While doing research for The Daily World’s “World Gone By” column recently, I came across an article from early 1969, titled “Women over Size 12: Heed Fashion Advice.”
Part of the column, written by Betty Canary, said: “Personally, I think any woman over size 12 should either start in on those rabbit patch foods or sigh contentedly and give up pants suits.”
That comment got me to thinking about the outfits I used to wear — and what I’m wearing these days.
Growing up in Niles, Illinois, in the ’50s, winters meant lots of cold weather and snow. But we girls were required to wear dresses/skirts to school. Oh, if the weather was really bad, you could wear pants under your skirts for the trip to school — but once you got to school, you had to remove the pants along with your winter coat, mittens, boots and scarves.
Even in high school in the mid-1960s we were required to wear skirts/dresses. I remember hearing the warning that if a teacher thought your dress was too short, they would make you kneel down, and if the hem of the skirt didn’t touch the floor, you would be sent home “to dress more appropriately.” But all of us knew the trick of rolling the waistband a couple of times to make the skirt shorter!
A couple of years ago, at our Kelso High School 50-year class reunion, one of my old classmates (“old” as in past classmate, NOT “old” as in elderly classmate) and I started reminiscing about how hard it was to get dressed after gym class and get to the next class on time. You see, back then, for gym class all the girls had to wear a one-piece button-up short and shirt combo. I think it was called a “romper.” Everyone wore exactly the same blue outfit for gym. We bought them at the JCPenney store in downtown Kelso. After gym class, which was five days a week, we’d hustle back into our school clothes including a girdle, nylons, petit pants (which were silky-type long shorts), a slip and then a sweater/blouse and skirt. Now don’t ask me why I was wearing a girdle when I probably weighed 128 pounds, but all of us girls wore girdles.
My first real job was working for Pacific Northwest Bell as a long-distance telephone operator. The building we worked in had a locked door, and no one except operators and repairmen were allowed inside. Even though the public never saw us at work, we had to wear dresses or skirts and nylons on weekdays. On the weekend we were allowed to wear pants suits, but only “fashionable” ones. The chief operator did not hesitate at all to tell us if the outfit we were wearing did not meet PNB standards.
Even when I started work here at The Daily World in 1998, there were clothing restrictions. Monday through Thursday, the guys had to wear button shirts and dress slacks (or khakis), and we women wore dresses, skirts or dressy slacks. Only on “casual Friday” were T-shirts and jeans allowed.
How things have changed — and thank goodness. Now some of us dress up a little, while some of us wear more casual duds. Jeans are acceptable every day — and of course the last day of the week, all year ’round, is Seahawk blue Friday.
And when we go visit the grandkids, it really makes me smile to see what the kids are wearing these days. Sometimes when we make a trip to the grocery store, the youngest will wear her footed, flannel pajamas, and all of them have been known to wear their Halloween costumes when we go out, long after trick or treating is over.
I’m so glad those “appropriate attire” rules have basically gone away. We’re free to be creative, to be comfortable and to choose how dressy or casual we care to be. I can’t remember the last time I wore a dress, I don’t own any pantyhose, and no one even knows what “pants suits” are now.
Let me close with the final sentences of Betty Canary’s column from 1969: “If your pants are too floppy, everyone will think you are wearing Uncle Harry’s castoffs. And if you are over a size 12, don’t buy pants. You’ll look better in Uncle Harry’s castoffs.”
Who says those were the good ol’ days?
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P.S. A big thank-you to whoever (anonymously) dropped off the Bing Crosby St. Patrick’s Day 78 rpm five record pack for me last month. What a totally unexpected surprise that was. I would love to thank you in person. I’ll be out of the office until April 29, but please give me a call or stop by and see me after that.
Karen Barkstrom, The Daily World’s editorial assistant, can be reached at 360-537-3925 or firstname.lastname@example.org.