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Dress codes and the fall of civilization

POSTED August 5, 2014 9:46 p.m.

The good old days.

That’s when gender appropriate high school counselors would use rulers to make sure girls’ skirts came within three inches of their knee cap and teachers watched guys like a hawk to make sure their hair didn’t touch their collars.

Meanwhile, you couldn’t use the bathrooms without worrying about getting lung cancer or get through the week without someone trying to sell pills or other illegal substances in the locker room.

Yes, restrictive dress codes dialed into specific hem lengths that also made sure guys didn’t deviate from pre-1965 haircuts certainly protected our morality and kept high school a wholesome place.

I happened to be a senior in 1974 when Lincoln High in Lincoln, Placer County started relaxing its dress code.  The school board was warned by some community leaders — including a pastor or two —  that the fall of Western Civilization was about to take place since Western Placer Unified School District had eased its dress code.

Particularly alarming were the decisions to allow girls to wear pants from November to mid-March and for boys to wear Bermuda shorts from the start of school to  mid-October and from May 1 to the end of school.

The school board was told Lincoln High would go to hell. One particularly irate letter writer to Lincoln’s weekly newspaper wrote that “if God had intended girls and women to wear pants he would have given them a reason to need a fly.”

I’m not making this stuff up. And this was just 40 years ago.

So what happened? Did Lincoln High turn into Sodom and Gomorrah?

Not exactly. The girls stopped complaining about the cold on winter days when the high school’s old boiler couldn’t keep temperatures much above 60 degrees. And on those September and May days of 90 to 100 degree afternoons, more guys had less trouble staying awake and concentrating in the stifling atmosphere of classrooms that lacked both air conditioning and cross ventilation.

As for smoking in the bathroom and illegal dealings on campus, they didn’t get worse.

Teachers also were able to spend more time teaching while counselors and the principal saw a sharp reduction in behavioral problems connected with a girl having a hemline a quarter of an inch too high or guys with a strand of hair touching their collar.

The change in the dress code allowed boys to wear “hemmed” T-shirts during the same months they could wear Bermuda shorts. That meant hair no longer had to stop above an inch high dress or polo shirt collar. Instead it could – horror of horrors – brush the top of the shoulder blade. It was an oversight that lead to several spirited debates over the course of three school board meetings the next school year about how long hair on guys was disrupting the education process. It was finally brought to an end when a frustrated student asked the school board why they were worried about that a guy’s hair that hung down to their shoulder when they were allowing girls with the fancy hair-styles of the day to artificially force their hair upwards and outward to block the view of the blackboard. The silliness of a specific dress code trying to address ever changing style became apparent to the school board. That eventually led to a basic, health and safety dress code that gave the principal wide discretion to establish rules on their campuses.

Unfortunately the restrictive dress code back then didn’t prevent students from dressing in some of the worst fashions of the day. Believe me, the early 1970s were not a high point in fashion.

It includes guys wearing silk scarves, polyester leisure suits worn to school dances, Angel Flight bell bottom jeans where the leg openings often seemed bigger than the waist, polyester plaid pants, Beatle boots, turtle neck shirts that looked like they were doing double duty as neck braces, flower-patterned dress shirts, skin tight T-shirts on guys who should have worried first about developing at least a one pack, platform shoes (they were banned by the school within a week after one girl lost her balance and broke her ankle while running down the hall), and dozens of odd things such as guys wearing medallions and bizarre pant suits on girls that looked like a cross between Sally Fields’ basic attire in “The Flying Nun” and someone trying to look like Angie Dickinson. (Two other reasons to try and forget the 1970s.)

The 1970s was when America discovered most teens were color blind. Any color was considered OK.  Joke all you want about drunks seeing pink elephants but nothing was more bizarre and gaudy than the colors attached to American fashion 40 years ago,

People blame cheap labor for most of our clothes now being made overseas. I blame American clothing manufacturers for their own demise as they obviously had design departments that went on one too many LSD trips.

Speaking as an old fuddy duddy turning 60 in a few years I can’t say much about today’s teen fashion sins as God knows I have sinned.

That said I can’t resist a couple of observations. Try to keep parts of your body covered up that aren’t expected to be seen in public unless you are a member of an isolated tribe in the remote South Pacific or in the upper Amazon River basin.

And enough already with wearing pants that hang six inches or so below your natural waist. Not only does the world not care whether you are wearing boxers or briefs but you might give someone the wrong message.

That said, older plumbers who might be a tad out-of-shape thank you for mainstreaming crack.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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