Shelton High School this week set up a prom dress review panel amid outrage from parents.
The school, outside New Haven, announced Friday it has reviewed more than 150 dresses and informed six girls that their gowns won't be allowed into the dance. Female school staff members will be at the dance to ensure that every girl attending has an "appropriate" dress, said Ann Baldwin, a spokeswoman for the school district.
The school's policy is one of several across the nation that have sparked questions about the role of educators in policing the fashion of students, especially away from the classroom.
Shelton headmaster Beth Smith announced over the intercom last Friday that backless dresses, those that showed midriff, had lengthy slits or cutouts on the side would be considered inappropriate and banned from the junior-senior prom.
School officials said they were just reminding the school community of a long-established dress code requiring appropriate dress at the prom.
But students and their parents, many of whom had spent hundreds of dollars on dresses, were outraged. They said neither the student handbook nor the prom contract they signed had specifics about what would be deemed inappropriate.
Almost 380 students signed a letter denouncing the policy and asking the school to reconsider.
"It takes a long time to pick out a dress or have one custom made, even longer for any necessary alterations to be made; it is unfair to release the dress guidelines eight days before the dance and expect every person to have a dress that follows them," the students wrote.
Baldwin said the school never intended to ban all low-backed dresses or every dress with a cutout. But some, she said, were clearly inappropriate.
"If the cutouts aren't too revealing and don't overexpose the girl, those are deemed appropriate," she said. "If the dress is backless, but doesn't go all the way down to the rear end, some of those have been deemed appropriate."
Students were invited to submit photos of their dresses to a committee of seven female staff members for a thumbs up or thumbs down decision. Some students who had dresses rejected have gone to tailors to have them altered, others plan to wear different dresses, she said.
Shelton isn't the only school this year to struggle with dress policy. A student in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was recently suspended after an official deemed her long-sleeved, floor-length prom dress too reveling in the bustline. A school in Stansbury Park, Utah, held a makeup homecoming dance after proctors turned away more than two dozen girls dresses were deemed inappropriate.
The students in Shelton say the issue goes beyond what school officials deem to be too revealing. They say it also speaks to a double standard and the shaming of young women.
"Don't teach girls to hide their bodies; teach boys self control and that they aren't entitled to a girl's body just because she dressed in a way that made her feel beautiful or just didn't want to get overheated," they wrote. "And in a time when so many young girls struggle with body image should we not encourage them to be comfortable enough in their own skin to allow people to see it?"
Of the 549 students who have purchased the $90 tickets to prom, 313 are females.
School Superintendent Freeman Burr said in a statement that the goal of the policy is to make for "a safe and memorable evening" for every student attending the prom.