Administrators told Alexi Halket to cover up – so she started a international movement instead
Credit: Vince Talotta/Toronto Star/Getty

Before this week, Alexi Halket hadn’t given her school’s dress code much thought. For students at the creative-minded Etobicoke School of the Arts, the rules regarding wardrobe were vague and open.

But this week, her school dress code became the fuel for a movement when the Toronto teenager started a social media frenzy with Crop Top Day. On Tuesday, students from around the globe wore crop tops to school in protest of dress codes that many feel sexualize minors, discriminate against women and even perpetuate rape culture.

It all started on Monday, when multiple teachers (including a male) reported Halket’s attire to the vice principal, saying that her top “looked too much like a sports bra,” she tells PEOPLE. After what she called a “respectful discussion” with her school’s principal (which ultimately ended in disagreement), she felt frustrated – her school’s dress code was fairly lax, and she’d often seen other students showing more skin.

The next day was Halket’s birthday – and with a forecast in the 70s, she wasn’t planning on wearing a turtleneck.

“I told [the principal] that I had a bunch of similar outfits lined up, because they made me feel really beautiful,” she says. “They said that I ‘wouldn’t want to be called into the office on my birthday,’ and I should change what I was planning on wearing.”

At first, the idea for collective crop top wearing started with just a few of Halket’s friends, who wanted to support her on her birthday. That night, Halket started a Facebook event for “Crop Top Day,” and invited about 300 people from her school to participate.

Throughout the night, that event “blew up,” Halket says. Her friends from school – some of whom have thousands of Twitter followers – Tweeted out the details, which got momentum going. By that morning, there were people participating in Crop Top Day around the globe, in countries like France, Germany and even Australia.

The next day at school, the halls were packed with both male and female students in crop tops as a sign of solidarity. She estimates half of the student body – 500 people – participated.

Teachers and other school staffers were quick to voice their support, too – even if they were a proponent of the school’s dress code and in favor of a more professional environment.

“They’re just trying to find the line,” she says. “The conversation is still very open of the moment.

She didn’t get to experience much of Crop Top Day within the walls of her own school, however, and instead spent much of her time in interviews with local news outlets, even missing a mass lunchtime meeting where students talked about the phenomenon.

Halket’s efforts have mostly been met with approval, though there has been backlash, too. Online, she’s been the subject of derogatory names like “slut” and “whore,” and has been told repeatedly to “suck it up and cover up.”

“They’re not even listening,” Halket says of her opponents. “They’re just so stuck in their mindset that they just retaliate like that. Why should I listen to what they’re saying when I know I’m making a positive difference?”

Others have shrugged off her efforts as a case of teenage rebellion. But Halket disagrees.

“I’m not going to back down,” she says. “Not because I’m trying to rebel, but because this is an issue that I think needs to be talked about.”

Now, Halket wants people to move past the idea of “Crop Top Day” and start thinking about the meaning behind it.

“This is much bigger than what I’m wearing,” Halket says. “This is about women’s rights and the objectification of our bodies.”