“But, Mom, why can’t girls wear pants to school? It just isn’t fair.” It was an argument my mother and I had a lot that ninth year of my life. For as many years as I was in school, the dress code for girls was always skirts or dresses and there were no exceptions. Now, you’ve got to know that in Montana’s extraordinarily bitter winter cold spells where the temperatures would plummet to forty degrees below zero with a wind-chill factor making it a minus-ninety-eight degrees, this was a dumb rule! Oh, we girls could wear pants under our skirts as long as we took them off when on the school grounds but, still, at nine years of age it just didn’t make any sense to me. (In fact the same was true even at seventeen.)
“Girls will act like girls if they are dressed like girls,” my mother said, as she always did, parroting the School Board, no doubt.
“But, they don’t forbid girls from playing baseball at recess or staying off the monkey bars so is a dress supposed to keep us from playing at recess or what? I mean, adults are forever telling us to ‘act like ladies’ and ‘keep your skirt down so your underwear doesn’t show’ but how can we do that and still play? Don’t you see how much better it would be if we could wear pants like the boys?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think; the rule is that you have to wear a dress so you will wear a dress. Now, stop arguing with me and go change out of those pants right now.” Obviously the tone of my mother’s response let me know I would just not win this time any more than any of the other battles on this subject. I kept thinking I could wear her down but, when it came to rules that others had imposed on us—well, rules were rules with my mother and that was that.
In later years we would see Laura Ingalls hike up those long skirts and thick petticoats when she ran around the bases or needed to get some place in a hurry; but, let me tell you, what worked on “Little House on the Prairie” just did not work with our “no petticoat and knee-length skirt” little girl fashions of the mid-fifties and sixties. Plus, the boys could wear tennis shoes, while we had to wear saddle shoes. No idea what saddle shoes are? Well, they have nothing to do with saddles and horses or I would have loved them! They were a heavy, leather oxford type shoe, black and white or brown and white, with laces to tie. It was obvious to me that the people who made them did not know much about kids because the toes of the shoes were white—or, at least, they were right after my mother finished polishing them but not much longer than that. I just didn’t see the point of this rule.
As if the winter weather, the “don’t show anyone your underwear” warning and plain ol’ inconvenience of the dress code were not enough, one day I began to notice the high school boys new fashion. The black and white vertical stripes on their shirt matched the color of their cotton trousers and they wore a thin white leather belt that had two, not one, little buckles to keep it closed. I thought the total effect so cool. I wanted an outfit like that—looked good and was practical for play. Though I cannot tell you this, for sure, but I think it was probably my persistent pleading with my mother that resulted in one such outfit finding its way into my wardrobe. I just loved that outfit! I wore it often and longed to wear it to school.
One morning I had already put my dress on and was pretty much ready for school; I just needed to lace up my black and white saddle shoes. Maybe it was realizing that my shoes were the same color as my favorite out-of-school outfit, maybe it was just a little spike of rebellion slipping into my thoughts as I laced my shoes—I don’t really know what came over me-- but, without saying a word to anyone, I changed out of my dress and into my black /white striped shirt, black cotton pants and little white belt. I managed to slip by my mother and out the door.
I was so nervous as I approached the school grounds. My hope was that, since no girl had ever done this before, they would just not know what to do and, well, would do nothing.
****EOD: Transitions: Attire, Scene 2… Coming Tomorrow