My, oh my, how times have changed!
How often have we said or heard this reflective expression?
For me, it comes to mind whenever I compare the days of my youth with those of my grandchildren.
In previous columns, for example, I’ve compared my preferences to their choice of movies, music and dancing. However, there’s one issue I’ve overlooked – how I dressed as a high schooler in contrast to teens’ current mode of dress.
For those of us who attended Catholic grade school, we can recall the good sisters reminding us that “neatness and cleanliness are next to Godliness,” especially when our classroom and desks got a little messy.
This wise advice from Sr. Mary Meticulous came to mind recently following an incident involving my youngest granddaughter, 15-year-old Michelle (Shelly), a freshman at Pius XI High School.
One day, my daughter, Peggy, called to ask if I would pick up Shelly after school and bring her home. Although classes normally end around 3 p.m., Peggy suggested I be there at 4 o’clock because Shelly would be in detention.
When I arrived and Shelly got into the car, I asked the reason for detention. She said it was for wearing jeans with holes in the knees. Sure enough, there they were – holes as big as George Webb pancakes. Shelly explained that jeans are permissible, but knee holes are a no-no. I asked why she wore them. She said that’s how they’re sold.
A week or two later, Peggy again asked me to retrieve Shelly from Pius. This time as she got into the car, I noticed a doughnut-size hole in her jeans above the knee. I asked how she avoided another detention. She said, “Oh, during classes I covered it with duct tape!” Leave it to teenage ingenuity!
Anyway, I’ve been advised by my grandchildren and daughter several times that Pius High School has a dress code. A dress code at Pius? Ha! From observation a dress code is the least concern of Pius’ administrators and faculty.
School day attire for many Pius students is: T-shirt, jeans and athletic-style shoes, sandals or flip flops, probably seen at any high school.
I have no problem with casual wear if it’s neat and clean. But at Pius, what do I see? Faded, tattered T-shirts of all colors inscribed with all kinds of slogans or wording; junky-looking jeans; shabby shoes; funky sandals or flip-flops. And, to complete the disheveled “ensemble,” add a baseball-style cap generally worn backward plus a backpack that probably contains anything but books. Does the right to privacy apply to backpacks?
Again, I don’t mind the casual look, which seems to prevail among youth and adults, but some take it to the extreme – even in church.
But regarding Shelly’s comment that “new” jeans are purchased with holes in the knees, I decided to do some research – visit a few stores where clothing is sold.
My fact-finding trip took me to Southridge Mall, where I checked out clothing departments at Sears, Boston Store, JCPenney, Kohl’s and Old Navy.
All have jeans galore, but only JCPenney, Boston Store and Old Navy sold the holey denims.
At Boston Store, I discovered in the men’s/young men’s department jeans with the faded and worn look for $39.99 but styles with holes and threadbare rear pockets were $89.99.
Let’s face it, if I were buying clothes at any price at Boston Store or any store, I’d want them to look new.
Old Navy, probably the preferred place for high schoolers, sells men’s/young men’s or women’s/young women’s jeans in assorted shades of bleached blue for $29.50. They also come in various styles that are worn at the waist or just below the waist and legs either straight or tapered. On separate racks are “premium denims,” those with holes in the legs and cut to fit below the waist, selling for $39.50.
JCPenney offers similar designs plus skinny and straight legs with or without holes and/or the worn look from the Arizona Jean Company for $17.99. But better-known Levis, with or without holes, sell for $37.99.
Kohl’s sells jeans for men and women with a worn and bleached look but no holes for $26.99 to $37.99. Similar styles at Sears are $17.99 to $39.
Reflecting on these styles and fads, there’s no comparison to what I wore in my high school days. Having attended Saint Francis Minor Seminary High School (class of ’47), I can’t speak for girls. But our basic attire was a button shirt with or without a sweater, pants/slacks, socks and brown or black leather oxfords or loafers. T-shirts and jeans, if we had them, were worn after school but never to class. And they weren’t called jeans. The denims we wore were known as overalls, some with a bib and shoulder straps.
Compared with what teens wear nowadays, our school clothing was ultraconservative. However, teens of any era are quick to champion “fashionable” trends. For example, the “rage of the age” in the 1940s included such trendy styles as the zoot suit, peg pants and pork pie hat.
The zoot suit, in black or navy pin stripe, consisted of a thigh-length jacket with wide padded shoulders and lapels and pegged pants. The legs of peg pants were tapered to fit snug around the ankle with the opening only big enough to squeeze the foot through. I’m not sure how many classmates owned a zoot suit, but most of us wore pants that had to be altered to give the peg look.
The pork pie hat of felt material featured a low crown, flat top and brim turned up all around or up in back and down in front. Caps were not popular but we carried our books in a “book bag” either leather, imitation leather or cloth with a handle.
For athletic activities, we wore gym shoes: $2.99 hi-top Keds that came in basic black with white trim. For comparison, the shoe department at Kohl’s offers almost as many styles of athletic shoes as Pick n’ Save does breakfast fare in the cereal aisle. Displayed are look-a-like running shoes, cross-trainers, fashion athletic, skate and toning zone shoes and fashion sandals priced from $34.99 to $69.99.
My, oh my, times have changed!
But what our grandchildren are missing is a Sr. Mary Meticulous reminding them that whatever they wear “neatness and cleanliness are next to Godliness.”
(Out and About is a regular feature of Mature Lifestyles that looks at issues affecting the older adult community. Horn, a retired Catholic Herald reporter, is a member of St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.)