Like many high school students, Clare Ettinger and her boyfriend, James Thompson, were looking forward to their homeschool prom. The 17-year-old high school seniors from Richmond, Virginia couldn't wait for what they thought would be a carefree evening of fun with their friends. When the highly-anticipated night finally arrived, the young couple was dressed to the nines and could hardly contain their excitement. They knew it might be one of their last chances to be with their peers before they all went on their future paths, but they never expected that the night would end up going terribly wrong...
Prom night is one of the most important nights of a young person's life. If you're one of our younger readers, you might still have it all to look forward to. The rest of you hopefully have fond memories of your prom night; it's when we say goodbye to childhood. Getting ready for prom night is as stressful as it is exhilarating. There's so much to consider. Who do we want as our date for the night? Will we even find a date? Presuming we do, where do we even start when it comes to putting together the perfect outfit?
For boys, the outfit isn't really much of a worry. So long as they can find a smart suit, they'll look great on the pictures. Girls, however, have thousands of dresses to choose from. Imagine finding the perfect dress, and then getting kicked out of the prom because of it?
There's nothing particularly special about the couple whose story we're looking at today. They're like every other couple who fell in love at high school. This is Clare Ettinger with James Thompson, her long-term boyfriend. They were looking forward to the prom like all students do.
Like any other pair of lovestruck teenagers, they were nervous about what college would mean for their relationship. After the prom, it would be time to think about college, but on Prom night, they could forget about that for a few hours.
Prom Night planning had gone well for the couple. When the big day arrived, they were well prepared for it. Neither of them had ever been so dressed up, for felt so glamorous, in their whole lives. As you can imagine, the night was a big deal for Clare and James.
After it's over, a lot of their friends would be heading in separate directions. The least they deserved was a fantastic, stress-free night to wave them all off with. They didn't get one.
Most prom nights come with a theme. In the case of Clare and James, their high school had come up with a French-themed concept. The idea of the night was 'Twilight in Paris,' and so everyone had to dress like they were meeting at nighttime in the French capital.
It's a little strange for a high school prom theme - most of the students had never been to France. Clare and James didn't mind that. They bought into the theme, and put effort into their outfits.
Finding the right dress didn't come quickly for Clare. She knew what she wanted; she just couldn't find it. There was nothing in the first three stores which really spoke to Clare. There was nothing in the two that came afterward, either.
After digging through five whole stores without success, Clare was upset. She was on the verge of giving up. As is so often the case, though, that's when her ideal dress appeared as if by magic in the sixth store.
The store she found the dress in wasn't exactly a top-secret location. It was a solid, reliable Macy's outlet. Where the dress had been found didn't matter to Clare. She knew it was the one she wanted, and her search was over.
No sooner had she tried it on, she was at the cash register paying for it. Now, finally, Clare could relax and look forward to her big night - or at least, that's what she thought was the case.
Clare hadn't just picked this dress by chance. It had to pass a test in order to be chosen! Her school had rules about what was acceptable in the form of dresses on the night. Specifically, if Clare's dress was too short, she wouldn't be allowed in.
The rule was that the dress must be longer than your fingertips when your arms are by your side. Clare had tried the dress on, stood up, and let her arms hang. The dress was longer. No problem.
The invitation couldn't have been any clearer about what was expected of a dress. As you can see, the only rule when it comes to ladies' dress is that clothing must be fingertip length, or longer.
Clare had done the test. Her dress was actually longer than the end of her fingertips. In her mind, there was no reason why anybody should object to it. Why should there be? It's right there in black and white!
Like we said earlier, Clare is no different from any other high school girl before prom. She was excited! While she was getting ready, she was posting pictures on social media.
All of her friends were doing the same. One of the pictures she posted contained a comment about how she was 'channeling Marilyn Monroe' for the evening. She obviously felt glamorous! When she was done with her makeup, she put the dress on, and she was ready to go.
Even in all the excitement, Clare had the presence of mind to realize something was different compared to last time she'd put the dress on. She quickly realized what had changed. She was wearing heels now, and they changed the position of her body.
She was a little concerned, but she repeated the fingertip test, and the dress still passed it. Everything was fine. She even took a picture of herself doing the test, so she'd have evidence if anyone queried it!
Clare had never spent so much time on her own appearance. She'd paid for her hair to be styled, and bought new makeup. What made the night a particularly big deal for Clare is that she was a homeschool student.
Because she was a homeschool student, she didn't get the chance to mix with all the other students very much. This was a rare - and final chance - to see all the people she knew at school in the same place at the same time.
If this was just a story about a normal girl going to prom and having a good time, it wouldn't be on this website. You know trouble is coming. Let's recap, though. Clare had bought a dress that fits in with the dress code.
She checked it at the store. When she realized the heels might cause a problem, she double-checked it, and it was still OK. As far as she was concerned, there shouldn't have been a problem with strolling right into prom.
On prom night at this high school, volunteers guard the doors. They're usually parents, or members of the local community. On this particular evening, the woman on door duty as Ann Duncan. Ann didn't like Clare's dress.
Ann felt that the dress was too short for the prom. Clare pointed out that it was fingertip length. She even had the pictures to prove it. Sadly for Clare, Ann had made her mind up. She wasn't going to change it.
Clare knew that the photograph might not be enough to gain her entry, but that was fine. There was something else she could do. Believing that Ms. Duncan couldn't ignore evidence that was right in front of her eyes,
Clare stood up and performed the test again. Both Clare and Ms. Duncan could see that there wasn't much of a margin, but the dress passed the test. This was enough to get Clare in, and that should have been the end of it. It wasn't.
Although Ms. Duncan had been forced to concede defeat on the door, she still told Clare that the dress was too short. She also told her she'd be watching her. Ms. Duncan's advice to Clare was to make sure she kept the dress pulled down, and be careful about how she stood or sat.
In conditions such as this, it was very difficult for Clare to enjoy the prom. Could you really have enjoyed a night out if you knew someone was watching your every move?
The confrontation had angered Clare, and when she got inside, she found more reasons to be angry. There were several girls wearing dresses much shorter than Clare's. Clare was tall for her age. Because of that, her dress seemed shorter than it really was. On the shorter girls, their short dresses looked longer.
It was all an optical illusion, and anyone with sense should have been able to see that. Ms. Duncan's criticism of Clare's dress seemed unfair. Clare was upset.
Much to Clare's displeasure, Ms. Duncan wasn't the only person paying close attention to her. The place was full of adults. The high school had decided to employ 'chaperones' on the dancefloor to make sure everybody behaved, but there were too many of them.
In some places, it felt like there were only four students to every adult chaperone. The creepiest ones of all were the adult men on the balconies, peering down at the girls in their dresses.
Despite the creepy chaperones, Clare and James decided to make the best of the situation. They headed to the dancefloor to dance together. Apparently, the act of a boyfriend and girlfriend dancing together was all too much for Ms.
Duncan to deal with. As quick as a flash, Ms. Duncan was on the scene to tell Clare she was dancing inappropriately, and her dress was riding up. Clare, who was by now furious, answered back. Her equally offended boyfriend spoke up for her, too.
Ms. Duncan decided that Clare would be kicked out of the prom. James wasn't staying there without her, so he asked for a refund. As Clare and James had come with friends, all of them decided to leave together, and so all of them wanted refunds.
For now, Clare wasn't interested in getting a refund. She didn't see why she had to leave at all. She hadn't put all this effort into her prom night for no reason. She stood her ground.
James was very angry about the way his girlfriend was being treated. It was clear that the argument with Ms. Duncan was going nowhere. To try to resolve the situation, James asked to speak to the event's organizer.
It seemed to be a reasonable request. Ms. Duncan didn't want James to speak to her superior, though. All she would do is call another 'chaperone' over to support her. Unsurprisingly, the other chaperone backed up Ms. Duncan's opinion. Clare had to go.
Now the situation was at the point of being a stand-off. Clare didn't want to go, but she wasn't allowed to stay. James wouldn't be allowed to stay by this point either; he'd argued too much.
Several other students had also spoken up for Clare, but they were being told to stay quiet, or they'd also be in trouble. Clare and Ms. Duncan were shouting at each other by this point, and so the situation had to be resolved.
With Clare refusing to leave and Ms. Duncan refusing to let her stay, security had to step in. Clare was dragged out of her prom, less than an hour after arriving. The night was ruined, and she was heartbroken.
You only get one prom night, after all. Clare felt like the length of her dress wasn't the issue. She felt she was being punished for other reasons. She was taller than the other girls, and her dress was sparkly. It made her stand out.
Understandably, Clare was in tears when she was pulled away from the party. She asked the security guard if he agreed with what was happening. Tellingly, the security guard said he didn't agree with what was happening, but had no say in the matter.
To make matters worse, only Clare received a refund. None of her friends did, and neither did James. The school decided that they all left of their own free will, so no refund was merited.
We expect Clare's story isn't unique. This has probably happened to hundreds of girls over the years. Clare has an advantage that those hundreds of girls didn't have, though. She lives in the internet age, and she knows how to use it.
She knew exactly what would happen if she could get her story online, and make her voice hear - and so she did it. Not long after she got home, she started putting the story together. She made sure to include the pictures of her dress.
Richmond Homeschool had probably never encountered the full force of the internet before. It had no idea what had hit it when it happened. Clare's story spread across Reddit and social media rapidly, shared over and over again.
A lot of the people who saw the story went to the school's Facebook page to tell them what they thought of the story. Their words weren't kind. At first, the school just deleted the posts. In the end, they took down the page.
The vast majority of people who heard the story supported Clare. She could prove there was nothing wrong with her dress. Some of the people who commented on her posts even thought she should sue the school for discrimination, as they'd kicked her out of her prom without good reason to do so.
A lot of the comments said particularly unkind things about Ms. Duncan, with whom the issued had started. Ms. Duncan, of course, has her own side of the story.
Ms. Duncan spoke to the press, and admitted that she initially hadn't been comfortable with the length of Clare's dress. As she pointed out, though, she did eventually let her in. The secondary problem from Ms. Duncan's point of view was the fabric. It was spandex, and so it rode up.
If Ms. Duncan is to be believed, by the time Clare reached the dancefloor, the dress barely covered her butt. The volunteer also defended the chaperones, insisting they were only there to prevent misbehavior from the students.
In her version of the tale, Ms. Duncan never told Clare her dancing was inappropriate. The issue had always been about the dress. Clare insists that Ms. Duncan objected to her dancing, and was determined to kick her out from the moment she turned up.
Because there were other girls there in equally short dresses, Clare feels like she was singled out. As a taller girl, she also points out that other girls whose dresses were shorter got away with it because of their height.
Clare thinks she might know the real reason why she was singled out for rough treatment. It's to do with her body. As well as being tall for her age, Clare is also mature. Her body is more like an adult woman's than a teenager's.
Because of that, she thinks that some of the male chaperones felt awkward about watching her so closely. If that was the case, Clare says they shouldn't have been watching so closely. She was bound to show some skin in a dress.
Clare got a lot of support and backing during the media storm that followed, but most of it came from strangers on the internet. The school didn't contact Clare directly to explain their side of the story.
They didn't apologize for kicking her out, either. To make things worse, they stuck to their policy of not giving any of Clare's party - including James - a refund. It was almost like they were trying to be as hurtful as possible.
Considering that the school's Facebook page has never been put back online again, we think Clare's campaign has made a lasting impact on the institution. A little time has passed now, but Clare doesn't think she'd have done anything differently.
She'd now like other schools to consider their attitude to dress code on prom nights - and to play by their own rules if they're going to insist on having them! This all goes to show how one post on the internet can create a sensation.