Why homecoming dress shopping brought this teen to tears: 'Patriarchy'

Homecoming season: a time for high school students to ask out their new crushes of the school year, a chance to play dress-up with less fuss and pressure than prom, an opportunity for schools to make girls feel weird about their bodies. The latter is what one mother in Arizona says her daughter went through as they tried to find her an outfit that fit the dress code for the fall formal, and she’s not happy about it.

Photo: Slapdashmom.com

“A day that should’ve been magical was filled with tears,” Sadie Roach wrote on her blog, Slap Dash Mom, of shopping with her daughter Jenelle. “Because patriarchy.”

Jenelle attends Ironwood High School, a charter school that requires uniforms on most school days. For homecoming, the school posted a dress code requiring dresses to have straps at least three fingers wide; no bare backs, stomachs, or sides; no plunging necklines; and skirts no more than an inch above the knee. That last one was the real challenge for Jenelle, who is 6 feet tall.

“She has always had dress code issues due to her height, just as I did when I was a kid,” Roach tells Yahoo Style via email. “I almost got paddled for wearing a dress that looked too short when in reality it was dress-code appropriate. She has been stopped in the hall many times, or made to stand up in the middle of class, to prove her dress or shorts were not too short. Not just at this school, but at all schools she has attended.”

The school, in an attempt to be helpful, posted a message on its site suggesting parents buy something at a store specializing in “modest” dresses, but Roach says those stores are beyond her budget. The site also suggested parents “sew gorgeous alterations” to their daughters’ dresses. (Ironwood High School has not yet returned Yahoo’s request for comment.)

“I laughed when I read this,” Roach recalls. “Not all of us are sitting at home chomping at the bit to sit in the carpool line for two hours as part of our ‘daily chores’ (yes, someone said that in the school’s Facebook group), just like not all of us have the time or desire to sew a dress for homecoming.”

Roach didn’t bother trying to fight the school, “because I know there is no wiggle room at all.” Jenelle even considered wearing a tux, but worried that it would be against the code too.

Instead, Roach took her daughter on a long shopping trip to Ross, Target, and Walmart. In her blog, she posted examples of everything Jenelle tried on, and much of it was either ill-fitting or did not work with the dress code. The process brought Jenelle to tears.

“Several times we had to stop and collect ourselves and just say, ‘It’s not the end of the world,'” Roach says.

Finally, they went back to Ross and found a very cute dress with a sleeveless sequined top and a long black skirt. It’s several sizes too big, but with a bow cinching it at the waist, it actually looks quite fashion-forward.

Roach hopes that none of the times they come up against the dress code makes her daughter feel bad about her body. Although she doesn’t feel kids should be allowed to wear absolutely anything they want, she has discussed with Jenelle the unfairness of rules that penalize girls for the sake of not distracting boys.

“I hope she learned sooner rather than later that even in the corporate world, things aren’t fair across the board for females,” Roach says. “We have to work twice as hard to get half as far, and it’s an uphill battle, but we take it in stride.”

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