Recently, I was walking by the local high school at the closing bell. As I watched swarms of kids spilling out the doors, I wondered if someone had laced my lunch yogurt with LSD. Or maybe I had somehow wandered onto the set of a movie whose costume designer had gone berserk.
Something was definitely wrong with this picture. Earrings, nose rings, eyebrow rings, bizarre hair-dos, purple nail polish...on the boys. Even weirder, one of them was actually wearing a bathrobe and slippers. I swear. The others sported second-skin-tight bicycle shorts or kaleidoscopic, ridiculously baggy pants obviously stolen from Barnum & Bailey. Topping these were huge sweat shirts emblazoned with obscene slogans and very graphic graphics.
As for the girls, most of them looked like they had just sashayed off the runway of the old burlesque house. I could not believe they had been allowed into school in those snug, crotch-high skirts, necklines that dipped to their navels, and combat boots. Where were the modest plaid skirts, bow-tied blouses, and shiny loafers my girl friends and I wore to high school? Probably in the Smithsonian along with the boys' neatly pressed corduroy trousers, white shirts and argyle socks.
When I got home I pulled out the old family albums to see if maybe my memory had finally deserted me completely. Could our clothes really have been so different from those of today's kids? Ah, yes. There we were, all gussied up, in those black and white photos with the curlicue edges. Those were the post-depression years, so none of us were well-heeled; but we certainly were well-dressed. And well-coiffed. The grammar school me smiled shyly at the camera, my long banana curls clipped in place with a huge taffeta bow. I was wearing my favorite puffed sleeved, Shirley Temple frock, ankle socks, and gleaming patent leather Mary Janes. My girl friends looked equally ladylike. And the boys--all natty and neat in their knickers, knee socks and newly shorn heads. No ponytails, dreadlocks or Mohawks. Fortunately. If a boy had walked into class with any of the above, Teacher would have flat-lined before she had a chance to send him to the principal's office.
I turned a few pages. We were now older but no less fashionable. Even our 'play' clothes looked as though we could never have actually played in them. So stylish. So clean. So pressed!
A few more pages, and we were teen-agers, with glamorous hair-dos, fake-fur-trimmed coats, and high heels (the girls, not the boys). As for them--not a bathrobe in the bunch. But maybe we just always dressed up for the camera. No. Thinking back, I recall that we weren't adorned for special picture-taking occasions; the photos simply chronicled our everyday attire. I have snaps of me in my going-to-college wardrobe, for example--beautiful wool suits, dresses and jumpers, nylons and pumps. Jeans? Are you kidding? Even tailored slacks would have gotten me expelled.
At that point, the albums ran out. No more snapshots. We had graduated to 35 millimeter slides. I pulled some out and set up the screen and projector. Our images were now in large, living color, but our wardrobes hadn't changed. Look! There I was with my girl friends on Fifth Avenue --our first trip to New York...and there, on the Champs Elysees, our first trip to Europe...in dresses, hats, white gloves, and--heaven help us, those blasted high heels, in which we walked for miles in agonizing pain. You know what I wished for when I threw my coin in the Trevi Fountain? I wished I could throw my shoes in the Trevi Fountain. If only I had. It would have saved me years of podiatrists' bills.
I bet that boy who goes to school in his slippers and the girls with their combat boots don't have tormented toes like mine. Maybe they've got the right idea after all.
Tomorrow I'm wearing Reeboks to church. So what if it's my grandniece's wedding. If the bridesmaids can do it, so can I.
This piece first appeared on 1997 in the Andover, Mass. Townsman.
Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.