Who are you to tell my daughter how to dress?
Last week, the elegant Roostertail - where U of D Jesuit hosts its prom - made the news when it released its 2012 Prom Dress Code. A first for this institution, the owner of the establishment decided that it was time for someone to help students distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate attire.
1. A young lady’s hemline should be no shorter than 6” above the knees.
2. Dresses may be backless, as long as they are not cut below the waist line.
3. No midriff-bearing cutouts.
4. Slits cannot go further than 6” above the knee.
5. No plunging neck lines, modest cleavage is OK.
6. Ladies, if you plan to remove your shoes, bring flats.
7. Gentlemen are not to remove, unbutton, or untuck their shirt.
8. Gentlemen must keep their shoes on.
As the person in charge of prom for the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, I applaud this effort. I admire Mr. Schoenith for having the courage to do something that certainly will bring the ire of certain parents. Can't you hear it already? I sure can: "Who are you to tell my daughter what she can wear?"
In his 1979 encyclical Redemptor Hominis, Blessed John Paul II wrote:
...Christ the Redeemer "fully reveals man to himself". If we may use the expression, this is the human dimension of the mystery of the Redemption. In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. In the mystery of the Redemption man becomes newly "expressed" and, in a way, is newly created. He is newly created! (10.1)
A rite of passage, Prom helps to mark the transition from adolescence into adulthood. It is an exciting event, certainly made somewhat nerve-wracking for many young women who fret about finding the perfect dress. How ironic that, for many, they will pay more money to purchase less material! Some of the dresses are simply outrageous, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination...much to the chagrin of the chaperones and to the delight of some of the young men!
As a Catholic, I believe in the inherent dignity of the human person. Furthermore, I take seriously Gareth Moore's insight that, "Christian life is a preparation for the restoration of all things when Christ comes as king." We are called to live our lives here and now as we will live them in God's Kingdom. To my mind, this starts with recognizing our mutual human dignity, treating one another as persons rather than as objects.
I think the Prom can be a wonderful event for students and families, a special night to celebrate one's high school experiences and to look to the unknown future. Asking the young women and men to adhere to a dress code and to comport themselves as ladies and gentlemen serves as a great lesson that a fun and memorable evening can be had while respecting one another. Dresses and styles may come into and out of fashion, but a constant regard for human dignity and forming our students to recognize this in one another will never go out of style.