So much was said to us by the clothes we wore in grade school. We were girls before we were people. Enthusiasm must be checked by modesty. We were little versions of the grownup world.
It was subtle and totally acceptable when I was back in the 1950’s wearing skirts and dresses to school: being a girl was more about being cute than being exploring our potential. It wasn’t how fast we could run or how high we could jump as much as it was the bow in our hair. Boys wore sturdy shoes and warm pants when the temperature dropped. Our shoes and bare legs changed our relationship with recess.
We didn’t get ‘the lecture’ about how to sit until we were in junior high, but “I see London, I see France, I see Jeannie’s underpants” pretty much sent the message. It didn’t take long for us to avoid the monkey bars or find it uncomfortable to sit on the floor to do projects. In skirts and dresses, we were learning to curtail ourselves before we had a thought about being different than the boys.
Our clothes were a practice run for being a woman. We might have played dress-up with our mothers’ high heels and old clothes, but the outfits we wore to school were more powerful in preparing us to step into our mother’s shoes. For the young girls of the rock ‘n roll years, the idea that we could grow up to be anything we wanted was still hidden under slips and lace.
But we were also the generation that challenged the path set out for us. When we arrived in the 60’s, we burned our bras, dared to use the design of our country’s flag for a sweater, and said no to expectations .
Notes along the way... Jeanne McElvaney
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