Teen’s Collarbones Launch Controversy Over Dress Code

Stephanie 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.

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






Carter Sherman is a former Ms. editorial intern. She recently graduated from Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and international studies, and has previously interned at Elle and Los Angeles Magazine. Follow her on Instagram at @heyyymizcarter.