Monday, May 25, 2015


"You are a bright spot in my year. I really enjoyed your humor--your writing. Best of Luck, Mr. G."
(Signature in my ninth grade yearbook from favorite English Teacher).  

"Think about it: How often do we police girls’ bodies? Recent talk of school dress codes reveals that it happens
an awful lot, and for some confused reasons."
-Marinda Valenti, for Ms. Magazine

As we prepare to join a new school community, and as my younger child enters her tween years, I have noticed a groundswell of both restrictive measures in school communities to shape what children wear and an articulate response to this form of clothing policing.   I'm an enthusiastic supporter of the girls and young women who are learning, creating dialogue, and fighting these codes that disproportionately affect girls and women.  Myself, and local friends, get into a pretty quick and excited debate and I can stir things up at just about any cocktail party or barbecue.  One of the delicious benefits of any major discussion is often that we get to mine our ideas and minds and creativity for all sorts of items.  
In my case, a trip down memory lane seems just about right. Let's face it, a lot of styles today will send most of us older folks into a bit of a tizzy.  Boys seem to be dressed in just about anything, as long as it's not fitted, usually a drab color and, well, boring.  Girls, on the other hand, seem to be wearing less and less of whatever it is that they have on (myself included).  One of the arguments about dress coding is that certain people, almost whatever they wear, will look (and probably feel) sexier, no matter what they wear.  When I think back to my own Junior High days I can remember who looked *hot*.  But really, what were we wearing, ca. 1981?  And so, I did that thing, I went and grabbed three Junior High yearbooks from my basement.  

1. I was lucky. Lucky to grow up in a progressive corner of a liberal college town.  Teachers were interesting and quirky.  We played on enormous fields and were allowed a  variety in the courses we took.  We were honored with the privilege of selecting our own classes, building our own community, suffering when we made fools of ourselves, enjoying the successes we found. Our teachers, as far as I could tell, could act like real, caring, flawed people.

2. Okay, clothes for girls are so different after thirty five years.  Painter pants?  Levi 501s?  Calvin Kleins?  Not only did we look different in the cut and style, but these bottom half clothes for girls were 100% cotton.  We could only wear our pants so tight.  There were no yoga pants, there were no leggings.  In the left shot, the only nylon is in the sweat jacket, and, as cute as those things were (and coveted) they weight about five pounds more than the average technical fabric jacket that you'd find on anybody's back today.

3. I remember trying to take a lot of risks in the clothing i wore (often handmade). But here I am, pictured wearing a button down shirt and vest of some sort. The more I think about this shirt, I think it was one of those soft gauze numbers. Pretty cute, and pretty comfy.  There was a fair amount of strategizing, as to whether the breast-located buttons were *appropriate* or not.  (as in gap or no gap).

4. By today's standards, everyone looks entirely covered up, but they also look like they just walked out of an episode of Freaks and Geeks…that, and they look completely stoned.  Not true, obviously, but it must have something to do with feathered hair and velour shirts.

5. But so much of what came out of the eighties is  incredibly cool.  Also, in my basement, I possess two well-loved vintage "Butte to Butte" T-shirts.  Haven't worn either for years, but I brought them out of storage for this occasion, and may even place them back in the rotation. The Butte To Butte, to the uninitiated, is one of the classic footraces held every Fourth of July in Eugene.  It used to start not far from my home and finish near Autzen Stadium.  Beautiful course, always fun, always competitive.  These shirts not only remind me of bygone days as a teen wearing any sort of shirt, but they also remind me of the race T-s that are ancient history.  Read it and weep:
B. 50% cotton/50%poly
C. TWO sponsor ads, only (Williams Bakery & KUGN Radio).
(I'm completely over the modern *tech* race shirt that's so littered with giant company adverts and ugly design)
How fun!  I love these old shirts, and they're gone, gone, gone.  Forget any natural fibers, whatsoever, forget local flavor races, forget plain t-shirt that can be worn for twenty years.  And as I set out with my companion today, I must admit, wearing the blue shirt for an hour long walk in our sultry early summer weather, I yearned for my usual attire of a tight little stripy sporty thing so my skin could breathe.  I WAS HOT!  As in, I'm so hot I need shelf-lined summer dress from Athleta or Patagonia or whatever.

And here, in front of a favorite neighbor home, another blast from the past. As Oak Park creeps every day toward being more and more new and fancy (home and garden yuppy liberal destination) houses like this are on the decline.  I'm so in love with the yard, the wingdings, the color of the home, the chimes.  It's all there, and it's scaled perfectly in size to the other homes in the neighborhood.
I digress, I just love old stuff, I love whimsy, I love other people who put it out there.  Nothing but love.
Times have changed, for all of us.  I'm clinging to the hope that we're marching toward a time that women have more liberty and more freedom.  Less restriction and more autonomy.  I think this is what we were moving towards, in the eighties when we got funky with unisex pants and feathered hair.  I think it's also what we're moving towards today when the de-rigour wear of an active gal is a shelf-lined running or jog top (face it, when everything has so much stretch, we can pack all of our body parts in, not with fear of things sticking out)  The jog bra, to me, is outerwear more than it is underwear.  Yet I'm also aware of the sadness that accompanies any change.  I feel that, almost all  of the time.  I sort of wish we all wore hand-sewn dresses and skirts, but we don't, and we don't exactly have a lot of access to natural fiber products, and most certainly not US made textiles.  My walking companion, today, introduced me to the term, "fast fashion" which places like H&M utilize in order to sell multiple trends within one season (instant throwaway). So, sure, I'd like to see kids cover more of the tush up when they walk around town, and I want kids to feel good about wearing more conservative clothing, but I'd also like to direct attention, if necessary at the production empire rather than kids who's only real options are very limited, limited by time, price, availability, even limited by whether or not they have the adults around them who can help shape a "groovy" aesthetic that fits within "code."
Appropriate?  Sure.  Dated? Yes.  Times moving on?  We have no choice.
And finally, about that teacher signature.  I have to confess.  I've buried all that junior high stuff because my recollection of those years is that it was my "flirty" phase.  I worked my looks, I played on popularity, I wore tight clothes, makeup, hair.  It wasn't until I was on the precipice of a ninth grade GPA that I started to flip my exterior image to another style.  These were realizations and lessons that I had to work out for myself.  Who was I to become?  I'm so glad that I could work through this on my own, because in the end I still embrace the whimsical interplay of sexy, attractive, girly, and powerful, butch, and more.  I'm so proud that I grew up in a community that we could experiment with our appearance, so that by the time I moved on I didn't perceive that I had been stifled and then wanted to let go when it mattered differently.  When I peeked at this old book,  I was a bit surprised to see what kids and teachers had written in my yearbook (nice, good listener, supportive, funny, great friend, cute, good tennis player).  Most of it wasn't offensive, and here was one teacher who at the very perfect moment in my life acknowledged me for gifts in the classroom and I am forever grateful for his support.  He, along with many teachers in my community, was remarkable and bright and honest and real.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your amazing writing. It always strikes the most interesting chord