A Look at the “Dress” in Dress Code

Alexis Chapin, Managing Editor

Graduation is roughly one week and a half away, and seniors are making a final, stressful push to make sure they’re prepared for the end of the year. No, not just studying for exams, but shopping for clothes: getting their required dresses, shoes, and blazers together for the commencement ceremony. In America, a common graduation dress code in public high schools and colleges is a long robe and cap, but MacDuffie has their own tradition. Girls are required to wear long white dresses and white shoes, while boys are required to wear navy blue blazers with white slacks and dark shoes. There have been some complaints about this dress code from students of all genders. Female students have been distressed because white floor-length dresses are usually expensive because they have been used as wedding dresses since the mid-1800s, and some girls also find an issue with this as they feel their academic achievements should not be celebrated in the same outfit they would wear to get married. Male students also have a hard time finding the very specific pieces of their wardrobe, as these requirements are more strict than the usual high school graduation. The administration is currently considering potential changes to this dress code.

Compared to public schools or colleges, MacDuffie’s dress code seems unusual, but how different is it from other private schools in New England? According to several sources that were asked over text message, most private schools have their graduating students wear white dresses, the only difference is that they can be any length that is within school dress code, while MacDuffie requires it to be floor-length.

According to junior Jordan Bernier at Berkshire School in Sheffield, MA, senior girls must wear white dresses of any length “within reason” and boys must wear suits. She says that most girls opt for a white sundress.

According to senior (and former MacDuffie student) Hannah Marshall at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, MA, the girls have to wear “a white dress or jumpsuit, or an all white blazer and white pants.” There are no rules about length or straps, but it has to be completely white, but the shoes can be any color. Boys have to wear white dress pants, a navy blazer, and a tie given to them as a senior gift. This dress code makes room for girls who do not like to wear dresses or for non-binary people who feel uncomfortable following a strict gendered dress code.

Similarly, at Suffield Academy in Suffield, CT, senior Abi Mulhern (and former MacDuffie student) explains that girls must wear an all-white dress of any length. The boys must wear blazers, dress pants, a white carnation, and an orange tie given to them by the school. She also adds that last year a nonbinary senior wore a completely white suit, and that she is not sure how the students felt, but the administration was fine with that decision.

At the Williston Northampton School in Northampton, MA, there is a completely gender-neutral dress code. According to former MacDuffie student and senior Gabby Mercier, students have the option to wear “White or off-white dresses or pantsuits and appropriate shoes; dark colored suits, or dress slacks and sports jackets, white shirts, ties, socks, and dress shoes. Student attire should not be revealing and should feel proper for this formal academic occasion.” She also says that “in writing it sounds nice, but there’s a pretty big discontinuity between what is said and what’s done.” She says that girls can get away with blouses even though that they’re not highlighted in the dress code, but boys can get in trouble if their shirts aren’t tucked in.

At Wilbraham Monson Academy (WMA), according to former MacDuffie student and senior Julia Sparago, girls can wear any length white dresses, and boys have to wear white pants, a white shirt, a WMA blazer, and a WMA tie.

According to this research, it seems as though that MacDuffie is not alone in requiring white dresses and strict guidelines for suits at graduation, but it is alone in that it requires girls to wear long white dresses.