A Brisbane student says her school asked girls to submit photos of their formal dresses for “approval” after giving them an “outdated” booklet outlining the event’s dress code.
Guardian Australia has seen an email sent by Brisbane’s Mary MacKillop college on 17 May, a week before the year 12 mid-year formal, asking students to submit photos of their planned attire.
“The HOHs [heads of houses] haven’t seen or approved everyone’s outfit for the night … so please submit a photo of your dress or suit on the Microsoft Form below so we have all your photos in one spot to check,” the email read.
The student alleged if the Catholic girls’ school didn’t approve dresses, “they needed to be changed” in the days leading up to the formal “even if money was spent on another dress”.
But the college told the Courier Mail that “there was no process to approve dresses”.
“I know many students were worried about showing the heads of houses or teachers in case they were declined,” the student said. “Once the night commenced … no one has turned away, from my knowledge.
“One of the biggest confusions for me is how ‘all girls’ schools are more controlling of what the students wear, compared to being invited by an ‘all boys’ school where there is no partner dress code.”
A Brisbane Catholic education spokesperson told the Courier Mail the Mary MacKillop college formal was an “outstanding success” with “Year 12 students gathering for their celebratory evening both beautifully dressed and beautifully behaved.”
A page from a booklet Mary MacKillop college gave to students in which it said that ‘plunging or revealing necklines and backs, like the ones pictured, ‘were not appropriate formal attire’. Photograph: Supplied
“The evening went without incident. As happens every year, students were provided an information guide to the school formal,” the spokesperson said.
The email came after booklets were handed to students before the formal, which included a list of dos and don’ts, including “no plunging necklines or low backs below the waist”.
The booklet also said, “adherence to the dress code is essential,” and the college “reserves the right to ask students and their guests to make amendments to their attire before the night and … on the night of the formal.”
A former student said a similar booklet had been given out before last year’s formal, with the dress code enforced strictly on the night, which resulted in some students having “a few issues getting their dresses approved due to cleavage”.
“The [college was] telling girls they would need to buy shawls, and if they didn’t want to buy one, then they would have them provided at the venue if their dress was deemed too revealing,” the former student said.
The school has been contacted for comment.
Guardian Australia has also spoken to two other parents and a student at another private school who said students had been asked to submit photos of their formal outfits.
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One former student at Highlands Christian college in Toowoomba said the school did not allow him to wear a dress to his year 12 formal last year.
“My original plan was to show up and surprise everyone, but I was afraid they’d kick me out of the formal … so I asked beforehand,” the former student said. “They said no.
He said the school “thought it was too controversial”.
The student said he had already paid $300 for the dress, so the school offered to pay half the cost of his suit.
“It’s very nerve-racking to go against the social norms of your gender,” he said.
A parent whose daughter was going to attend the school’s formal with the student while wearing a suit confirmed that the school had knocked the student’s plans back.
“My daughter is very caring and likes to be inclusive of others. So she was upset,” the parent said. “She didn’t want to go, but I talked her into it.
“All girls did look elegant, but some wanted to wear something more to their personality.”
Guardian Australia has contacted Highlands Christian college for comment.
The state’s education minister, Grace Grace, said public schools work closely “with their wider school community about the type of dress required” at formal events. “This should take into account a range of things, such as the activities to be carried out and any health and safety issues, but should never be about a student’s gender, size, or sexual orientation,” Grace said.