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The Stories That Went Viral This Prom Season Say A Lot About Today’s Teens

From dress code controversies to style that went viral, the prom 2K16 stories that spread like wildfire say a lot about teens today…

Promposals are the new norm—according to our recent monthly survey on prom, over eight in ten high school students say that their peers plan elaborate ways to ask someone—but they’re not the only prom stories that have gone viral this year. Prom season 2K16 resulted in a rush of news stories about teens’ struggles and style, that also showed us quite a bit about their beliefs. Here are three that earned a lot of attention, and made a statement about young consumers today:

1. Girls in Suits

When high school junior Aniya Wolf showed up for her prom, she was told to go home. Her Catholic high school, Bishop McDevitt, would not admit her because instead of wearing a dress, Aniya wore what she was comfortable in: a formal suit. The student says she was sent a “last minute” dress code specifically for her that stated that she could not wear a suit, but wanted to try to go anyway. She wrote on her Facebook profile, “Sadly, I was not admitted into the Prom. I was forced to leave. The principal threatened she would get the cops. What an experience. Lol they can’t take my pride.” As her local ABC news affiliate reported, “Wolf is not transgender. She was born a girl and feels like a girl. She is a lesbian who does not want to wear girly clothes.” Aniya also told reporters that she feels accepted by her peers, but the school officials made her feel like “a mistake.” The response to the story was huge, with publications online and off picking it up, and many rallying in Aniya’s defense using the hashtag #suitsforaniya. After the situation was publicized, a nearby high school invited Aniya to attend their prom, which she did—wearing the suit that started it all and with her date on her arm. We’ve written that young consumers today are a Genreless Generation—from fashion to identity and sexuality they’re more comfortable with blending and bending categories, and celebrating new combinations than ever before. Four in ten 13-17-year-olds agree they don’t like to be categorized as either straight or gay. Aniya’s story, and her peers’ response, signifies their shifting attitudes toward gender and sexuality, and though her story was the one to go viral, she was not the only teen girl sporting a suit to prom 2K16. BuzzFeed published an entire post dedicated to the “Badass Ladies Rockin’ Suits At Prom,” and Michael Jackson’s daughter Paris posted a picture of herself in a prom suit, with hair dyed to match her friend’s blue dress. Interestingly, Teen Vogue kicked off prom season with an article entitled, “The Prom Dress Is Dead — Here’s How to Wear a Suit Better Than the Boys.”

2. Show Stopping DIY

Remember when finding the best prom attire meant scouring the mall on the weekend or paging through those annual prom catalogues? Well, teens who want to stand out from the crowd these days are DIYing their own show stopping dresses, and two in particular went viral this season for paying homage to some fashion icons. India Ross had her prom look published everywhere from The Shade Room to US Weekly to Seventeen and beyond after she created her own version of Beyoncé’s infamous 2015 Met Gala gown. The 18-year-old went all out for the event in homage to her icon, creating her dress with the help of a local designer, and styling her hair in the same blonde ponytail that Bey wore. India has appeared on the news and The Ellen Show sporting her famous dress, showing off her hard work, and celebrating her viral status. But she’s not the only viral homage story this year—Jawana Young’s prom look also went viral after her mother posted photos and videos of her full commitment to recreating the gold dress from Coming To America, which she had specially made for her. Jawana’s friends and date played along, dressing as characters from the film and reenacting scenes, and the video of their reenactment has been viewed almost 3 million times. The name of the game for many teens at prom is standing out, and the best way to do it is to create their own surprising styles.

3. “Afrocentric” Gown Controversy

This year, BuzzFeed posted a gallery of African prom dresses, indicating a rising trend—but one teen was told by a teacher that wearing the African Ankara print she wanted would be “tacky.” Makalaya Zanders decided to make a statement anyway, ignored her teacher’s comments, and turned to Cleveland designer De’Andre Crenshaw to create the dress, which has gone wildly viral. Teen Vogue—and many others— reported that the teen “slayed” in her gown, and commended her decision to stick to her style instincts and pay homage to her culture. Makalaya posted photos of herself in the gown on Instagram, with the message “Thank you to everyone who gave me kind words on my prom dress. My dress was to make a point. That African style is beautiful. That I am comfortable with my Melanin and roots. And finally that there’s nothing like Black girl Magic.” Last year, 18-year-old Kyemah McEntyre became a viral sensation for the African-inspired dress she designed herself when she found the choices in stores did not allow her to express who she was. Millennials are the most diverse generation to date, and their young predecessors even more so. They’re not only demanding more diversity in media, they’re embracing their ethnicities, and the culture that makes them unique. Hashtags like #BlackGirlMagic, and the popularity of outspoken stars like Zendaya are proof of their pride.