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New Trier News

The student news site of New Trier High School

New Trier News

The student news site of New Trier High School

New Trier News

Current graduation attire is keeping sexist traditions alive

Let’s save the white dresses for weddings and wear caps and gowns to graduation instead
Graduating seniors in 2022 photographed by many cameras and families wearing long white dresses and white tuxedos

For a school that values and promotes inclusion, New Trier High School seems awfully attached to its dated traditions and ideologies. Since opening, they have had gendered advisories, which were just recently changed after much protest. The class level system is also always a big topic of discussion for incoming freshmen–and I have heard multiple teachers say how much they dislike it– yet we still keep it. It is clear that New Trier values tradition; it increases the prestige of this already prestigious district. However, perhaps the most outdated tradition, in my opinion, is the way graduation is administered.

Girls scour stores for white gowns months before the event, and boys rent expensive tuxedos if they don’t already have one. In past years, each girl was escorted to the stage by a boy which is something that is thankfully changing this year. The entire ceremony that is supposed to be celebrating academic achievements is set up like a debutante ball. In my eyes, this tradition puts the focus on sending women off into society instead of the real reason for celebration: graduation. 

Whether we like it or not, if we don’t have academic attire– like caps and gowns– at graduation, the graduation becomes about the clothes. And unfortunately, in New Trier’s case, the clothes that most students end up wearing at graduation have a very sexist origin story.

I somewhat understand why our graduation is set up like this. New Trier first opened its doors in 1901 in a society where education was meant to send off boys to have successful careers and women successful marriages. The white gowns represented what society had in store for her: marriage. Pairing each girl with a boy then just further perpetuated the gender stereotypes and standards of the times. However, we aren’t living in 1901 anymore, and we haven’t been for over twelve decades. The world has grown and changed, and our traditions should change with it. 

The better attire to wear for a celebration of academia would be one that doesn’t make such a stark distinction between men and women. Caps and gowns are worn at almost every other high school, and it’s about time New Trier followed suit. Losing this sexist tradition is a small price to pay in order to put the emphasis on graduation instead of social standing during the ceremony.

New Trier often does a good job at accepting their students and their identities, so I don’t understand why they constantly fall short when it comes to this simple fix. Why is New Trier forgetting about their non-gender conforming community?  In a ceremony as large as New Trier’s graduation, and in a sea of black bow ties and white gowns, someone not following dress code due to their own personal preferences sticks out. Why should someone have to feel so different from their peers just to uphold the gender stereotypes New Trier’s graduation dress code upholds? 

Of course, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the attire of the graduating class is technically not required. New Trier does not require all girls to wear long white dresses, and it does not require all boys to wear white tuxedos. However, this long standing tradition of gowns and tuxedos is still very much the norm and at a formal event like the New Trier graduation, people mainly just want to fit in. Students wearing something else don’t go unnoticed during the ceremony, and the pressure often deters students from making a dress choice different from their peers. 

The emphasis and tradition of the current dress code at graduation simply does not serve modern New Trier students anymore. New Trier places so much emphasis on education during the school year, so why do we prioritize attire at graduation instead of graduation itself? Whether we like it or not, if we don’t have academic attire– like caps and gowns– at graduation, the graduation becomes about the clothes. And unfortunately, in New Trier’s case, the clothes that most students end up wearing at graduation have a very sexist origin story.

Besides, caps and gowns are simply more fun than the formal attire that is currently required. Growing up, I always saw movies and shows where everyone threw their caps into the air, moved the tassel from one side to another, and matched with all of their friends. Now, I see high schoolers in other areas spending time bedazzling their caps to customize them. In my opinion, those traditions would make graduation more fun and memorable then what New Trier does now. 

The current graduation attire puts the emphasis on the image of New Trier and its students body’s and style instead of the mind’s of the graduates it is celebrating. It’s time to switch from the sexist and exclusive dress code to one the rest of the world has already adapted–caps and gowns.

View Comments (9)

Comments (9)

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  • B

    May 15, 2024 at 6:53 pm

    Great piece! Well done, Charlotte!

  • D

    May 15, 2024 at 4:22 pm

    Thank you for this nice opinion piece. I couldn’t agree more.

    This is an outdated tradition. People uphold this tradition just to uphold it – not based on the (present day) merits of the tradition.

  • A

    May 14, 2024 at 10:25 pm

    As someone who went through the New Trier graduation process (I’m the girl in the photo you used), I think having the white dresses and tuxes was really fun. Everyone got to buy their own outfits and you could wear whatever you felt comfortable in as long as it was formal and was black or white. If I’m being honest, the addition of white caps to the graduation look could be fun, but I feel the robes would get really hot and stuffy.

  • V

    May 14, 2024 at 2:27 pm

    Facts 🔥🔥 I also thought of the weird “debutante ball” comparison. Also how we have to wear the outfits till 4am locked in campus without a bag. Wild tradition, stupid. Please let me wear comfy things. Caps and gowns are so fun.

  • C

    May 12, 2024 at 9:58 pm

    The NTHS graduation dress code is not gendered long white dresses and tuxedos. It is formal or business attire in either white or black with several examples to choose from including pant suits, jumpsuits and dresses. Your information is incorrect.

  • J

    May 12, 2024 at 12:26 am

    You want to label is as sexist but I think this is lovely tradition that New Trier has kept. Not all society and institutions have to change their tradition because social norm is always changing. Yes, we need inclusions, not uniformity or conformity. If you are worried about someone sticking out, chances are people actually respect that and it is more festive because we see diversity, not trying to hide under the gowns. Don’t you think?

  • T

    May 11, 2024 at 10:00 pm

    Sorry but I disagree on this one. Caps and gowns are boring and have no individuality (bedazzeling… ugh) — NT’s white tux jackets and white dresses are special and classy. It’s a stretch for me to see the white dress as representing a wedding gown, especially as the guys’ jackets are also white. Also as stated, there is no requirement that anyone has to wear a white dress! Please hang on to some traditions New Trier!!!

    • J

      May 14, 2024 at 6:21 pm

      White dresses are a symbol of innocence and purity. That’s why wedding dresses are white, coming out dresses are white, the fact that these are white too as we are all leaving our teenage years is strange.

  • M

    May 11, 2024 at 6:26 pm

    I love your article! I couldn’t agree more as a parent of a soon to be graduate. It’s a right of passage. Caps and gowns express that! Prom is so close to graduation, it seems silly to wear formal wear twice. Well done!