A Formal Request

At the risk of wading into spectacularly unfamiliar territory, here goes:

The big issue among Westport teenage girls these days is…long dresses.

The brouhaha — played out on Facebook and Twitter, and in the pages of the Westport News and Staples High School newspaper Inklings — arose when organizers of two formal dances (“Red & White” for seniors, “Counties” for juniors in Westport, Weston, Wilton and Fairfield) decreed that starting this winter, short skirts are out.

Young women must wear long dresses. (Guys have traditionally worn tuxes.)

Girls (and their mothers) are now debating everything from the financial burden of buying long dresses, to the unspoken tradition that Staples girls wear short dresses to Counties, Red & White and the junior prom, making long dresses at the senior prom something extra-special.

Out or in?

The change was made, the president of the governing County Assemblies organization said, both to uphold tradition — this is the 75th edition of the formal dances — and because of complaints that some dresses were too short.

“It’s not a Hollywood dance party,” president Cathi Zilling told the News. “It is a black-tie formal.”

She noted that the dances began as a way to introduce young people to “social graces and social causes.” (Proceeds are donated to charities.)

Never mind that “social graces” at some of the recent formal dances have included fistfights and vomiting — both, presumably, alcohol-related.

And never mind that no one attends Counties or Red & White because they want to give money to worthy organizations.

It’s all about — like a Hollywood dance party — seeing and being seen. About who goes with whom.

And about pre-gaming, and the after-parties.

70 responses to “A Formal Request

  1. I totally support the long dresses at formals… I have just started the Bar/Bat Mitzvah circuit and I am mortified with what parents let their girls wear out of the house… I have never considered myself conservative – about anything – but these beautiful young woman are dressed more provocatively than woman walking the streets in NYC at night… The high school girls should start to learn that being cute/sexy doesn’t mean having to show every inch of them… look to the Hollywood glamor of the Golden Globes… the Pre-Game to the Oscars.

  2. Amen to that! I have seen girls wearing things that (as a mom) I would not let them out of the dressing room in, no less the house. Kids do not need to look sexy – “beautiful” and “sexy” are two completely different things.

  3. Sank T. Monious

    I’d enjoy one of your great overviews of the CA’s. When I was a kid in the 60’s they were somewhat “exclusive” and I can’t imagine them thriving in the contemporary world unless they’ve kept up with the times. But I don’t know if that’s the case or not. Every time you put your “magic” to work on anything involving Westport tradition/history it’s well worth the time spent on your part and on the reader’s part.

  4. I completely agree. It makes me very sad to see what dresses girls wear to school concerts and even moving up ceremonies! I, too, am not at all conservative, but I don’t understand how moms and DADS can let their young girls attend these events dressed like they are going to a strip club. Even my 14 year old daughter laments how inappropriate these dresses are. I attended those dances many years ago, and think it’s a great idea. Looking pretty is great – sexy can wait.

  5. As someone who previously attended all of these dances and then had children go through the system recently, I can attest to the fact that the dresses have been getting shorter, and shorter, and even shorter.

    Also, I’m told there is always a line of coke for the willing participant in the girl’s bathroom. How sad.

    • Although I should add that this cannot be confirmed, obviously.

      • Hey Dancin’ Fool- why would you allow you children to attend and support this function knowing that there is cocaine there?

  6. 2 Dances:
    2 Belle of the Ball
    See what happens

  7. Things go in cycles. At Staples in the late ’60s, dress and skirt lengths rose so high that Principal Jim Calkins had to put out a memo saying, literally, that dresses and skirts must cover the “torso.” !!!

  8. Life-long Westporter

    I am the mother of four daughters who have attended all of these dances. I attended them as well (many years ago). The County Assemblies is free to impose whatever dress code they want but, mark my words, the dresses will still be provocative. Teenagers are creative — many dresses will be super low cut, there will be slits up the sides/back/front, etc. — in other words, they will still be sexy. Times have changed – like it or not. And to the moms who have commented whose kids are still in middle school – don’t speak too soon – your time will come! Let’s fight the big battles and let the little ones slide.

    • The behavior of the children reflects the values of their parents.

      • Please don’t assume a parent is giving up/has no values/has no backbone because he/she lets a child go along with the crowd on non-life-threatening issues. It’s naive to think that a parent’s values are the only ones at play here, and, like it or not, many kids’ emotional and psychological (and sometimes physical) survival depends on fitting in. It’s brutal out there.

        • If the parent’s value “fitting in” above propriety, then my statement remains accurate. The way children dress and behave (bullying?) reflects the values of their parents. It is”brutal out there” because the members of the crowd reflect the values of their parents as well. Often when children do not treat other children with respect, they are exhibiting a learned behavior.

          • What a lot of parents miss is that often kids who don’t “fit in” become anxious, depressed, even suicidal. Parents who see their children suffering the serious effects of our high-pressure society may not value fitting in for its own sake, but for the sake of their stressed-out kids’ sanity.

            • (And for the record, I’m as conservative as they come when it comes to my own preferences for dress and behavior. But if standing on my high horse means my kid’s being trampled, I hop down.)

            • I really hope what you just wrote is a joke. But, if not, I simply ask.. If those same kids were doing drugs, would your child do it? If so, would you approve of it?

              Or are you TOO afraid to drive your child to suicide? Because, let’s not forget, it’s more important that they fit in with THAT particular crowd of people. Who cares about their health? Pfff…

            • Right, the devil made you do it.

    • I agree!

  9. Life-long Westporter

    That is absolutely untrue. Just because I allow my daughters to wear short skirts does not mean I am a hussy – nor are they. It means that I think that there are worse things then allowing them to conform to the fashion trends of the times. Like it or not, this is the world we live in. I am more concerned with substance than with appearance. What they wear does not reflect who they are. Every generation has its own style Emma, get used to it.

    • “Just because I allow my daughters to wear short skirts does not mean I am a hussy – nor are they.”

      Actually…….Yes it does.

    • Boogie Down, Baby

      In all seriousness, what if the style is considered “slutty” or “whoreish”? You still OK with your kids doing that?

    • All you have said is that your child’s behavior reflects your values. I would concur. You value conformity.

  10. westport mom – it was a rumor I heard, no idea if it’s true or not.

    And to answer your question…I let my kids go to the event because I genuinely trust them and raised them to do the right thing by imposing curfews, checking in every night when they come, NOT letting them go to parties at private homes, and NOT letting them drink at home. Even at Age 18.

    But hey, just talk to Life-long Westporter. I guess there are bigger battles to fight, right? Since drinking with your underage kids is “en vogue” here in Westport, it seems. I guess I should just let them do it. Because there are bigger battles to fight.

    Go ahead, kids… Have a drink and show off your body to the high school boys with raging hormones. Yeah, let’s give ’em a show! All the kids in Westport are perfect.

  11. I feel strongly that when 15 and 16 year old girls dress very provacatively, they are going to get a certain kind of attention from boys and men, that quite frankly, they probably don’t even understand fully. Just because it may be considered a fashion trend to dress this way on TV, doesn’t mean we have to say yes. And, yes, people do make assumptions about girls who dress that way, and these reputations can be very damaging.

  12. Life-long Westporter

    You are self-righteous prigs. And “Wrecker,” you are an idiot. If you judge a person’s values by what they wear to a dance then you are a very small person. There are much worse things we have to deal with as parents than what our teenagers wear to parties. I totally agree with “Uh. . ,” its a jungle out there. My girls get straight A’s, do community service, have jobs and do sports – they are NOT hussys because they wear short skirts to a dance!!!! A lot of girls wearing pants get pregnant!!! Do you really think what they wear reflects what their values are? If so, you are a very shallow person. I only hope you have as much to be proud of when it comes to your children as I do – short skirts or not!!!!

    • I think the “self-righteous prigs” (prigs?) are speaking more to the natural reaction it will elicit from boys and, yes, most men.

      Speaking as a father of three daughters, one a Staples grad and the other currently at Staples, I actually get what you’re saying. But as parents it’s our job to have the best interest of the children in mind.

      To you, their best interest is fitting in and being socially acceptable. To me, it’s doing what I can reasonably can to keep the boys hormones at bay and trying to have what little control I can of the attention the girls are getting. Tracy Flood beat me to the punch… Many of these girls are dressing provacatively in middle school and it just escalates in high school.

      If you think you can’t at least TRY to control that, you are wrong. We can set an example and standard with what is appropriate to wear. It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that because my child dresses more conservatively, she will be bullied. If that were the case she would be finding new friends (because I wouldn’t stand for it).

      Your hands-off approach is alarmingly naive and while probably commonly accepted in a progressive town like ours — just like UNDERAGE DRINKING — it doesn’t make it right. You see other parents letting it slide, and you follow suit. Sounds like you are the one trying to fit in.

    • Chef has the day off

      “You are self-righteous prigs. And “Wrecker,” you are an idiot.”

      So much for civility and anti-bully postings Life-long!

    • “And “Wrecker,” you are an idiot.”


      Still doesn’t change the FACT that you and your daughters are Hussies!!

    • Life-long Westporter, It sounds like you are raising intelligent girls that are going to do very well socially and professionally once they leave your nest. They will be able to go anywhere and associate with everyone without jeopardizing their own high standards.

      The parents who have to worry so much about neck/hem-lines and narcotics in public restrooms are not so confident. Don’t let them stress you out.

  13. Life-long Westporter

    And, for the record, preventing underage drinking IS one of those big battles that are worth fighting for in my book, short skirts are not.

  14. Life-long Westporter

    For gods sake – there are no tits and ass showing. Maxi/mini, long hair/short/hair, these are trends and they come and go. And, just because girls dress this way to go to a once-a-year dance doesn’t mean they dress this way to school or walking down the street in NYC. They are smart girls and know what is appropriate in different situations. Of course, as a parent, we can rein it in when it goes too far but if any of you think that wearing long dresses to a dance – even turtle-necked ones for that matter – protects your girls from “bad boys” you are so wrong. Are you the same people that think that when a woman gets raped she deserves it (“was asking for it”) if she was wearing a short skirt??

    • Amen!

    • “And, just because girls dress this way to go to a once-a-year dance doesn’t mean they dress this way to school or walking down the street in NYC. ”

      That’s what you think!

      What you don’t know is your daughters are dressing like sluts and are sneaking out of your house to go to house parties when you are asleep!

  15. Life-long Westporter

    Should we ban bikinis in public too????

    • Hell, yeah, says this 53-year-old sack of aging flesh! Let’s even the playing field. (JK!)

    • If you’re equating rape, bikinis, and fashion trends to our much deeper discussion about the philosophy of parents allowing their young daughters to wear a short skirt vs. a long dress, then you are one-hundred percent delusional. Nothing I say — despite the fact that I have three daughters and am a man — will get through your thick skull, it seems.

      God Bless you and your girls. I hope they do not follow your lead in mothering. Incredibly naive with a subtle pinch of craziness. Ugh. No thanks.

    • “Should we ban bikinis in public too????”


      And while we are at it, Banana Hammocks should be banned too!!

  16. Sheri Howie Valente

    I am on the Executive Board of County Assemblies and this is my second year as Co-Chair of the dance. This is a BLACK TIE event! Black tie means boys MUST wear a tuxedo and girls MUST dress accordingly. Asking girls and their families to spend additional money on a long dress is not the intention of this committee. There are plenty of places where dresses can be purchased for around the same price as a short dress and sometimes less expensive than some of the pricey short dresses that have been purchased in the past. Additionally, http://www.renttherunway.com has over 350 long dresses for rent at $200 or under. If you use this coupon code 50OFFRTR4783, you will get $50 off. There are other online dress rental companies that the girls can search for their perfect dress without breaking the bank.

    What is really disturbing though, is that these girls and parents are most concerned with the dress length! This is a charity event!! Aren’t 99% of these families lucky they are not the recipients of the charities we raise monies for and give to? Last year, Westport County Assemblies Student Ambassadors gave their portion of grant money to Best Buddies. This year, Al’s Angels will be the recipient. They also should be thankful that they get to attend the dance instead of Chemo or a hospital for a life-altering ailment.

    As for the comment about the drugs (cocaine), I personally was in the bathrooms last year and did not witness any girl using any type of drug, including alcohol. We hire an outside security company and have same gender security guards in the restrooms. Nothing is perfect, and as much as we stride to keep our kids safe at the dances, as at Staples during the school day, those who want to use a drug will find a way. All we can do is our best to monitor and be a presence so there isn’t an opportunity for them to be able to do so. And to teach our children right from wrong.

    Lastly, this is an invitation event. If any family feels that the dance is unnecessary due to it really only being about the pre and post parties, we are happy to take any donation so that we can assist those charities in our community.

  17. Life-long Westporter

    Since the entire conversation has been focused on the issue of how girls’ choice of clothing reflects on values, suggests promiscuity, and sets girls up to be targets of bad reputations and unwanted leering by boys, I would say that Dancin’ really is a Fool. He really doesn’t get it at all.

    • Yeah, because the choice to choose what happens to your body or unborn baby is totally on the same level as having the right to choose a short skirt over a more appropriate dress. Yeah. Definitely. No question.

  18. Oh my god it’s a charity event, not a fashion show. It’s stupid to be focusing on what the girls are wearing. They’re all wearing what’s “in” right now and what the latest trend is. Leave it at that and stop freaking out.

    • If it is a charity event, then the girls should adhere to the guidelines provided. It is NOT a fashion show – as you so pointedly note – and therefore provides no reason for the girls to dress like strippers.

      • Let’s not get carried away. Their dresses are a little shorter than some people would like them to be. No one is dressing like strippers.

        • I agree with Rosen. The term “strippers” is a little difficult to stomach. But, Rosen, it seems you do not have daughters on the high school level. As you already know, having three daughters I see it with my own eyes. And I wish I could unsee it.

        • “No one is dressing like strippers.”

          Yes they are!!!

  19. And stop criticizing each other! It’s not going to change the other person’s opinion. What are you gaining from insulting the other person? You’re just adding more fuel to the fire and getting them riled up for nothing.

    • “…stop criticizing each other” Where do you live? In Westport criticizing others is as big a sport as football.

  20. What about the lack of food and drink provided at both these events? From what I understand there is little more than pretzels and potato chips served and many teens are imbibing before the dances. This issue needs to be addressed as well. The ticket prices are high and the food is scarce. Why is that??

    • All the kids are too drunk to eat anything, and the boys are too busy checking out the short skirts and low-cut tops. Who needs food when you have little girls to prey on?

  21. They should serve something more than snacks at this formal event.

    • But what if eating isn’t the cool thing to do? Kids could get bullied if they eat at this event, don’t you know that??? Just ask Life-long Westporter. She should know. It’s all about fitting in.

  22. I am a graduated Staples student and can I just say I am appalled by the behavior of the Mothers commenting here. I would like to start out by addressing some of the rumors that since none of you were students at these dances you wouldn’t know. First, I was at Red and Whites, Counties, and prom and I went to the bathroom, not once did I see a ready line of cocain. I also sat at a table where kids ate and no one was bullied. Staples girls (believe it or not) were thought to be “uptight” at these dances because even though we wore short dresses we were not hiking them up and grinding face down on the floor like some of the other girls. I will admit there were a few people who took their hems up a little too far, but for the most part the dresses were really respectable and classy. In fact I thought a lot of the short dresses were more respectable than the long dresses that had no backs or sides, crisscrossed so there was a hole in the stomach and were lime green (but that could just be my taste). Wearing a short dress doesnt make a girl a “hussie” because I am sure at one point or another 99% of the people here wore a dress that came above their knees.

    And as for the anonymous people calling girls and parents hussies and think you are better than them, CONGRATS you are all cyber bullies. I hope you feel good about yourselves that you called girls names and judged girls 30 years younger than you who you do not even know.

    I personally was a fan of wearing my short dresses to these dances not because when you are dancing on the dance floor it is incredibly hot, not because I wanted guys to think I was an easy target.

    I really hope in the future you will all restrain yourselves from being so vicious online. Short dresses aren’t the problem, it’s the cyber bullying from people posting anonymously that girls are sluts, whores, hussies, and strippers that are.

  23. I am a staples student and I would just like to say that most of these comments are ridiculous. All of the parents that are saying that girls dress’s are too short and too inappropriate probably went through high school and probably understand that it’s normal to dress that way when you get to be a teenager. Yes, some girls do take it too far and do not look classy, but there is nothing wrong with wearing a short dress. Were teenagers. Relax. Yes, I would agree that children reflect their parents but let me just say this, if your at a sweet sixteen and you see a girl in a short dress, no one will think ” wow what was her mom thinking” or ” her mom is crazy to let her walk out of the house like that.” I think every parent makes such a big deal about stupid issues like this. For the average teenage girl this is a crisis, but for a parent this should be the last thing on your mind. There are far worse issues than this. I don’t want to wear a long dress to my next dance,but boohoo for me. This is a classic Westport issue. Parents worrying about a joke of a problem.

  24. Also every parent on this blog should bow down to @StaplesGrad. @StaplesGrad thanks for showing these bullies what really happens at Staples, since they wouldn’t know.

    • “@StaplesGrad thanks for showing these bullies what really happens at Staples, since they wouldn’t know.”

      Time to get over yourself HA.

      Many of us graduated from Staples too!

      We “know” what really happens at Staples…………….

  25. oh right you graduated when? more than 20 years ago, so YOU can get over yourself. You actually have no idea what goes on at staples so don’t pretend like you’re a “Wrecker”, that was ancient history

    • I was digging your perspective, but then you pulled out a snotty attitude. Don’t be such brat, please! It really discredits your opinion.

  26. Old fashioned mom

    Modest is hottest!

  27. This is Disgraceful

    Thanks Staples Grad for your perspective. I have close ties with the County Assemblies Ball and I can guarantee everyone that for at least the past two years that I have been involved, there is NO drinking, no drug usage, and many dresses have recently taken on the HOLLYWOOD theme, not the traditional black tie dress code. The issue is not whether you or your child is a “hussy.” (Might I add it is a disgrace that anyone commenting here who has children insinuates that someone else or someone else’s child is a hussy… you’re talking behind a computer here people, no one knows who anyone is.) But back to the point of the DRESS CODE. This is a CHARITY, invitation only event. It is a privilege for juniors and seniors to be able to attend, and if you feel strongly against the dress code or any other “rumors” you hear about the dance, do not send your child to it. Over the past few years, many dresses worn to the dance have blatantly not been black tie. As it is the 75th anniversary of the dance, it is time to bring it back to what it used to be. As a mature Staples student, I know that wearing a really short dress does not define me, but it can cause people to think things about me that I cannot control. If I’m comfortable in a short dress, I will stay in my short dress, as long as MY PARENTS think it is acceptable. But once again, THAT IS NOT THE POINT. If a charity organization asks me to wear a long dress, I will most definitely not argue, complain, or take it further. It is one thing to comment on people’s reactions like INKLINGS did, but another to claim that this dance is all about alcohol related vomiting and fist fights, pre-gaming and after parties, seeing and being seen. The dance is what you make of it, and over the past couple of years, the President has been going to tremendous efforts to assure that this behavior does not happen and the dance keeps in line with a traditional cotillion-like event. EVERYONE IN ATTENDANCE IS NOW BREATHALYZED. You walk through the door, you get breathalyzed. Simple as that. Security everywhere. Responsible parents greeting the attendees as they enter. You name it, the precautionary measures have been taken.
    Dan Woog I know you may think this is the truth behind a controversial issue happening in Westport, but at least you could have gone a little farther and checked your facts. Maybe some things you pointed out are true…but the pre-gaming comment? It makes me angry that you would say that as the board went to such great efforts to prevent that over the past few years.
    Also as far as food goes, there was a huge effort last year to make sure more food was available.
    So to sum it all up, this post by Mr. Woog casting an unnecessarily negative light upon the dances has made me very angry. Efforts over the recent years to improve this dance and stop the drinking, fighting, etc. and focus more on the charity aspect, have not been taken into account, and the reason for the new dress code goes hand in hand with these efforts. Thank you for your opinion, but seriously, get your facts right.

    One last thing I would like to add, Westport is the only town that has been complaining about the new dress code. Typical? I’d say so.

  28. Disgraceful — As a current student at SHS, I can guarantee that there is pregaming.

  29. SHS how do suggest those pregamers got past the breathalyzers at the entrance?

  30. Terry Brannigan

    Coincidently , I watched “mean girls” for the first time last night (awaiting the start of Pawn Stars…it was the or “hoarders”) then I log into my favorite blog after too long and find this post. I really do think parents of boys may have it easier. I have boys so I can’t put myself in the shoes of the parents of high school girls, and like all of us I do worry that kids in general grow up too fast. But once they do… I share Bruce Springsteen’s view. 🙂

  31. Jennifer Talbot

    Thank you Sheri!!!
    I am also on the County Assemblies Board and have been for 4 dances.
    I am the mother of 1 son and 2 daughters. My daughters are one past and one current senior.

    This is, as Sheri has said, a Charity event!

    Many people in our local community benefit from these dances.
    This is the 75th anniversary of this event and the reason for a review of dress length came in the light of the anniversary and tradition!

    It seems many have lost the meaning of this danced.

    I have been away recently and have not played a role in the early stages of this most unpleasant attack on this volunteer/ charity event.

    I have just buried my 43 year old sister in Sydney Australia. She died of cancer and my husband recently has been diagnosed and treated successfully over this past summer. We have so many things going on in this world that seem more important than fighting over dress length to a dance!!!

    I have, all my child rearing years, stuck by good strong family rules,values,bonds and love.While my kids are not perfect and things do happen I have taught them that we are their parents and we set the rules. We are not trying to be their best friend but we are the parent helping them to work out what is right and wrong in this world. We teach them also that when they step outside our house they are an example of the values we teach them and that they represent our family every minute and every day. Added to that we teach them to love one another as they love themselves, be kind and helpful. It is very simple!

    Last years 2 dances, through the effort of many people, had not one incident of drinking or drugs recorded. That is the truth! Anything else that is stated to the opposite, comes down to reckless behavior by a very few in number which is impossible to manage due to the desperate nature of these individuals to break rules. We breathalyze all kids coming into the dance…so there is no one found under the influence of alcohol on admission. What individuals choose to do after the event to my mind falls clearly under the direction of their parents. Please also understand that any incidents that have occurred in the past are small in number compared to the pleasure derived by so many.

    Please know that each year we work tirelessly to review what else we can do to make this a safe and enjoyable evening for all.

    Like a responsible parent, the Board of the County Assemblies is this year resetting the rules!!!