Prom is a huge milestone for American teenagers. They get dressed up, they spend time with their friends, go dancing, and some teenagers even rent out limos for the occasion. It’s supposed to be a magical night that teenagers never forget. Unfortunately, one girl–Clare Ettinger–will be remembering prom for all the wrong reasons.
The Excitement Builds
Like many teenagers, Clare and her boyfriend James were looking forward to their prom. Anticipation for the night was high, and they couldn’t wait for their one special night to arrive. Their school association had picked the theme Twilight in Paris, and it promised to be a romantic evening they would never forget.
Say Yes to The Dress
For young women, one of the most important parts of prom is the dress. It’s one of the few opportunities young girls really have to dress up in beautiful formal dresses and feel like a princess for a night. Clare searched and searched to find a dress that would do just that. Finally, at Macy’s, she spotted a silver, glitter dress she fell in love with. Little did Clare know, her story wasn’t going to have a happy ending.
Say Yes to The Test
Before Clare could buy the dress, she had to make sure that it met her school’s dress code. Like many schools, her school had a rule that the dress had to be longer than her fingertips. As she was trying on the dress, she dropped her arms by her side, relaxed her shoulders, and checked to see if the dress would meet her school’s dress code.
Luckily for Clare, the dress passed the fingertip test! Now she could buy the dress she had fallen in love with and wear it to prom. The perfect dress would help make the perfect night. Clare had done her due diligence by checking to make sure that the dress passed her school’s dress code, but little did she know it was still going to cause problems at prom.
Elated, Clare was quick to let her friends know she’d found the dress she was going to wear to prom. Posting pictures online, she commented that she was “channeling [her] inner Marilyn Monroe.” She felt glamorous and great, just like a movie star, and she was ready to have the night of her life. Clare checked the dress again to make sure that it still came down past her fingertips before she left the house, and thankfully it did.
Playing It Safe
Clare wanted to check just one more time to make sure her dress would pass the school’s dress code for prom. The silver dress was cocktail length, and only just came past her fingertips, so she wanted to try it one more time in the heels she was wearing for the dance just to be safe. Clare’s dress still came past her fingertips, even in the heels, so it should have met the requirements for the prom’s dress code.
Clare had checked and double-checked to make sure that her outfit would pass the dress code for prom. She had absolutely no reason to suspect that it would cause any problems on her big night. It was a beautiful dress, and more importantly Clare liked the way she looked it in. She was ready to show it off for the night and really channel her inner Marilyn Monroe. Unfortunately, not everyone seemed to appreciate Clare’s dress choice for prom.
Conflict at the Door
Ann Duncan–a volunteer for Clare’s prom–didn’t think the dress fit the dress code. She tried to prevent Clare from entering the prom by claiming that the dress was too short, and not fingertip length. Clare tried to argue her case, pointing out that, because she was tall it made the dress look shorter, but Duncan just didn’t agree with her. Clare wasn’t about to just walk away from her prom though, especially since she knew her dress met the dress code. After all, she’d tested it.
No Stopping Her
Clare was positive her dress met the requirements to go to prom, and demonstrated that again for Ann Duncan. Once again, her dress was past her fingertips, proving that it was indeed long enough for the school’s dress code, no matter what Duncan thought.
Despite the fact that Clare had demonstrated for Duncan that her dress was long enough, Duncan kept telling her it was too short. However, the chaperone had no choice but to let her into prom. Before she went to the dance, Duncan warned Clare that she needed to keep the dress “pulled down,” and that she’d be watching her throughout the evening to make sure she didn’t break the dress code.
On the Defensive
Clare did happen to notice that plenty of other girls had made it into the prom with shorter dresses than hers, which felt unfair. She thought perhaps since she was so tall it made her dress appear shorter simply because her legs were longer. Clare kept an eye out for more short dresses just in case she was confronted again by Duncan or another chaperone. There seemed to be more than enough chaperones at the dance.
They See Your Every Move
The audience of chaperones made the dance uncomfortable for Clare and her friends. They seemed to be everywhere, out on the dance floor and even above them on the balcony, watching the kids down below. Their presence was obtrusive, and made it hard for the teenagers to simply relax and have a good time at their prom like they wanted to.
How Much is Too Much?
Clare and her friends also felt uncomfortable by the amount of male chaperones at the dance. That these men were watching them dance, and taking a moment to peek into their lives when the students were supposed to be enjoying themselves distracted them from having a good time. Clare said she felt “violated” by the presence of the male chaperones who spent the night watching her.
Over the course of the night, Ann Duncan pulled Clare aside to talk to her again. Duncan expressed that the male chaperones thought she was dancing too “proactively.” That they were worried that her dancing, combined with her dress, could lead the other prom-goers to “impure thoughts.”
Clare spoke about her experience after the prom, and she strongly felt that it wasn’t her fault for what the male chaperones were thinking or feeling. After all, she’s a minor attending a school dance with her boyfriend, they’re grown men. If the male chaperones felt uncomfortable, Clare felt that was on them for sexualizing a teenage girl.
One Out of Many
Clare wasn’t the only girl who felt uncomfortable at prom. Plenty of the other girls at the school dance weren’t comfortable with the men watching them dance with their friends and partners. Clare, on the other hand, is the only one who seemed to be singled out and punished by chaperones at the dance, which wasn’t fair.
Clare’s a fighter, and she was going to fight to be allowed to enjoy her prom in peace. She pointed out–again–that her dress met the dress code, and defended her dancing as appropriate. Many of her friends came in and supported her, though the chaperone didn’t listen to them any more than she was listening to Clare. That’s when Clare’s boyfriend decided to step in.
Clare’s boyfriend cut right to the chase. He wanted to know if Clare was going to be removed from prom. More than that though, he pointed out that if Clare was asked to leave she should get a refund, and the rest of their friends who had come as a group should get refunds. Prom tickets aren’t cheap, those teenagers spent a lot of money to spend the night with their friends. He felt if they couldn’t spend the night together, they should get their money back. Clare didn’t want a refund, she wanted to spend the night she’d been looking forward to at her prom with her friends.
More People Get Involved
As the argument continued, Clare’s boyfriend asked to speak to the manager of the venue. He wanted to go over Duncan’s head and speak to someone with more authority than a chaperone. Duncan, on the other hand, wasn’t pleased that he wasn’t respecting her authority. After all, she’s an adult and he’s still a minor. As Clare tells it, Duncan said she wouldn’t debate the topic any longer, and another chaperone came over to weigh in on what was happening.
The Fighting Continues
As Clare and Duncan continued to argue with one another, more chaperones had to get involved in the situation. It was quickly getting out of control, and something would have to be done, even though it was unlikely both women would be satisfied with the decision.
The chaperones took Duncan’s side, and Clare was removed from her prom by security. Her fairytale night had truly turned into a nightmare. Clare has said that being removed from her prom was heartbreaking. She also pointed out that the prom wasn’t an average prom. Most proms are for juniors and seniors in high school. This prom was for homeschooled students starting at eighth grade. Clare feels she was singled out because she was older, and that made the male chaperones uncomfortable.
Do You Think It’s Right?
Clare was devastated that she was being kicked out of her prom. Tearfully, she asked the security guard if he thought what they were doing was right. The security guard said she shouldn’t have been kicked out, but the choice wasn’t really up to him. To make matters worse, only Clare got a refund on her prom ticket; her friends and boyfriend haven’t had their money returned.
Fight’s Not Over Yet
Clare knew her fight wasn’t over yet, it had just changed arenas. She took to the internet and social media to talk about what had happened to her at the dance. She wanted to add to the growing conversation about dress codes, the way they affect young women, and she wanted to share her story. She wanted to tell people about how she had been treated unfairly due to people’s decisions on how to enforce dress codes.
Clare’s story sparked a conversation instantly. First, the story started on the Richmond Homeschool Prom’s Facebook group giving everyone and anyone a chance to add their opinion on what had happened that night at prom. The administrators didn’t like the attention the story was getting, and eventually shut down the Facebook page rather than address the backlash.
Can’t Stop Her Now
The discussion Clare had started was too big to stop now. Everyone had an opinion on what had happened, the story became bigger than Clare herself. It became a story about discrimination and policing women’s bodies. Many people felt Clare should even go to court over being kicked out of her prom! But Clare wasn’t the only person with a story to tell. Ann Duncan was the other side of this story about a prom night gone wrong, and if Clare was going to tell her story, Duncan wanted to get her story out there as well.
Two Sides to Every Story
Duncan got to tell her side of the story to the media as well. She said that while yes, the dress did meet dress code, it was riding up over the night thanks to the material the dress was made out of. Duncan also said that the chaperones weren’t lusting after Clare or any other young women at the dance. She said that they were just there to keep an eye on the prom and keep the students safe.
There were a lot of people at prom who witnessed the event. Clare’s friends say they saw some prom goers doing some “truly dirty dancing.” That they even saw couples kissing on the dance floor. But there is also a student, Callie Hobbs, who backs up Duncan’s version of events. While Callie says she thinks both women could have acted better, she thinks Clare’s dancing with her boyfriend was inappropriate.
Won’t Back Down
Clare’s not backing down from her side of the story. She says that since it was the male chaperones who complained about her dancing, it meant they were looking at her in ways that weren’t appropriate for adult men to be looking at minors. More than that though, she wants to have a conversation about dress codes, and how some girls are going to have a problem fitting them. Tall girls and full-figured girls are all going to have a hard time finding dresses that fit in ways that will fit dress codes.
Don’t Shame Me
Clare thought that her body was really what was on trial at the prom because she was older, and because she looked older than the younger girls at the prom. She felt she was the target of unwanted attention. Clare said it’s not her fault if male chaperones were having “impure thoughts,” and added, “maybe you’re part of the problem.” She went on to point out that with some dresses on certain bodies, you’re going to see skin.
No One’s Reached Out
Despite the fact that Clare is a viral internet sensation, Richmond Homeschool Prom hasn’t reached out or apologized to her at all. Furthermore, her friends were told they were going to receive refunds, and they still haven’t gotten their money back after Clare was removed from her prom.
Keep The Conversation Rolling
More than an apology though, Clare hopes that what happened to her can make changes for others in the future. That the discussion surrounding this event can help schools to think more critically about their school dress codes. If nothing else, this is a great start to the conversation on women’s clothing and the sexualization of young women.
This is a complex issue, and there aren’t easy answers. Teenage girls are often punished by restrictive dress codes that seem to penalize girls rather than boys. It also raises awareness on how young girls and teen girls seem to be sexualized in our modern society in a way that can rob them of important moments–like Clare’s prom. How do parents and teachers best go about addressing these issues, especially for teenagers who seem to be caught between youth and adulthood. One thing’s for certain, this conversation isn’t going away any time soon.
Clare’s story has spread around the world, helping to start this conversation on a large scale. Schools well outside of Richmond are going to have to take a look at their own prom dress code and see if it’s outdated, or maybe if it needs to be done away with altogether. Every day our world is evolving, and sooner or later, dress codes will need to evolve with it.