Dress Code

“What should I wear,” he asked. It was a hot day. We planned to take the dog for a hike through the woods before dinner and Blake preferred shorts, the shorter the better.

Many years ago, he had cut off a pair of jeans, rather, it must be said, too short and had worn them for many years to every family gathering from Mother’s Day to Thanksgiving, thereby, scandalizing his mother-in-law.

“Bring a pair of long pants,” I suggested. La Veranda Osteria took reservations so perhaps it was somewhat formal.

I was loathe to say that. For the most part no one tells us what to wear anymore. Mostly but not entirely.

A  week earlier, he had asked a few of us to the Sail Past at his yacht club. “The invitation calls for dress whites and navy blazers,” he added, “but people ignore that.” I had planned to wear white and navy anyway, seeing it as an occasion to play dressup.

Wearing white pants on the deck of a sail boat is a challenging affair at the best of times, what with winding wet sheets around winches, but that Saturday turned out to be rainy: you step into the sailboat by stepping onto the seat cushion with your muddy shoes. At the skippers’ meeting, the decision was made to cancel the sail because the lake was too choppy for dozens of boats to sail in close quarters past the commodore’s boat to salute him.  All the more time to hang out, waiting for the reception, dinner and dance, and so we found ourselves in the bar. Strictly speaking, it was not the bar, but the dining room and “strict” is what I am speaking about.

The air conditioner was running full tilt despite the cool weather, pouring cold air down onto the top of my head and my neck. I can’t abide that. I reached over, picked up my hither-to-unnecessary straw hat and put it on my head. It had barely settled my hair when the waiter appeared at my elbow and whispered something unintelligible. I needed translation. She was telling me to remove my hat.

She was telling ME to remove my hat. But I am female. I have a licence – just a minute, it’s here somewhere. I got it when I was born into this western society. Not only am I allowed to wear a hat anywhere I want, there are still places where it is mandatory. Aren’t there? I spent the first half of my life, travelling with a kerchief (a square scarf which is folded into a triangle- oh, just picture Queen Elizabeth with her dogs on a wet day) in case I wanted to visit a church or cathedral. And now  I’m being told not to. Apparently, I had walked right by that sign that said so.

I took it off. I didn’t want to make a scene, pull out my six shooter, so incompatible with the genteel chapeau.

I could just imagine that oh-so-politically-correct discussion where it was deemed unfair to tell men to remove their hats in the dining room if women were wearing theirs. The rule was a great leveller. I had been levelled!

What if I were Muslim, I wondered. I fantasized coming in wearing a headscarf. Then let them try to tell me what to wear!

 Wait a minute, wasn’t that more or less what France had just done and Quebec was threatening to do?
Who gets told what to wear these days? Hapless bridesmaids are probably still suffering in ugly dresses and bearing their expense. My Californian grandson unwrapped a red toque with genuine gratitude; his science teacher had just seized his last one. Catholic girls have to remember to roll their skirt bands back down before they go back to class. But from the looks of red carpet fashion and the girls in the club district, dress codes have gone the way of boned corsets and farthingales.
At the age of 22, weighing all of 120 lbs. I set off to teach my first high school class encased in a girdle. No rule book mandated this, but a well-bred young woman knew she shouldn’t jiggle. On extremely hot days, pre-air conditioned schools, I was mortified to have to slough it off in favour of garter belt and stockings.
Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end!
Boys were not yet suspended for wearing baseball hats. They knew better than to try. It was several years before they were suspended for wearing shorts. I remember one who demonstrated the resolve of Thomas More, defying Henry VIII. It was reasonable in his opinion to wear short pants in the June heat. As soon as his suspension was over, he came back to school – in shorts. I passed him coming down the up staircase.
Blake recalls arriving at that school’s first ever staff meeting in a pink shirt and forever sealing his reputation as a renegade by so doing.
In the depth of sub zero winter, my small daughter set off for school wearing pants under her wool skirt, permitted to do so only if she removed them in the cloakroom. We saw that women were beginning to wear what we called slacks to work on television, but always with a jacket. Eventually, word came down from on high, that female teachers would be permitted to wear “pant suits” so long as the jackets were of a modest length. (Code for over the bum, babes)
By then someone had invented panty hose. You didn’t need all that rig and tackle to hold up stockings after all.  There was a new and dangerous freedom in the air.  GIrls as well as boys wore jeans. GIrls started wearing short shorts. Bras became optional. My favourite anecdote on that score concerns the vice principal who, in his role as inspector, evaluated a fellow teacher and wrote in his report that she was wearing false nipples. She, of course, was not, but she had a good idea what he had been inspecting.
In the larger world, the smelly wool jacket loaned out to men who arrived at, say, Honest Ed’s Steakhouse, improperly attired, got retired from duty. Blake stopped sending five dress shirts to the laundry every week. We relaxed and let it all hang out, even at the prom, well, especially at the prom. There even came a time, when some of us vowed never again to encase ourselves in pantyhose like a nyloned sausage. And even that was doable.
Dinner at La Veranda Osteria was excellent, really fresh greens in the salad, mouthwatering lobster stuffed pasta and  Blake remarked he was glad he had changed into his pants. It was that sort of place. And I wore my hat throughout.
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