Teen’s Collarbones Launch Controversy Over Dress Code

11222085_10205047610205315_6689208938970330131_oStephanie Hughes, a student at Woodford County High School in Kentucky, found herself in the principal’s office on the very first day of school this year. Her crime? Exposing her collarbones.

Stephanie’s mother, Stacie Dunn, arrived at the school to to find “a group of female students standing in the office due to being out of dress code also,” Dunn wrote on Facebook on August 13. “Parents are being called away from their important jobs and students are missing important class time because they are showing their collarbones!”

Even after Dunn found her daughter a scarf to wear, she was still sent home. But Dunn’s condemnation of the dress code struck a chord: her original Facebook post has now been shared nearly 50,000 times. (The offending outfit is pictured at left.)

Woodford’s dress code stipulates that all students must wear pants and skirts that are at least knee-length as well as “rounded crewneck” shirts. “All scoop neck, v-neck and tank tops are prohibited,” though students can still wear turtlenecks and button-downs—with only one button unbuttoned.

But women students at Woodford say these requirements are subjectively and sporadically enforced. Maggie Sunseri, a Woodford student, released a 33-minute documentary on YouTube in March focusing on the 10-year-old dress code. In the video, titled, Shame: A Documentary on School Dress Code, Sunseri interviews numerous women students, many of whom had been called out by authority figures for “inappropriate” attire.

“My boyfriend, he wore a pair of his soccer shorts to school,” explains one woman in the documentary. “Soccer shorts come above your knee. And it was completely fine for him. I wore the exact same pair—he gave them to me—I wore the exact same pair and they told me not to wear it again, because they could see my knees. It was like a warning.”

Woodford Principal Rob Akers also appears in the documentary. While Akers was not at Woodford when the dress code was created, he says that he understands that it was intended to fight sexual harassment.

“Certain outfits that [women students] wore created a situation where guys would make inappropriate statements,” he says. “There was a distraction to the learning environment.”

“It sends the message to boys that it’s all girls’ fault,” remarks another student in the documentary. “It wasn’t [the boys’] fault that they were staring or got distracted. It was the girls’ fault.”

Dunn’s daughter was not in the video, but Dunn and Sunseri are now working together to change the school’s dress code. Following Dunn’s post, Sunseri proposed changes to the code, such as allowing shirt straps that are at least three fingertips wide and skirts that meet the “fingertip” rule. Meanwhile, Dunn launched a Change.org petition to encourage Woodford’s School-Based Decision Making (SBDM) Council to adopt Sunseri’s proposal. The SBDM Council will rule on the proposed changes on September 21.

Dunn is far from the only person taking to social media to express outrage over draconian school dress codes. Deanna Wolf’s daughter, a student at a Huntsville City Schools institution, was taken out of class for wearing an oversized grey sweater and leggings. Wolf posted on Facebook, “This whole situation clearly states that a girl’s education has less importance than a boy’s education, and that her right to said education is secondary to providing a distraction-free environment for the opposite sex.”

The hashtags #IAmMoreThanADistraction and #croptopday have also spread across Twitter. Canadian teenager Alexi Halket launched #croptopday in May, in protest of being sent to the principal over wearing a shirt that looked “too much like a sports bra.” The following Tuesday, Halket and her fellow classmates—as well as people across Canada—donned crop tops in protest of sexualizing women’s and girls’ bodies.

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Photo courtesy of Stacie Dunn, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

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Carter Sherman is a Ms. editorial intern and a rising senior at Northwestern University, where she studies journalism and international studies. Follow her on Instagram at @heyyymizcarter.


  1. Alice Beth Royce says:

    Has anyone confronted these school officials and asked some questions?
    1) Do you believe that women/girls are responsible for the inappropriate behavior of men/boys?
    2) If you answered “yes” to the above question, please explain your reasons.
    3) When did shoulders and especially collarbones become provocative? What are those people doing with collarbones??
    4) Are boys allowed to wear shorts and sleevless/v-neck shirts. Aren’t their collarbones tempting, too?
    5) Why do you consider yourself qualified to make these rules?
    Thank you,

  2. Virginia Holt says:

    Typically, hypocrisy and double-standards don’t stand up well to a lot of publicity. To quietly protest, I suggest that for an entire week – so it makes at least the local news – ALL girls show up in circa 10AD dress, covered head to toe with shawls covering every, single speck of hair. The boys should ALL show up in athletic shorts and whatever has gotten by. The rules clearly send this message, “Women are primarily sexual objects and men are helpless and cannot but look at their charms. Instead of teaching men how to behave, women must learn to conform.” This mindset is worthy of the Middle East’s medieval mindset and does not belong in 21st century USA.

  3. children go to school to learn not for a fashion show. Obey the dress code and move on. Many places where students will be employed have dress codes. Firemen, policemen, surgeons just to name a few have dress requirements. I taught in a public school for 30 years (no real dress code) and a catholic school for 10 years (uniforms). Guess which school had less distractions and time out of an educational day for dress code infractions. As a teacher, it was on less thing to worry about and deal with. I had a good time with the kids and they learned as well as the kids without a dress code. But there are those who will say that that they have rights. Yes they do. They have a right to attend school and obey the rules. While i think maybe the collarbone may be a bit restrictive, I can see the reasoning. Let us say that collarbones could be visible.mthat means that girls could start showing cleavage….and who is going to determine hiw much cleavage is appropriate? No collarbones showing eliminates this decision. Someone has to make dress codes for the students, since quite a few parents do not have the sense to see that their children dress appropriately. So, no pants beneath the butt, no underware showing, no midriffs, no flipflops, no tattered or torn jeans, no writing on clothing, no tatoos and no piercings (except for earring for male or female). So, get over the dress code, move on and rally against really important things that will directly affect students’ education……like common core curriculum, charter schools, and a host if other topics.

  4. My daughter is 27 years old & I had the same problem when she was in Junior High. I taught my girls to be independent – they always knew that there was a world of possibilities waiting for them. There was never a man vs woman thing in my household, it was always an us thing. Everyone (not just women) should be appalled. I’m very sad and angry this still exists, will the fight ever be won?

  5. Eileen Johnson says:

    I am a Mother and Grandmother, and was once a young, attractive girl. I am going to answer the above questions based on a considerable amount of life experience.
    1) Yes and No.
    2) The girl has to set the limits to the boy. That is her responsibility. This includes not dressing too provocatively in the presence of boys, period. It is simple biology that it doesn’t take very much to get a young male sexually excited. Visual stimulation plays a big part in this. Distracting from studies? Absolutely! If girls see a boy wearing shorts, it is very doubtful that that will get the girl sexually stimulated. Again, biology has made it so that women need much more to be agreeable to sex.
    3) LOL – I think it is more the exposure of too much flesh, rather than merely the shoulders. A lot of girls tops these days are cut extremely low. I would not want my granddaughter mistaken for a hooker on the street, certainly.
    4) No. It takes more than that to “tempt” girls.
    5) I don’t. I am just offering my observation based on my 68 years of life as a girl/woman. :- )

  6. Rosco Little says:

    Maybe these school officials who freak out over collarbones, shoulders and knees shouldn’t be working around children.

    They are blaming these girls for their own repressed urges and it seems like it is only a matter of time before their behavior progresses to physical contact.

  7. This is why I went to a Women’s College.

    Smith — because the concentration was on women getting an education, and we did. I hindsight I see why t was so damn important. And still is.

    Dra. Abgdo. Susan Ann Selikoff-Schlesinger
    Smith ’84
    because Big Sister is always watching you 😉

  8. I can’t even begin to say how this whole thing upsets me. This is 2015!!!! Girls can’t show their collarbones? What is so bad about a collarbone? And no Rob Acker, I don’t follow you! Quoted from the video…. “Not all people are built equally and not all clothing styles are appropriate for all people. It can’t be ok for you to wear it because it looks cute on you for someone else who might wear it and it looks really inappropriate …if you follow me” Are you kidding me? You have no right to say that a certain type of girl can wear something and somebody else can’t based on their body type! Are you the fashion police? I don’t think so! For the love of God, if teenaged boys get all hot and bothered over collarbones I think the problem in Kentucky runs deeper than just plain old MISOGYNY!! Get a grip down there people. If boys can’t control their sexual urges when they see a knee, a shoulder, or a collarbone, then I think they need to be retrained and restrained. Girls are not here for your pleasure. Get over yourselves! And you girls? Stand strong and fight this crap! This is a boy’s problem, not a girl’s!

  9. I believe that we should be less concerned about what both boys and girls wear to school. Administrators and teachers seem to be way too concerned about apparel. They take the time out of a students learning to tell them they need to go change their clothing.

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