Dress code change left a lasting legacy

Dress code change left a lasting legacy

My wife tells the story that when she was a senior, the student council initiated legislation that allowed girls to wear jeans to school, which was a totally feminist power play aimed not only at the liberation of half the student body but at gutting the patriarchy.

In short what the activist Class of 1970 accomplished changed everything because by the time I had matriculated to the very same brick-and-mortar edifice some three years later, not only had jeans long since been accepted as the norm, to think otherwise would have been akin to banning books because some words offended.

Looking back from a vantage point some 50 years down the road, it’s difficult to remember a time when something as seemingly benign as a fashion choice could cause such chaos in the halls of secondary learning, but it’s a fact. Not only was their accomplishment eye-opening, it soon became simply accepted.

Guys, on the other hand, were slower to the dance, so to speak.

Given a choice of what righteous cause to back, we’d probably have come up with something stupid like pizza every day in a cafeteria where jocks sat at elevated tables and nerds crawled around on the floor, begging for crusts to be tossed their way.

Thankfully, as history has duly recorded, women were smarter.

Studies have long since concluded that between the age of 16 and 18, not only were their brains fundamentally superior, but also they had much more of what was commonly known as common sense, which, as you’ll probably recall from your time in the cauldron of adolescence, was not commonplace at all; in fact, it was rare.

I got in trouble for the dumbest things: petty acts of rebellion, quintessentially misplaced targets of revenge, obstinately ridiculous gestures of protest that could never, ever succeed.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite Paul Simon lyrics, the one that goes, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.” Combine the clarity of “Kodachrome” with the world-weary wisdom of Steely Dan’s “My Old School” and you pretty much have the soundtrack of my days and nights as a precollege student, just stumbling my way through.

Speaking of music that mattered, I made reference earlier to boys being late “to the dance,” an apt metaphor for the topic of this week’s epistle because I want to write about what I experienced when it came to a tradition that put the sexes on the same footing.

I refer, of course, to those girls-ask-the-guys affairs.

The high school social calendar, much like today’s professional golfing tour, was highlighted by four major events, all of which were considered important if you wanted to “fit in,” by which I mean achieving a status just a bit loftier than a caddy’s, not that there’s anything wrong with that, though it’s better to be a player.

Faithful readers may recall my senior season scorecard for the two most important dances of the year was not at all impressive:

Homecomings: 1, Proms: 0.

Not to get all defensive or anything, but I was working with my own sort of handicap; that is, as a product of a parochial grade-school education, I lacked a few key clubs in my bag, not the least of which was the ability to consider the possibility that a girl might actually, when asked by me quite directly, say the word, “Yes.”

But owing to progressive thinking and, perhaps, the keen understanding that there were other guys like me out there, two of the Big Four events on the card empowered girls to do the asking.

For that — and my sister’s coterie of pretty friends — I thank God.

Without them 12th grade would have been as fallow as a farm field rotated out of use, as quiet as an 8-track in a cassette-tape world, as embarrassing as flunking gym. The fact that I went to both remains something of a relief, since the alternative would have been so sad.

Which is not to say I distinguished myself at either one; conversely, I think it’s safe to say the best an unbiased judge could honestly attest is I didn’t puke all over my shoes.

Or hers.

It’s not that I was nervous, per se. I mean, owing to my sister’s steady stream of incoming gal pals, I was on a relatively friendly footing with most of them, meaning I wasn’t totally invisible.

Still, being asked proffered its own peculiar set of possible pratfalls, not the least of which involved mistaking their innocent intentions for something more serious than a simple diary entry, a box to be checked off, equal to posing for a yearbook portrait.

This is where my Catholic upbringing served me well, since I’d read my Jonathan Edwards and knew his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon. I mean, I got that he was a Protestant preacher, but that didn’t stop his warning from getting through.

To say I was on my best behavior would imply that I’d ever been bad, which, unless you count breaking into schools after dark to shoot hoops or using a fake ID to, um, vote, simply wasn’t the case.

My wife is fond of reminding me that for all my blather and bluster about being a kid who battled authority back then, I was just an altar boy lighting candles in an already sunshine-splashed church.

Mike Dewey can be reached at Carolinamiked@aol.com or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where there is absolutely no dress code.

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