Days Before Prom in Shelton, Conn., a Dress Code Adds to the Stress

SHELTON, Conn. — As surely as flowers bloom, springtime brings prom drama around the country. The dates, the dancing, the photos, the cost — it is all fraught. And the dresses. Oh, the prom dresses.

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Considering the current state of undress in pop culture and the fashion world, you might think that in 2015, when it comes to styles for the prom, anything goes.

Instead, just about anything can be deemed going too far.

Girls have been told to cover up shoulders, knees and backs. They have been reprimanded for partially exposed stomachs and thighs and excessive cleavage. They have been ordered to wear jackets, ordered to go home and suspended.

Some schools have even required that students submit photos of their Evening dresses before they are allowed to buy a ticket to the dance.

Officials at Shelton High School in Connecticut may have been trying to head off any prom-night dress-code drama, but those efforts appear to have backfired.

On Friday, Beth A. Smith, the headmaster, made an announcement that was intended to remind students of the dress code for prom. Backless dresses, side cutouts and bared midriffs were among the styles that would not be permitted. Ms. Smith urged students to ask a faculty member whether their dress was acceptable.

Reaction was swift. Students were aghast. Parents who had spent hundreds of dollars on dresses, alterations and coordinating shoes and jewelry cried foul.

Students said Ms. Smith’s announcement, and the specific prohibitions, came as a surprise, and at a late date. The prom is on Saturday. More than 500 students had bought their $90 tickets as of Monday. Students and parents signed permission slips that outlined rules and regulations for the prom. Students say the rules were vague, calling for “appropriate formal dress” and warning that students dressed “inappropriately” would be sent home without a refund.

Freeman Burr, the schools superintendent, issued a news release over the weekend hoping to calm the storm, saying the public school was just restating existing policy. But the policy may not have been as clear as administrators believed.

Alexis Gerics, a junior, bought her long, black backless dress in early March. Alexis said that after Ms. Smith’s announcement last week she took her cellphone to the headmaster’s office, showed a photo of her dress and asked if it was acceptable.

Photo

Alexis Gerics, a junior, bought her long, backless dress in early March. She was told she would have to wear a camisole underneath it if she wanted to attend the prom. Credit Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times
Ms. Smith told her the dress was not appropriate, Alexis said. She would have to wear a camisole underneath the dress if she wanted to attend the prom.

Alexis’s mother, Tonny Montalvo, said she did not think the prom dress code unreasonable. What exasperated her, she said, was that the guidelines were not explained clearly — and early.

“They say it’s in the student handbook,” Ms. Montalvo said. “There’s no specifics anywhere.” She said she emailed Ms. Smith on Friday to ask how her daughter’s dress could be altered to make it acceptable. She has not yet received a response.

Speaking outside the school at a hastily arranged news conference on Monday, Superintendent Burr said: “Sometimes what we’re talking about here is good judgment. Honestly, I believe this incident has been blown out of proportion.”

About six or seven prom girl dresses have been vetoed by administrators so far, he noted.

“We want our young ladies to be dressed beautifully; we want them to be dressed with class and dignity,” Mr. Burr said. “But we are going to draw the line relative to attire that would be deemed overexposing oneself.”

Danielle Rieder, a junior, said her white strapless dress also got the thumbs-down from the headmaster on Friday. “I have cutouts in the back of my dress so parts of my back are visible, and she said that was inappropriate,” Danielle said.

Danielle’s mother, Fran Rieder, said the prom was already a financial strain to the family. She and her husband are divorcing, and Ms. Rieder is living with Danielle’s grandmother. The dress and alterations cost $400 on top of the $90 prom ticket, Ms. Rieder said.

The headmaster’s announcement, eight days before the prom, left Ms. Rieder and other parents without many options.

“I scrimped and saved to give my daughter this,” she said. “It’s beautiful on her. So I’m hoping they change their minds.”

Ms. Smith did not appear or speak at the news conference, and neither she nor any of the district’s school board members responded to emailed requests for comment.

The incident is not the first prom-related drama for Shelton High School. In 2011, school officials were criticized when they told a student, James Tate, that he was banned from the prom after his “promposal,” in which he hung a banner on the school inviting his date to the event.

He was suspended for trespassing after school hours. But after the story gained attention and brought a wave of sympathy for Mr. Tate, officials reversed the decision and allowed him to attend the prom after all.

 

Princess Project gives away prom dresses

High school senior Sunderiya Ganbold had a problem.

She didn’t own a dress, any dress, and now she needed not just any dress, but the dress – the one she would remember fondly for the rest of her life.
She needed a prom dress.
As she walked into an otherwise vacant storefront on San Francisco’s Market Street on Sunday, nearly 6,000 formal dresses hung on racks in front of her – dresses in yellow, green, pink, silver, gold, light blue, dark blue and every shade of blue in between.
Rhinestones shimmering, they ranged in size from a very petite double zero to a voluptuous 32.

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And every one of them was free.
Every year since 2002, the San Francisco nonprofit Princess Project has been giving away prom dresses to girls from across the Bay Area, with about 15,000 teenagers taking advantage of the giveaways.
This year, organizers and volunteers hope to send nearly 2,000 girls home with the dress.

The organization’s motto is simple: “Making dreams real – with time, talent & taffeta.”
“Every girl wants to look and feel beautiful and confident on her prom night, but a formal prom dress can easily top $200 these days, and some girls can’t afford to participate,” said Katie Zimmerman, president of the Princess Project.
On Saturday, the first Bay Area giveaway day this year, 530 girls got dresses, necklaces, bracelets, tiaras, earrings and purses. They came alone, with mom or in giggling groups from as far away as Sacramento, lining up as early as 4 a.m. to get the first pick off the racks.
The only requirement was to show a valid high school student identification card. Financial need was also required, but that was on the honor system.
“It’s really kind of sad to see how that need has expanded,” said Meredith MacNeill, vice president of the project’s board, referring to the down economy.
Yet something as simple as a ball gown can significantly boost a teen’s self-esteem.
“It brought tears to my eyes when a mom said she hadn’t seen her daughter smile that big in years,” MacNeill said.
These days, a prom can be costly, with single tickets reaching $70 or more. Add hair, nails, makeup and dinner, and the tab can be several hundred dollars. While some of that stuff is optional, every girl needs something to wear.
A pair of 17-year-olds from Vallejo, Deja Lee and her friend Nicole Richardson, were among those who found dresses Sunday. Deja scored within minutes, selecting a sparkly blue short dress.
“I couldn’t take it off,” she said. “It’s kind of unbelievable, like a dream.”
The Princess Project started small nine years ago, when organizers realized some girls had to skip their prom because they couldn’t afford a dress. It has grown since, reaching out to girls in the Bay Area and San Diego, with hundreds of volunteers staffing giveaways and helping collect dresses throughout the year.
Sunderiya – pronounced a bit like Cinderella – heard about this year’s event from a friend.
She doesn’t have a date for Washington High School’s prom in May. Like a lot of teenagers these days, she wanted to attend with a group of friends.
While the date was optional, the dress wasn’t.
She sifted through the racks, picking three to try on: a peachy gown with rhinestones, a black cocktail dress and a taupe Mori Lee taffeta halter dress with a pickup skirt and a black velvet belt.
The latter had never been worn, with tags still hanging from the seam. It fit perfectly.
“I love it,” Sunderiya said, smiling.
Less than an hour after she walked in, she stepped back onto Market Street owning a dress, but not just any dress.
A prom dress.

The Best Prom Dress for Your Zodiac Sign

You turn to your horoscope for insight into your love life, friendships, and school, so why not look to the stars for style guidance, too? We partnered with Kim Allen, legendary astrologist, to help you pick the prom dress that will make you shine the most, all based on your astrological sign.

Prom Dress
ARIES

Aries girls are natural-born leaders who love to jump on the newest trends. You’re bold, daring, and have an eye on the next big thing. Right now, that means high necks and two-piece dresses. This look combines both, officially making you the flyest girl on the dance floor.

TAURUS

You’ve dreamed of wearing a big ball gown silhouette to prom ever since you were a little girl. That’s just how classic, polished Taurus gals roll. You love looking glam, but comfort reigns supreme for you… hence, the roomy skirt and the floor-sweeping hem (no one will even notice if you opt for flats instead of heels!).

GEMINI

Gemini is an air sign, which means you’ll feel most comfortable in a prom girl  dress that offers tons of movement — all the better to breeze around in. Pick a gown with a flirty slit, and you’ll have no problem twirling around the dance floor with your date and darting between tables to say hi to all your friends — which is exactly how a social butterfly like you will wind up spending the night.

CANCER

You have ~fancy~ taste,  You don’t necessarily need to splurge on your dress, but you want it to at least look expensive. How? Opt for clean lines and a rich color (purple is the color of royalty, fyi) to feel your most powerful. Cancer girls are confident enough to rock form-fitting silhouettes, so don’t be afraid to pick a dress that shows off your shape.

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LEO

You’re the life of the party, Leo! Naturally, head-to-toe sequins is the way to go. Sparkles reflect light so you’ll literally light up the dance floor… not that you don’t already do that on your own. There’s no chance of blending into the crowd when you’re wearing a gown this show-stopping.

VIRGO

Virgos are organized, practical, and take pride in their bodies: you want a no-fuss style that shows off your shape and is classic enough that you can wear again (like to a sorority formal in college, or your cousin’s black-tie wedding). A glittering neckline will add just enough glam to make your look pop.

LIBRA

If you boiled Libras down to one word, it’d be elegant. A long A-line gown in a pretty pastel hue is pretty, posh, and timeless, just like you. When you look back at your prom pictures 20 years from now, your classic gown will still look beautiful. But remember, classic doesn’t mean boring —  intricate embellishments are bound to score you tons of compliments.

SCORPIO

Scorpio is a passionate, flirty sign. For prom, channel Old Hollywood sirens in a sultry, slinky gown that shows off your shape. Go for a classic black or a bold red hue with a flirty neckline or cutout details to up the va-va-voom factor. Bonus points if you really commit to the theme and roll up to prom in an old-fashioned car.

SAGITTARIUS

Sagittarians are energetic, bold, and full of fun. Pick a gown in a shade that really pops. Anything that makes you feel happy and light-hearted and gets you excited to hit the dance floor is right for prom night.

CAPRICORN

Out of all your friends, you’re the most mature, Capricorn. Leave the bright colors and frilly silhouettes to your squad. You gravitate towards neutrals (think nude, charcoal, navy, black) and sophisticated silhouettes that make you feel chic and powerful.

AQUARIUS

Aquarius, your biggest prom nightmare is walking into the room and realizing that three other girls are wearing dresses that look just like yours. Banish your fears with a one-of-a-kind gown that combines standout details like feathers and beading and unique color-blocking. Finally, a dress that’s as bold as you are!

 

PISCES

Pisces girls are big dreamers with a creative, romantic side. Translation: you feel most at home in a feminine dress with intricate details that looks fit for a princess, like lace, tulle, and sheer paneling. Pretty pastel hues will perfectly fit your romantic side.