Courtesy of Sarah Avila
Prom in mainstream media is dominated by girls donning dresses so extravagant and colorful that they might as well have walked out of “Pretty in Pink” (1986). However, this year more than others marked a record amount of Pres students dressed more like Andrew McCarthy’s Blane McDonough than Molly Ringwald’s Andie Walsh.
“I have never felt comfortable in extremely feminine clothing so when prom came around I was excited at the opportunity to wear something that not only I felt comfortable in but also reflects the clothes I feel confident in,” says senior Aarushi Sahejpal regarding choosing a suit to wear to this year’s prom, themed after Alice in Wonderland. Sahejpal styled a pair of slacks with a blazer embroidered with flowers and matched with a pair of floral loafers.
Fellow senior Sarah Avila wore a suit to prom to avoid having to sacrifice her own comfort and style in order to look formal for the event. She says, “I was looking at dresses online and none of them really spoke to me. One thing I noticed was that a lot of them showed a lot of skin and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that.” Avila paired her black suit jacket and pants with a pair of black wingtip heels to add a sassy flair.
Senior Kaitlin Rooney, who also wore a suit, agrees, “I wanted to wear a suit because I’m not the biggest fan of dresses and I have always wanted to try on a suit, so I just went for it.”
There are also several external benefits to wearing a suit besides feeling more comfortable. Avila points out that while few people can reuse an extravagant prom dress, she’ll be able to wear her suit to formal events in the future. Senior Daniela Garcia adds, “There is so much more you can do in and with a suit. No need for purse or worry about someone stepping on your dress.”
However, students who feel more comfortable dressing in gender non-conforming clothing often face obstacles when dressing the way they want to, both from their parents and the options available.
Sahejpal says, “Finding clothes that encompass the way I want to look and how I want to dress is hard because either I can’t find a cohesive outfit and have to mix and match or it just doesn’t fit. I have a lot of suits from Speech and Debate, but women’s suits sometimes don’t give me the fit that I want.” Sahejpal was forced to go to multiple shops, including Zara and J. Crew, to find an outfit that matched and fit her stature.
Both Sahejpal and Rooney felt as though their parents were disappointed they would not be wearing a dress to prom. Dressing gender non-conforming, there’s always the possibility that someone will misidentify your gender. Rooney says, “I think dressing against the norm is always a little scary and being misgendered can be an issue.”
Sahejpal agrees, “Sometimes I get weird looks and sometimes people misgender me when I am out in public, and it is hard to simply find the clothes that I want to wear and be comfortable in flaunting when all eyes are on you.”
However, she says, “At Pres, I feel no difficulty because the community is inclusive and I feel safe.”
Avila also experienced some resistance from her family when she made the decision to attend prom in a suit, but they soon changed their minds. “When I told my mom that I wanted to wear a suit, I was really surprised that at first she refused… But when I convinced her to take me shopping for a suit and we found one that I really liked, she eventually warmed up to the idea and agreed to buy it for me. She liked it so much that later on she even bought the same suit for herself!” says Avila.
Non-gendered and gender non-conforming clothing is becoming more and more prevalent and popular both in high fashion and daily consumption, with stores such as H&M and Zara releasing non-gendered clothing lines. However, Avila points out that dressing gender non-conforming at prom and other formal events can pose a different challenge.
“I think casual clothing can be much more genderfluid, but for formal occasions, more people tend to notice a difference because of the limited choice in formal clothing. People of all genders have to choose between a ‘feminine’ dress or ‘masculine’ suit for formal wear, but I think blurring those gender stereotypes regarding clothing can be more comfortable for some people, especially those who don’t identify as female or male,” she says.
These students are certainly unlikely to be the last to defy expectations to dress the way they feel most comfortable, but this class marks a landmark in the trend of gender non-conforming clothing with so many choosing to make a statement at prom. “On the day of prom, the number of compliments I received was honestly so surprising,” says Avila. “It was really validating and heartwarming to have that support.”