Let me start by saying I realize there has to be some kind of decorum in a polite social structure when it comes to attire in public. You don’t want people showing up to school or work looking like a Kardashian on the red carpet or in a bathing suit at the grocery store (however Walmart apparently has never gotten that memo and continues to be a gracious sanctuary for the clothing-impaired). Throughout my life there have been rules that are so very important one day and absolutely not an issue the next. I’ve always gone along to get along all the while thinking, ‘This is really stupid.’
As a child, we used to walk about a mile through town to school. At the time dresses or skirts were the only attire a young lady was allowed to wear in class. It would be freezing cold, snow up to our knees, but we would embark out in the weather with our dresses, tights, and boots. During severe cold snaps, and believe me Illinois has plenty of those in the winter, we could wear dungarees or snowsuit pants under our skirts, but once we got to school, those were removed and left with our coats, hats, gloves, and boots, and germ-factory brown bag lunches in the cloakroom. The boys, however, were wearing pants, jeans, boots, whatever they wanted because they were, well boys, all the while any of the girl’s questionable hemlines were measured with a ruler to be no more than a certain number of inches above our knees. This continued until the year after I graduated from high school. After that it was pretty much wear what you want. I’ll never forget looking at my younger sister’s yearbook and seeing pictures of the girls in the hallways wearing plaid bellbottoms and tucked in turtlenecks. What? It no longer mattered what a girl wore to class?
Gym class was structured as well for the girls to wear a PE uniform purchased at a department store 25 miles away. It was a one-piece short-legged jumpsuit with an elastic waistband. These looked good on about 3 girls in school, the rest of us looked like baked potatoes stuffed into these blue nightmares. God forbid our midriff would peek out if we reached to return a volleyball in the all-girl group. The boys were able to wear shorts and t-shirts because they were, well boys. As with the required skirts this too went away and girls were eventually allowed to wear shorts and t-shirts like the rest of the humans.
Growing up a Catholic in an almost exclusive protestant community had it’s challenges as well. I remember going to church one Friday afternoon in the summer for our Confirmation rehearsal. It was after all a rehearsal. Our church was located in another town about 6 miles away, but we had just arrived as a group from our Confirmation class in a different town about 20 miles away. I arrived as did the others in my summer clothes which consisted of a pair of shorts and a nice crisp cotton buttoned sleeveless top. We all lined up to go into the church when all of a sudden I was called out of line with the other girls because we weren’t allowed in the church without a hat. A hat? That never occurred to me. Okay, all the boys go on in, but those of you girls without hats are going to have to bobbypin a Kleenex to your heads. I know on a proper Sunday we needed to show up in our Sunday finest with the hat and the white cotton gloves and the purse that matches the coat, but for a 20-minute rehearsal in 90-degree heat? In my mind I was thinking how ridiculous is this? I certainly looked ridiculous. Thank goodness for no selfies back then. But, hey, rules are rules. A few years later, nobody was wearing a hat to church and now unless its the dead of winter, hats look strikingly out of place. There was also a no-meat- on-Fridays rule in the Catholic Church too at the time. I recall a Friday evening going to a school wiener roast at the park when I was about 11 or 12 and stupidly trying to warm some bread and a piece of cheese on the end of my roasting stick to make a melted cheese sandwich. Note: Not recommended. Soon after, eating meat on Friday was no big deal, but not until embarrassing situations like that stuck to me like oatmeal to ribs. In current times you may follow the rule if you want, but you don’t have to. To this day restaurants offer Friday fish deals because of this passé Catholic rule. Who doesn’t like a couple of hush puppies now and again?
Having graduated from high school, I was excited to enter the workplace. Every day you had to show up as though you were going to a wedding – dresses, hose, heels, makeup, coiffed hair, matching accessories. This was the approved garb for a professional office appearance. Yes, you could be sent home if you wore open-toed shoes, or had bare legs, or there was something that just didn’t look quite appropriate. So many years of buying pantyhose, mixing and matching non-run cut-up pairs, carrying clear fingernail polish in our purses to apply hoping to stop a hole or a run from becoming bad enough to show. Washing them every night before bed, checking them each day, carrying extra pairs with you in case there was an embarrassing hole or run you didn’t catch in time. The pantyhose thing was a regimen all it’s own; but all in all, it was way better than the girdle, garters, hose on clips era from a few short years prior. Pantyhose to us was a dang miracle! Good grief, our mothers had to straighten the bulky dark seams on the back of their hose in addition to everything else. Pantyhose was a huge step-up.
About 4 years into my working life the winds of change were slowly seeping into the office. I was one of the very first women to ever wear a pantsuit into work. How daring. How fashion-forward. How radical! I wasn’t even sent packing although I had another outfit at the ready hanging on the hook in the backseat of the car had I been sent home.
Finally about 25 years into my working life a miracle happened. We could wear casual clothes that included that nondescript of all nondescript garments, khakis. Wow, khakis! I’m in heaven. Progress, sure, but still I recall a time when a co-worker who, by the way, did not have a customer-facing job, wore a pair of light tan pants to work; and the supervisor saying to me that to her it looked like those were light-colored jeans and not khakis; and she intended to have a closer look to see if there was stitching on the seams and pockets. What? I was so gleeful about the whole business casual directive that I promptly went into my closet, pulled out all my suits, skirts, and dresses, and burned them in the backyard. I have not put a skirt on since, not even for my childrens’ weddings.
You’d think this would have been the end to the dress code dilemma, but nooooo. There were still rules, like no open-toed or peep-toed shoes, no athletic or tennis shoes, no bare legs, no skorts (because they were way too close to appearing like baggy shorts), or no clothes with writing or intrusive logos allowed. Which brings me to the whole ‘no jeans in the workplace‘ rule. I’ve never really understood why. We had evolved to the point where we could now all wear pants. We could now all wear khakis. Even though I had personally gone to the ‘no skirts or dresses’ dark side that did not mean everyone else did of course. Still why no blue jeans ever? How scandalous if you wore blue denim on your legs. The rule had relaxed to allowing black denim, white denim, tan denim, but blue? That was totally out of the question. After all it must be a repulsive and odious fabric. Well, that can’t be it. You could wear different colors of denim or a blue denim skirt or top or jacket, but under no circumstances should you even consider covering your legs with blue denim. Well wait, that’s not it either. There were days you could donate money to charity and wear jeans those days, and there were the days you could wear them if it was a special occasion like Super Bowl Friday or wear-your-favorite-team shirt day or something like that. We’re all walking around the office with jeans on those days, so it can’t be management doesn’t want us seen in them. Jeans are usually more expensive than regular pants, look better on people than khakis, last longer than just about any other fabric in the universe, are more versatile because you can pair just about anything with a pair of blue jeans. I never really got it, and then that rule went away as well.
In our workplace, now-a-days we can wear whatever strikes our fancy to work, blue jeans, flip-flops and sandals, short skirts with bare legs, tight dresses, leggings with long tops, sweatshirts, hoodies, whatever. Just show the heck up for your shift. Seriously, please just show up for work.
All of these rules and regulations were so keenly important one day, and people could dismiss them like yesterday’s news the next. Dress codes are a consensus. If we all are allowed to wear jeans and white tennis shoes to work, then it won’t be annoying anyone or making anyone uncomfortable or considered unprofessional. It’s just fabric people! As I sit here writing this blog, I have on a pair of blue jeans, a black hoodie with a local high school’s logo prominently displayed across the front, and a pair of comfy warm shoes. Oh the scandal! Ahhhhhhh……..finally comfortable… Sandy