High school sweethearts Clare Ettinger and James Thompson were looking forward to their “Twilight in Paris” themed high school prom, which might be the last chance to be with their friends before heading out and making their way world. However, Clare had no idea that her fairytale night would end up going terribly wrong, simply due to her dress.
Like many young girls, 17-year-old Clare from Richmond, Virginia, spent a lot of time picking out the perfect dress for her big night. She visited six different stores and meticulously combed through their dresses, only to find nothing satisfying. Just as she was about to give it up, Clare came across something that spoke to her.
It was a glittery, silver dress at Macy’s. Clare liked how the dress looked on the rack and loved it even more when she tried it on. The dress was certainly perfect for the highly-anticipated prom, but only if it could pass a special test – the fingertip test. The excited girl then relaxed her arms to see whether the dress would extend farther than her fingertips.
To Clare’s relief, the dress did go just past her fingertips, so it would be just fine for the fateful night. The high school girl couldn’t wait to share photos of herself with her friends online, writing that she was “channeling (her) inner Marilyn Monroe” in anticipation of the important evening. Again, Clare could have never expected that the dress would cause such a big stir at the prom.
Before the big day, Clare made sure that her dress was the right length again, and it, of course, still was. As the time drew nearer, Clare did one last fingertip test to make sure not to take any chances on such an important night. This time, she was wearing the special heels prepared for the dance, and the dress became much closer. Still, Clare thought that she could pass the test.
When the highly-anticipated night finally arrived, Clare did her hair and makeup, replete with bright red lipstick, and dressed to the nines. She could hardly contain her excitement and was eager to party long into the evening with her friends. The dress made her feel really special, and she didn’t think in a million years that her outfit would have any problems.
However, a chaperone did block her, saying that the dress was too short for the prom. Clare tried to demonstrate that her dress passed the fingertip test, although it was a close call. She further explained that she had long legs, and it made the dress appear shorter than it actually was. Anyway, Mrs. Duncan would not budge, and Clare could feel that a fight was brewing.
Clare was determined to wear her new dress to the prom, but Mrs. Duncan was just as determined to stop her from doing so. To follow the rules, Clare tested again, and Mrs. Duncan even warned her to make sure that the dress “stays pulled down.” Again, it was too short, Mrs. Duncan said. With her adrenaline starting to rise, Clare went to the dance floor and found something rather funny.
The funny thing was that many girls were wearing shorter dresses than Clare was, but their dresses just looked longer because they were not as tall as her. Thinking that the chaperone was applying double standards, Clare was on high alert for other potentially short dresses, but went on to notice something very strange. There were so many chaperones present, and a lot of them, including adult men, were simply staring at the dancers.
Feeling awkward and on the defensive, Clare stated again that her dress was the specified length, and her dancing was in no way inappropriate. Her friends all backed her up, but Mrs. Duncan insisted on stopping the conversation as it was not their business. As the argument got more and more heated, her boyfriend James finally decided to speak to the prom manager, but Mrs. Duncan did not like having her authority challenged.
After a lot of arguing back and forth, Mrs. Duncan said she would not debate about the topic anymore. Another chaperone was called in to deal with the issue, and many others intervened to calm the two women down. In a rage, James requested a refund for their tickets and the tickets of everyone in their group. It was not long until they eventually came to a conclusion.
In the end, Clare was escorted out of the prom by security. Heartbroken and crying, she asked the security guard if the decision was just. He replied that he thought she should not have to be kicked out, but he could not decide it. To add insult to injury, Clare was the only one in the group who received a refund. Feeling like she was being treated unfairly, Clare decided to do something about it.
Clare got her story out via social media. She discussed what happened to her at the prom and stated her opinion on the mindsets and injustice that had caused her to be kicked out of the dance. Clare went on to allege that she felt violated and “ostracized” as a result of the situation. Overnight, the message went viral, causing a ruckus.
Many people went to the Homeschool Prom’s Facebook page to share their views on the incident. A conversation was ignited about everything from whether people should be judged on how they dress, to whether Clare was discriminated against and whether she should go to court. Quickly, administrators deleted all the dissenting comments and even took down the entire page. However, Mrs. Duncan had her own views on the whole event.
Mrs. Duncan pointed out that Clare’s dress was made of spandex fabric, and although the dress had just been long enough when she arrived, it kept riding up higher on her legs, meaning it ended up just below her butt. She also denied that there were chaperones ogling Clare and the other girls, saying that with 500 students in attendance, the chaperones were just trying to keep an eye on the festivities.
Clare had claimed that her friends saw a couple of students “breaking the rules,” but that she was the only one kicked out. Clare also said that some of the chaperones had complained about her dancing, and that was proof that they had been watching her. She even reiterated that the dress code is unfair to tall girls as they have a harder time finding suitable dresses.
Though Clare generated a lot of support online, the Prom officials never reached out to her. Her friends never got the refunds they were verbally promised. Clare hopes that her story will help make a difference for other girls. She wants officials to examine dress codes and the thinking behind them. The case just shows how a tricky situation can quickly spiral out of control.