Opinion: It’s Time to Ditch the Drape

The beginning of the school year is an exciting (and often chaotic) time for everyone. Students and teachers alike are adjusting to new schedules and rushing to complete everything that needs to be done in preparation for the rest of the school year. As students move from class to class, many have noticed that their teachers’ desks are overflowing with order forms for Fall Pictures. 

In senior homerooms, however, these forms are notably absent. Rather than having their pictures taken alongside the rest of the school in October, most seniors had their portraits taken over the summer. This is in keeping with a longstanding tradition of graduating seniors being depicted in their yearbook photos wearing a black drape or tux provided by the photographer, rather than their own clothes.

Although the traditional drape/tux photos are generally accepted as a staple of the iconography associated with graduating high school, are they really worth preserving? For many students, the answer is no.

Those who oppose this style of senior photos argue that they are outdated, unnecessary, and perpetuate a double standard that has no place in the celebration of seniors’ accomplishments.

One of the primary issues with drape/tux photos is the way they reinforce traditional gender roles. In addition to the fact that not all students are comfortable wearing the clothing that would typically be assigned to their gender, some students may not feel comfortable being placed in either category. According to the CDC, nearly two percent of American high school students identify as transgender. A 2021 study conducted by Dr. Kacie Kidd suggested that the number of gender diverse teens may be even higher: approximately nine percent. This data suggests that, here at Apex High School, between fifty and 225 students likely identify as transgender or fall outside the male/female binary. 

Senior photos are meant to preserve the memory of what students looked like during an important milestone in their lives. Requiring students to dress in formalwear associated with their assigned gender is directly contradictory to this purpose. For students who do not identify with their assigned gender, these pictures could instead become a reminder of a time when they were unable to be true to themselves.

Even if students are permitted to choose for themselves whether to wear the drape or tux, the problem would not be entirely resolved. Although it would be nice to think that every Apex High student goes home to parents who are supportive and accept them for who they are, this is not the reality. Even within the school community, many students face bullying and prejudice for their identity. 

While allowing students to choose would be a step in the right direction, many would still feel obligated to dress in accordance with their assigned gender to avoid backlash from their families and peers. Doing away with drape/tux photos would eliminate this problem by allowing  each student to dress in a way that makes them feel comfortable without potentially putting themselves at risk.

For myself and other female students, being expected to wear an off-the-shoulder drape feels hypocritical. Although the dress code has been updated to permit clothing that exposes the shoulders, years of being told to cover up are still fresh in our minds. After spending elementary and middle school being sexualized for dressing a certain way, being dressed up in a drape that exposes the shoulders and top of the chest doesn’t sit right.

In addition to making many students uncomfortable, drape/tux photos are simply not an accurate representation of this period in our lives. Each year, school pictures serve as a snapshot of whom a student was at that moment in their life. After graduation, we will be able to look back and be reminded of how we grew and changed each year. By depicting all students dressed the same, drape/tux photos instead portray an image of what students “should” be. 

Rather than unique portraits that capture each student as they choose to present themselves, these portraits depict students conforming to a set standard, dressed in outfits they would never have worn in real life. Portraits from last year are virtually indistinguishable from those taken thirty years ago. They may look nice on a page, but they take away an opportunity for students to express themselves in their final year of high school. 

For the last twelve years, seniors have had the freedom to dress however we like for school pictures. There is no reason why this year’s portrait, one of our final takeaways from high school, should be any different.

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