Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rage Against the Machine

I am a rebel. Don't let my geekly demeanor fool you.
Oddly, most of my outrage is reserved for fashion injustices, but nonetheless. My rebellious nature killed any hope of becoming a lawyer, or for that matter my chances of being well paid in any field.

Chapter One
When I was seven, I went to a boarding school. My parents are not cruel, and I have many happy memories of this school, EXCEPT it was the kind of school where girls were required to wear dresses. Jeans for either sex were not even discussed. But girls above all must not wear slacks, as they were called in that eon.
So okay, I wore dresses. I was seven. I liked dresses. Still do, actually.

EXCEPT I was the only girl in first & second grade combined. And I played kickball -- remember that game with the red rubber ball? And dodge ball, and kick-the-can. With the boys.
Because there were no girls my age.

Jumped rope, swings, monkey bars. Anyway, the point being, that the little perverts would do their best to make me achieve positions that would expose my panties. Not difficult since I was WEARING A SKIRT.
[Also sliding into a base was a problem, but only secondary since I didn't have the inclination to do much of that.]
After a few days of this, I started wearing shorts under my skirt.

Which worked fine for a couple of months. The perverts must have gotten resentful, because someone told teacher. Guess what? It was against the rules to wear shorts under your dress.
Really. No seriously.
I was required to take them off if they were discovered. (Not the panties, just the shorts.) I stopped for a week, then kept on wearing them. I kept getting caught. Then I figured screw it --

wait, I didn’t learn that expression till later...
but that was the precise moment I learned the sentiment. I refused to play. Sometimes I played jacks, but mostly I just sat in the classroom every day during recess. Looking back I realize that what felt like giving up was actually sweet revenge, because I’m sure I made that teacher’s life hell every day at recess for the rest of the year. She stayed in the classroom to get work done. She didn't get a lot done. Good for me.

Chapter Two
The bloomers.
I felt you needed to see these to capture the full weight of the humiliation being inflicted by the authorities. But wait! Not at aforesaid stalag boarding school. We’re talking public school, United States, late seventies.

Now, here’s what the boys wore.

Uh huh.

(borrowed photo. Not mine in any way.)

Okay. Now, this is what female students were required to wear for gym class in jr high and high school.

These had to be purchased at a sporting goods store in town that special-ordered them every year, because these were not going to be stocked by any store interested in a profit margin. One could order the required "your name embroidered in gold on breast pocket" when you placed your order, or if you were handy with embroidery -- and I was --- you could embroider it yourself.

Mom took one look at this and howled. With laughter. Apparently they were similar to what she had to wear -- in the FORTIES. And they were outdated then.

Now, most of you remember what gym class was like, right? I think Mengele came up with this idea. Make young adolescents undress and change in front of each other, sweat like pigs, and then give them two options: take a group shower, or change back into your clean clothes without one and then go back to class either way.
So, for the girls, this was the coup de grace. When you change, you have to put this on, and then appear in public, in front of boys that you hope will one day ask you to the prom.

You have to do sports wearing this.

You have to stand in line by the fence and get picked for teams --- wearing this.

I can’t remember exactly when but I think it was eight grade -- so, three years into this daily torture -- that one of the girls said SCREW THIS, I am not going to wear it.
By this time I knew the phrase but I would never, ever say it out loud, because I couldn’t pull it off.

Ironically, she was one of those girls -- we all know who they were -- who could make boys drool wearing this. She could get that belt just tight enough to make the fabris stretch over her dumbells and make the third snap threaten to pop --- oops! There it went, giggle.
So anyway she got detention. The next day, her friends refused, and they got detention.

Now, that girl was not me. Nor was I one of the friends, but in (silent) solidarity I also refused to wear The Bloomer Gymsuit. (I was so, sooo trying to be one of the cool kids. But I was also sincere.)
And I got detention. First ever.

That was in itself an exhilarating experience for a goody two shoes. Liberating as well, since I learned that it was just a room next to the office with about two dozen heavily graffitied desks, and a sweaty tuna fish kind of smell. And you could read the whole time and no-one told you to put the book away.

Anyway they called our parents, and they sent a note home with each of us. The next day Mom drove me to school, and I waited in the outer office while she went in to talk to the principal. After a while she came back out, kissed me goodbye, and the principal sent me back to class. He looked a little pale. At the end of the day we were told that girls must wear shorts and a t-shirt for gym class.

Chapter Three
There seems to be a pants theme here.

My third sartorial challenge came in the late eighties. I was employed for a few years at a law factory. I was fresh out of college, discovering that an Ivy League degree meant precisely snap if you didn’t know what you wanted to be when you grew up, and had no marketable skills.

So, I’m making about $11,000 a year after taxes, which even then was a pittance, and one-eighth the income of brand-new associates for whom I drafted entire documents because they didn’t know what the hell they were doing. I have one good wool “interview” suit and a couple of wool skirts. It is winter. It is Philadelphia. I hike half a mile from the cheap parking to the train in the suburbs, and eight blocks from the train to the office. There is often a foot or more of snow and slush and wicked ice chunks thrown off by passing cars.
I splurge one whole paycheck on two pair of lined wool trousers, some sturdy but fetching boots, and some wool cable-knit tights, the kind I used to wear under plaid skirts in grade school.

I wear my toasty trousers.

I am invited into a conference room by the personnel manager, who confides in hushed tones that trousers are against the dress code. He says almost apologetically that I must wear a dress, skirt, or suit.

I am so stupid that at first I think he means I have to get a jacket to match the trousers. Then I get it. A few hours later I even get angry.

But I fail to protest. Such is the real world. Even passive aggression will get me fired; though I do consider wearing shorts under my skirt. Nor can Mom come ream out my employer, not that she wouldn’t, but I would still be jobless.

So I sigh. Next morning, I put on my cable knit tights, and trot off to work: glum, shivering, but solvent.

After lunch the PM stops me in the hall and gives me a copy of the employee handbook. Meaningfully. When I get to my office I notice that there is a page dog-eared. It opens to the dress code. Under the section for Female Employees, there is a paragraph describing what a Female Employee must wear or not wear under her mandatory skirt.
Bright panties under light colored fabric were inappropriate. I agree, although the partners weren’t complaining about the secretaries who did that. [Interestingly, it was nowhere stated that panties were mandatory. At the time I figured it was implied.]

It seems cable-knit tights are unprofessional. Who knew?

So I went home that night and said, “screw this,” which by then I could say pretty convincingly, at least when alone in the confines of my little apartment. And I started filling out applications for grad school.

Chapter Four
Right now I’m wearing a sarong. Life is good.


  1. Oh dear Lord! Where in the world did you find my gym uniform????? I had to wear that monstrosity in gym class in high school, in the early 70s.

  2. I think the last chapter is really excellent. Takes this delightful tale to a whole new level.

  3. First of all "Slacks" is the BEST word ever, and don't be surprised to see it on a future FAF. "Blouse" will probably follow.

    Second of all THANK GOD a woman can wear pants when she wants now.

  4. At my junior high school the girls were forced to wear a different but equally ridiculous outfit while the boys disported themselves in white shorts (although of a specific kind) and white t-shirts. The girls uni was sort of a knit jumper of some synthetic fiber. The 'shorts' section was solid dark blue, and the top was blue and yellow/gold in thin horizontal stripes. It zipped up the front. I tried but failed to find a picture for Jennygirltherat. I was quite happy to wear the shorts, I can tell ya... not so happy to shower after PE.

  5. Joanie --so you feel my pain?
    Rae -- I have several sarongs. Sometimes I wear them all day long.
    Ann -- here's an even better one: "dungarees."
    Chandler -- keep looking for that photo -- I'll post it if you find one.

  6. OK, on what planet???? did you go to school????? Cause I went here in good old LA and we wore, well, whatever the budget could afford. No uniforms were bought or sold at the schools. I think the only reg was "no cut-offs." And SWEET JC, I hated gym class! Not because of the clothes. Because I felt like a tiny, boyish alien amongst quickly developing women, who came complete with breasts, an ass and stories about the boys they'd already had. They were 12 when this began. OK, most of the stories were probably bogus, but I believed! Oh, I believed. What terror it struck in my soul when they pulled out tampons and complained of cramps. What scandal when they wondered if they might be... you know... pg. Jr. High was just hell. I feel a deep satisfaction with the knowledge that both of my children will miss out on this particular type of social initiation. As for dresses, I thought the south was supposed to be behind on all that. For as long as I've been a conscious human being, women down here could wear whatever the hell they wanted as long it was pressed. OK. No jeans. But OMG!

  7. The locker room at Lincoln Junior High School smelled SO bad and what lurked in the dark corners of those showers?

    I too love the uniform pic-am trying to steal for Facebook profile. Shall I send you royalty?

  8. Amy--I trolled that uniform illustration off the internet -- I liked that particular one because it was the exact color we had to wear. I broke into a cold sweat just looking at it.