You play that one song a hundred times, imagining a hundred iterations of your dance to it. You find the perfect dress that you’ve tried on a million times in front of the mirror. You get ready four hours before you need to leave, just in case. It’s finally prom night, and everything is going to be perfect!
Senior prom is a right of passage, the one night that everyone can put on their best and celebrate themselves, each other, and the end to their high school careers. But sometimes, all that glitters can be cutting: after this young Virginia girl prepared for her dream night, all she hoped for was crushed before she ever walked in…
The votes had finally come in. The theme of prom this year would be “Twilight in Paris.” The whole home-schooled high school world of Richmond, Virginia, was abuzz over the upcoming night. This would be the last big event before everyone took off for college and it was sure to be a night to remember.
Clare Ettinger and her boyfriend James Thompson, both 17-year-old high school seniors, could hardly contain their excitement over prom. As the big day approached, Clare and her friends scoured local stores to piece together the perfect outfits. For an event this special, everyone wanted to look their best.
When the official invitation was sent out to the prom-goers it included a dress code. The students were cordially asked to dress formally; the ladies dresses were to be no shorter than fingertip length (meaning with arms hanging straight down at your side, your fingertips should be touching the dress, not bare legs).
Clare, like many of her friends, did that extensive search for the perfect dress. She went to six different shops and tried on dozens of dresses, but nothing was THE one. Clare was feeling defeated when she spotted a sparkly number that looked just her size.
When she tried on the dress, not only was it a perfect fit but it met the “fingertip” dress code! Finally, the search was over. Clare had the dress, she was going to the prom with her sweetheart, and all her friends would be there, too. Everything was in order for an amazing night. At least, that’s what she thought.
Finally, the night of the prom arrived. Clare had found a pair of silver heels to match her dress, and she donned some red lipstick to pop amongst all her silvery glitz. As she said, she was “channeling her inner Marilyn Monroe.” Just for safe measure, Clare did the “fingertip test” one last time before making her grand entrance.
Being homeschooled, it was rare that Clare or any of her friends got to dress up or be seen in this way. It almost felt like a coming out, which only made the event even more titillating. Passing the final dress length test, Clare gave one last hair flip and came out to meet her date.
James, who was dressed to the nines himself in a handsome suit, came to pick up Clare. He was completely smitten at the sight of his girlfriend. They performed the customary corsage and boutonniere exchange and took a series of photos to remember the special night.
The couple rolled up to prom feeling fancy in their get-ups. They parked the car and approached the Methodist church where the prom was being held. But as they walked into the crowded foyer, the duo’s excitement was immediately sobered by their reception.
The moment they walked in, Clare was targeted and pulled aside by the dance’s organizer, Ann Duncan. She was told she wouldn’t be allowed to enter the dance because her dress was inappropriate and didn’t meet the dress code. Shocked, at the accusation, Clare disagreed. She had checked multiple times and was sure her dress was as long as requested.
Clare is tall, as she explained to Ann, and things often appear to be short on her. Refusing to be turned out from her own prom, she demonstrated to Ann that the dress did, indeed, extend beyond her fingertips. After some back and forth, Ann begrudgingly let Clare enter, although she warned her to keep her dress pulled down.
Not surprisingly, Clare was shaken by the confrontation, but she wasn’t about to let that spoil her night. As her friends got together and started dancing, things seemed like they might be turning around. But slowly Clare started to get the unsettling feeling that she was being watched.
As she looked around and started to take in the environment, she noticed there was an overwhelming amount of male chaperones watching from above. Clearly, they were there to monitor the students, but it felt unnecessary to have so many of them. What’s more, Clare felt especially uncomfortable at these much older men eyeing her as she danced.
Not long after Clare became aware of the male gaze on her, she was approached once again by Ann Duncan and asked to step off the dance floor. For the second time, Clare was told she needed to leave. Her dress was riding up and the male chaperones said she was dancing in such a lascivious way that it made them feel uncomfortable.
Clare could hardly believe what she was hearing! James tried to stand up for Clare. He said if she were made to leave, him and the rest of their friends would leave, too — and they would demand a refund for their tickets.
James was told to stay out of it. When Clare tried to argue her point again, Duncan called the security guard to escort her out of the building. Clare was in tears. James and all their friends left with her, but she couldn’t help feeling angry and ashamed that, on account of her, the night was cut short. As they drove away from what should have been a great night, Clare’s anger manifested into something else.
The days following the event, Clare took to her sister’s blog and wrote about her experience. She knew she had been unfairly treated and she needed to share her story. As Clare’s post circled around social media, her story begot a reaction she never expected.
Responses flooded in from all over the internet. Other young women came forth with their own stories of how they were ostracized over their clothing and made to feel ashamed for the thoughts of others. The reaction from her story empowered Clare to speak out even more about her experience.
James and Clare sat down together and made a video discussing issues of gender bias, double standards, and societal views of sexuality. The video, again, garnered a very positive response. People from around the web even took to commenting on the prom’s Facebook page, which was soon deleted because of the remarks it was accumulating.
Clare never received a formal apology from the prom committee or Ann Duncan. In fact, she never heard from anyone involved at all. Though she was refunded for her ticket, neither James nor any of their friends got their money back. But what ended up being a busted night, turned into a powerful statement on societal prejudices. And that is all thanks to Clare and her bravery for raising her voice and our awareness!