School fashions of new bring back memories of stricter times

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Janet Sheridan

I went online to look up “Wolverton Mountain,” a song my sister and I used to sing as we mishandled the dinner dishes, but I blundered onto a site about back-to-school fashions instead.

Reading it, I learned that jeans and T-shirts are the hot items for girls and boys of all ages this year. Since I haven’t been napping in the Catskill Mountains for the past 20 years, I wasn’t surprised. But I was a bit startled by the description of must-have jeans: skintight and brightly colored, as in blazing orange, hot pink and lime green.

Somewhere, Levi Strauss is moaning while holding his head.

Girls further were advised to step out in boots, moccasins or ballet flats with their tights and tutu skirts. Boys should have at least one T-shirt with a skull design and will require a plaid, button-down shirt, as well. Furthermore, everyone will need neon sneakers and a knit beanie hat — head apparel that’s “not just for guys anymore.”

School fashions have changed dramatically since I carried my nap rug into kindergarten wearing a ruffled, polka-dotted dress and lace-trimmed anklets. Every day of every grade of every year from kindergarten through high school graduation, my friends and I wore dresses or coordinated skirts and blouses to class — the majority of them homemade.

During junior high, most of us began making some of our clothing. As a result, we occasionally wore dresses with puckered sleeves, unevenly spaced buttonholes or collars that wouldn’t lie flat. I remember standing in front of my bedroom mirror in a dress I’d sewn, saying, “It isn’t right! What’s wrong with it? It doesn’t look anything like the pictures on the pattern.”

When Mom suggested that perhaps the pattern envelope showed clothing that had been sewn flawlessly, my evil sisters cackled.

Dresses also were mandatory in college. During freshman orientation, the dean of students declared it was unseemly for female students to wear slacks or jeans to class, no matter what we saw on TV. At Snow College, it was forbidden for girls to wear pants on campus before 5 p.m. If caught doing so, we’d be brought before the student court to explain and receive an appropriate punishment.

By the third week of school, I was pulling on a sweatshirt and cutoff jeans underneath a trench coat to dash across campus to my 8 p.m. class, where I sat in my thoroughly buttoned and extremely hot coat the entire period — along with 90 percent of my female classmates.

I faced the same restrictions on female attire as a new teacher. It was impossible to teach all day in a buttoned-up full-length coat, so I dusted off my sewing machine and turned out an abundance of miniskirts and gauzy tops. Then, in 1967, the ‘60s finally reached Utah: School administrators, reeling from their efforts to control the length of the miniskirts worn by students and teachers alike, began to see the advantages of allowing females to wear slacks.

In October, at the conclusion of a faculty meeting, my school’s vice principal made the amazing announcement that beginning in November, women teachers could wear pants to work. Ignoring the outburst of delight from his predominately female staff, he spelled out the details of the district’s decree: “Now, listen up. It says here that the pants, or slacks, or culottes or whatever you call ‘em, must be in solid colors. Nothing flashy. Next, they have to be part of a pantsuit sort of thing; that means tailored, loose-fitting stuff that matches on the top and bottom. And — pay attention here, ladies — absolutely no jeans. They don’t belong in school. Never will.”

With that, he exited the room in sneakers and shorts that didn’t match his sweatshirt labeled “coach.”

The female staff members didn’t notice his departure. They were preoccupied, thinking about which of their tie-dyed shirts coordinated best with their new bell-bottoms.

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