Senior Portraits and the Dress Code


Mackenzie Lawrence

The 2009 SDHS yearbook features the same drape that female students today are asked to wear for their portrait.

Mackenzie Lawrence, Staff Writer

The dress code is heavily enforced throughout the school, but is Stephen Decatur High School holding a double standard?

It is that time of the year again where seniors are taking their senior portraits. But, this year, many female students are talking about the differences between enforcement of the dress code and the drape every twelfth-grade female is instructed to wear for the yearbook. Students say, more than anything, they are just confused.

“We’re not supposed to wear off-the-shoulder tops because it’s inappropriate, but then we’re going to do it in a yearbook that’s going to be sold to the whole school. What’s the difference?” senior Ruby Murray said.

Dj Thompson, the teacher in charge of the production of the yearbook, said what Decatur seniors are asked to wear in their yearbook portrait is a decision made at a higher level than just the school.

Neither he nor Decatur’s administration are in charge of the attire for senior portraits, he said. Instead, the company in charge of the photos, Prestige Portraits, makes that decision.

According to Thompson, Prestige Portraits uses a formal drape for the yearbook simply because it makes the photos “uniform.”

“As far as I know, the drape is still used because it’s not so much a school thing,” he added, “It is done through Prestige Portraits and it’s done pretty much nationwide. It’s just the traditional style that you use for all senior portraits for females in the country.”

In Thompson’s years of teaching here, he said he has never heard any complaints from students or parents regarding the drapes. He believes that he doesn’t get any complaints from parents because they have all had to wear the same attire when they were graduating high school so they understand.

Parents may not be complaining, but students seem to be. Senior Tessa McNeill said she thinks it’s unfair that girls must wear an off-the-shoulder top in senior portraits, but can’t wear the same look at school.

While McNeill said she doesn’t feel uncomfortable exposing her shoulders for her portrait, she agrees that others may have an issue showing that much skin and, as far as they know, don’t have an alternative.

“I believe we shouldn’t be advertising things for our school that we can’t even wear due to the dress code,” McNeill said.

Senior Grace Nichols said she doesn’t understand why exposed shoulders are not allowed in school but are allowed in print.

“I think it’s a bit confusing, because the pictures go in the yearbook, but you can’t wear it to class. So, what’s the difference when everyone’s looking at the yearbook?” Nichols said.

Nichols said she believes that the dress code should change rather than the drape used in the photos.

“I don’t think the attire should change, because it’s so classic, but I think that if anything should change it should be the dress code,” she said.

Tradition is the reason why the drape is used for girls’ senior portraits, according to Assistant Principal Jennifer Garton.

“The photos taken to commemorate your senior year are referred to by the more formal word ‘portraits.’ They are meant to be ceremonial in nature,” said Garton, who is also the administrator for 12th-graders.

Yearbook portraits are allowed to “break” the dress code, Garton said, because the attire is not enforced by the administration, but instead, by the professional photography company who photographs them.

“These events are more formal than a day at school or a day with friends and we choose our dress accordingly,” Garton said.

She added that many students tend to compare being in school to a formal event, which is not the case. The drape for girls and suits for boys that the seniors wear is tradition and has been for a very long time.

Could there be any alternative attire options other than the drape if girls are uncomfortable exposing their shoulders for their 12th grade yearbook portrait? Thompson said it’s possible, but he does not expect that yearbook photo attire will change anytime soon.

“There are other options that we could look into,” he said, “but that would have to be a larger discussion with much more than just myself and administration.”

Although Murray does not agree with the inconsistencies from the school, she does not want the attire for senior portraits to change as much as she wants the dress code to change. This goes for many students when they recognize the traditional values behind the drape.

Murray likes the fact that she can look back at her mother’s senior portraits and see her wearing the same outfit that she is now.

“I think that it’s cool to carry on a tradition,” she said.