Janet Sheridan: A fool for fashion
My friend’s father railed against pedal pushers. My grandmother questioned the attire of Elvis Presley but seemed to enjoy his hips. A college dorm mother told me a true lady would never appear in public without hose, and my first principal sent a teacher home when she showed up at work in a pantsuit.
Fashion police are everywhere, and they’ve investigated me more than once.
When I tried out for my high school drill team and heard my name announced as a new member, I beamed with happiness. My joy turned to incredulity, however, when Drill Master Mavis addressed us. Displaying the impeccable posture and mannerly hair that had guaranteed her election to her prestigious position, Mavis explained we’d need to purchase different uniforms for the football and basketball seasons. In addition, we’d be expected to wear “foundation garments strong enough to contain unseemly jiggling.”
Thirty of us gathered in the girls’ locker room before the first football game, giggling and excited, wearing matching Jantzen sweaters and pleated skirts. While we chattered, Mavis and two henchmen moved among us, randomly pinching butts to check for appropriate girdles. Though I tried to look inconspicuous and firm, I was pinched; and my girdle — purchased at JC Penney’s the day before and enjoying its first outing — was described as flimsy. Mavis sternly informed me that I’d lose points if anything bounced.
I performed with nary a jiggle, but the fashion police weren’t finished with me.
I enjoyed my student teaching and thought I did well, so my final evaluation didn’t worry me. My supervising teacher began by saying he thought I’d make a fine teacher, and then went over my evaluation form, which he had marked accordingly — except for an unsatisfactory on the last item: personal appearance.
While I was dying, he explained my skirts were too short. They revealed my knees. In addition, I wore eye shadow. Righteous indignation revived me. Along with stained polyester pants, the man talking to me wore a gaping plaid shirt stretched across a massive belly. In addition, he had hair sprouting from his nose. I fought to stifle an uncontrollable urge to giggle, coughing and spluttering. He thought he’d made me cry.
Recently, I examined old photographs and policed my fashion sense myself, I wore skirts ballooned by stiffly starched petticoats in junior high, baggy school sweatshirts over cut-off jeans in college, chunky Birkenstock sandals in the 60s, and shoulder pads that made me look like a linebacker in the 80s.
In addition, I ratted my hair with a metal comb in college, then plastered it in place with Aqua Net hair spray and went to class looking like I had a shellacked watermelon on my head. Also, for too many years, I wore extra-high heels to show I was comfortable with my height. As a result, I wobbled through many an important occasion and frightened away numerous men who feared I’d fall on them.
Then came the wondrous day when I escaped both the fashion police and my own judgment by retiring. It’s liberating to get up each day and put on what I want to wear rather than what I have to wear. Sometimes I’m pleased to discover I’m still in my pajamas when its time to go to bed.
When buying clothes, I now have two criteria: comfort and simplicity. If I fidget with an item under consideration because of its fussy design or imperfect fit, it goes back on the hanger: no agonizing, no alterations, no buyer’s remorse.
And I’m only policed by my grandchildren’s teasing: “Wow, nice sandals. Did you make them when you were a hippie?” “You still have a cell phone you flip to open? Do you take it out in public?” “You look nice, but you’d look better without that disreputable old man you’re with.”
No longer concerned about current fashions or the opinions of others, I laugh with them.
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