Cleveland High School in Johnston County, North Carolina has a strong, simple motto: Be on time, Be on task, Be on target. But when it comes to prom, which is happening in late April, the school has one more message for young women attending the dance: Be “Prom ‘Propriate.” What does that mean for the female student body of the educational facility? No short dresses, no backless numbers, and never, ever cut-outs of any kind. What does it mean for the male student body? Nothing. Because dudes are always ready for prom and don’t have to worry about people falling over in their chairs if they see a guy walking in wearing a tux that just might be cut off at the shoulders.
In the video (which is also accompanied by a lengthy slideshow that points out exactly what will and won’t be tolerated), a male student acts as the host of a mock game show called So You Think You’re Prom ‘Propriate, which introduces a panel and rating system that lets women know whether their dress is in or out of style and whether they’ll be allowed in.
According to Tracey Peedin Jones, the school district’s Public Information Officer, the video was made in response to problems (not elaborated upon) that occurred last year. “The prom’s such a special event for our children,” Jones told me when we spoke, “that we wouldn’t want it to be ruined by any confusion.” And while the rules in the video are credited to a teacher, Jones told me that the video was student-run and organized. Are there rules for young men? Sure, but according to Jones, their attire wasn’t addressed due to the fact that it wasn’t problematic enough to warrant a lengthy multi-page slideshow.
“Would a woman wearing a midriff-baring dress from Jessica McClintock really not be allowed in?” I asked Peedin Jones, and was met with the response that the school would be following the dress code guidelines the school had set out. She hopes that everyone will have a night to remember.
The problem, of course (and as pointed out by Life Editor Steve Bramucci), isn’t that the dress code is sexist in itself, but the fact that both a video and a rating system were introduced targeting the appropriateness of women’s dress is. The video’s awkward (very awkward), but it’s the lack of parity that really makes it unfortunate. No one’s claiming that the school’s intentions aren’t good — in fact, Peedin Jones reminded me several times that this is just so no one’s special night is ruined — but why single out the wardrobes of women in particular when there are so many prom dos and don’t that could be discussed?
Peedin Jones also sent the following information after our conversation along with links to dress code guidelines that do not explicitly support the contents of the videos.
The Cleveland High School student produced video focused on being prom appropriate in order to help students understand acceptable and unacceptable attire for the prom. Because the prom is such an important and festive event in the lives of students, Cleveland High student media production team wanted to ensure that everyone in attendance was able to enjoy their time instead of being concerned about appropriate attire. We appreciate the students working toward being good communicators and utilizing innovative tools for getting their point across. This video is just one form of communication that shares information and expectations of prom activities prior to the event.
If there’s anything that the school might learn for next year is that if the school is instituting dress codes, it should simply make those known instead of making videos and slideshows that police women’s clothing. Nor should said videos have audience members falling over in their chairs as a male host reminds students to dress in a way that’s appropriate to everyone having a good time. That’s probably the most surefire way that everyone at prom will be guaranteed a night they won’t forget.