Cumberland Times-News

Columns

April 26, 2014

They may have found a way to skirt that issue

The media — what used to be called “the press” — eventually take note of what most folks of mature age and experience already have noticed: Times have changed.

One example of this was contained in a recent Associated Press dispatch concerning school dress codes.

I could make this a lively discussion if I wanted to.

However, I decided to — as the AP story worded it — adhere to “a standard of expectation and decorum.”

“They’re called leggings,” wrote AP reporter Martha Irvine, “popular fashion items that are tight-fitting pants to some, and glorified tights to others ... a clothing accessory that’s increasingly controversial — and seemingly, the favorite new target of the school dress code.”

While some schools have banned leggings, others provide that if worn they must be covered

by a shirt or skirt that reaches at least down to the girl’s fingertips. (Try it. Put your hands down to your side and see for yourself where the concealment line would be).

Back in my day, girls were expected — by their parents, if not by the school itself — to wear skirts that more-or-less covered their knees.

Some got around this by wearing skirts whose length could be adjusted by rolling up the tops after they left home. The girl would unroll the skirt to lower the hemline to its proper altitude before going home.

This was practiced not only at Keyser High School but at other schools in the area, based upon what both male and female friends in my age group have told me.

This might increase the thickness of the girl’s waist, but most of them were slim enough that it didn’t matter.

Besides, that’s not what you were looking at. It wasn’t just boys who were interested in skirt lengths. So were girls who were on the alert for potential scandals or — more likely — wondering what they could get away with.

Virtually all of the girls wore skirts, and you never saw a female teacher in anything but a skirt. The only pants you saw were worn by males.

Nowadays, when you see a woman in a skirt, it almost takes you by surprise.

My late Aunt Penny grew up in Grandmother Goldsworthy’s house and had a strict upbringing.

Dad, Uncle Abe and I could get away with going to the Blue Jay south of Keyser (a rowdy roadhouse, if ever there was one), but the only time Penny went there with her boyfriend she got caught and was grounded for a long time.

Penny lived most of her life in Philadelphia or its environs, but came to visit us once in a while. She always went to church with us and sang in the choir with my mom, but the time came when she stopped doing that.

Eventually, I asked Penny why she not only had stopped singing, but no longer went to church at all. “I don’t have a skirt to my name,” she said. “All I have is slacks, and I refuse to go to church wearing slacks.”

I understood that because Mom was a redhead who refused to wear any red, orange or rust-colored clothing because that would be improper for a redhead. After her hair turned gray, she refused to return it to its former glory because “Now I can wear the colors I’ve always loved.”

I may have told Dad about Penny’s dress code, but not Mom. They were more like sisters

than sisters-in-law, and that was a fullyprimed can of anaconda-sized worms.

People used to dress up to go to church. Some still do, others not so much. I didn’t go to church for probably 30 years, and the Christmas Eve I returned (and sat with our retired pastor because Dad was an usher and Mom was in the choir), I was astonished to see girls wearing their  cheerleading jackets and a number of people in jeans or otherwise dressed informally.

Unless I’m singing in the choir or leading the service, it’s rare that I wear a suit or sport coat in church these days (but I don’t wear jeans).

It’s likely that the Lord doesn’t care what you wear in His house, so long as you go — and go for the right reasons. Some people, I am convinced, go to church just so they’ll be seen there.

AP’s Irvine wrote, “At Haven (Ill.) Middle School, there has been a lot of confusion. Just a few weeks ago, the school’s own website said leggings were banned, when apparently they were not, school officials now say. Then there was the matter of yoga pants, which are tight like leggings, but flared at the bottom. “Did the fingertip rule also apply to those types of pants, especially when no one could tell the difference if they were tucked into boots, which is also popular style among

teens?”

Dress code discussions “have sometimes bordered on silly,” she wrote. “But few disagree that there are serious issues at hand.”

Haven’s teachers posted this statement on the school’s website: “We believe, through years of experience and professionalism, that it is essential to our school’s climate that we set a standard of expectation and decorum.”

Well said. However ... they also denied the dress code was established because of “the notion” that leggings and girls’ clothing in general can distract boys and affect their learning.

Balderdash. My short-term memory isn’t what it used to be, but my long-term memory is relatively

unscathed.

I have excellent recollections of what it was like to be a teen-age boy and remember all too well the effect that skirts that stopped just above the knee (or even just a bit below it) had on my buddies and me.

The process of growing up can be traumatic enough. I know. When you throw deliberately provocative fashion into the equation ... ? (A friend once asked a store clerk if she had any clothing that wouldn’t make her 8-year-old granddaughter look like a streetwalker.) The truth is that girls distract boys, regardless of what they’re wearing.

Dad (who remained distractible for all of his 89 years) and I once maintained our decorum by pretending like we didn’t even notice a really fine young woman who walked past us.

After she went by, I told him it was far easier to deal with some things when you’re 50, than when you were 20, 30 or even 40.

“Wait ‘til you get to be 85,” he said, “and see how damn easy it gets!”

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