Schools Have to Set Rules to Tame Sexy Prom Dresses

Someday teenage girls will go to prom naked.

Note to parents: Please don’t let your teenage daughters dress like hookers. When I went to my high-school prom, I wore a bubblegum-pink Jessica McClintock confection. It was princess-poofy; layers of tulle itched my legs all night. I wore a pair of vintage wrist-length lace gloves and about 20 teeny-tiny pink bows sprinkled about my up-do, a mass of loose curls somehow affixed to the back of my head. I’d made the bows myself. It wasn’t pretty. But at least it wasn’t this.

I think back to my prom dress code, enforced by the nuns who ran my private, Catholic, all-girls high school. It was a brief list, and only one restriction incited rage among my saddle-shoe-wearing class: No strapless. I can’t imagine the look on Sr. Mary Joan’s face had I shown up wearing a dress that exposed not only my collarbone (gasp!) but the entire left side of my body.

If only the nuns had known what they would soon be up against.

Lately, prom dress codes have been making national headlines as schools across the country crack down on increasingly risqué looks, plastering school walls with posters detailing which looks are and aren’t appropriate with pictures of dresses that most likely send male students into a hormone-crazed frenzy. What’s worrying, though, isn’t what styles they prohibit, but the very fact that said styles have to even be prohibited. When did school administrators start having to play mom? Finally, there are adults manning the doors of the ballroom, but who is manning the front door at home?

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that roughly 35 percent of prom dress sales at David’s Bridal come from the chain’s online “sexy” category. (Suddenly, this category can no longer be found on the site.) I wonder which parents let their 16-year-old daughter walk out of the door wearing a dress that has any of the prohibited attributes on Cardinal O’Hara’s website, which includes such can’t-believe-we-actually-have-to-write-these rules as these:

• Dresses may not have midriffs exposed including both the front and sides.
• Undergarments should not be visible.
• Dresses may not utilize see-through fabrics, such as (but not limited to) tulle, netting, or “illusion,” below the bust-line.

Has it really come to this? Have we really reached the point where we have to remind parents not to send their teenage daughters out looking like prostitutes? Let your kid walk out the door wearing this and you may as well book her a hotel room, cover the bed in rose petals, and stuff a condom in her clutch. (Also, who spends $790 on a prom dress? But that’s another blog for another time.)

I wonder where we’ll be by the time my kids are old enough to go to the prom. Will there be rules in place forbidding nudity and nipple tassels? Will administrators eventually be conditioned to accept exposed sideboob and navel-baring slits as acceptable prom wear? It seems we’re slipping in that direction. Even my alma mater has accepted the changing times: According to the student handbook, seniors can now wear “high-cut” strapless gowns. One small victory for my teenage self. And if things keep progressing the way they’ve been, it means we’re also about a decade and a half away from them allowing seniors to wear this.