for the policy and the steps taken to make the process of selecting an appropriate dress as easy as possible,” the statement said.

To protest these rules, students created an online petition objecting to the dress code. It has 767 signatures as of press time, though they are not all from students.

“It is our firm belief that the regulations placed on the female students are degrading, arbitrary and unfair,” the petition states. “In today’s society, a woman’s body is constantly discriminated against and hypersexualized 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.”

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