Fashion and Discipline

Back in the bloom of my youth I went to a typical high school and dressed like a typical teenager. That involved a lot of jeans and T-shirts. Alberta had a junior high school system as well, which covered grades 7-9. It was fairly conservative and run by a principal reviled by most, Archie Wilcox. He was known for being draconian and supposedly had influence in getting his job through a brother on the school board. He was so nasty that at one time his tires were slashed and this was in a day before people were carrying guns or even knives at school. And when he started having an affair with one of the teachers and all of the students knew about it, we laughed at him. He was not loved at all. One day he was addressing the class in his lover’s classroom and his fly was undone so we all snickered at him. He nearly blew a gasket, not knowing what we laughed at.

In this stalag (Simon Fraser Junior High) we were not allowed to wear jeans and one day my homeroom science teacher said, “I need to talk to you about your jeans.” I heard, “I need to talk to you about your genes,” and looked at him confused until he elaborated. I was wearing a pair of light blue not quite jeany material but the cut was too jean like. So I was told I needed to change.

Our homeroom in grade 9 had a rep for being bad and unruly. I’m not sure why but we were definitely feisty (maybe it was one of our boys who slashed Wilcox’s tires). One day I was going down the hall, looking back over my shoulder, and ran into the doughy bosom of Mrs. Acton. She, like Wilcox, was old school, and was his right hand man from what I recall. She wore her hair in a bun, seemed always old and was built  like a battle tank matron.

She looked me over from the sharp edge of her glasses and told me to go see the principal about my top. It was what we called a pop top, sleeveless, and short. It showed about an inch of my midriff. So I went to the principal’s office where he told me I was not conforming to the dress code (or something…I don’t quite remember). I do remember saying back to him, “But this doesn’t affect our learning any,” and I repeated it, unrepentant. Wilcox bubbled a bit and I remained adamant. So I was sent home to change.

I wasn’t as knowledgeable or set in my opinions as perhaps I am now (though I like to think I’m always listening to the other side). Home was a 20-minute walk each way. I arrived home and told my mother what had happened. She agreed with me that my dress didn’t affect my learning but she made me change anyways. So grumpily I complied. (The part of this that may have also influenced her was that my sister had had problems with Wilcox–due to illnesses, I think, and my younger brother transferred to another school because of this principal. He was definitely not someone my family cared to associate with.)

In later years, I thought maybe the instructors were worried about the boys not learning if they were staring at girls in midriff tops. The truth is, that as teenagers everyone is trying on and forming their personalities and sexuality. Girls will show off their bodies if they can. People will wear what they consider sexy, especially if they’re trying to attract the opposite sex.

Now I’ve heard that some schools have banned T-shirts that portray slogans. To make it fair, they ban all slogans to be sure the racist or bigoted ones are gone too. Some ban certain tops, or jeans so low they show the butt crack or underwear, or skirts so high they show the butt. Will it affect learning in general? No. I’m all for banning racist, prejudiced and bigoted comments from a learning environment. Teenagers also like to push boundaries, theirs and others. But what about the clothing  now that I’m no longer constricted to wear, or not wear by teenagerhood, school and all that entails?

Well, I work and I’ve almost always worked where the dress code was lax (or been self-employed). When I worked in a department store we weren’t allowed to wear jeans or dresses that showed our arms (I don’t think that part lasted long). Most places, unless they’re dealing a lot with the public, don’t care if you were jeans, shorts, skirts or T-shirts as long as they’re clean, not so old they’re scruffy and torn, and decent. Decent usually means no short shorts and no bellies showing. Some places may required little to no cleavage showing. It varies depending on the profession.

But as to schools and teenagers…well, they’ve never been the epitomes of fashion. Not that some people ever grow up to have a fashion sense. Teenagers are great experimenters in all aspects of their lives. With their individualism comes trying on everything from attitude to clothing. Too many, I think fall to peer pressure but some go their own way. And should some aspects of their clothing be banned? Well, they should probably remain decent but decency in dress has to be defined. Is a skirt two inches below the butt indecent or okay? Is a top showing some cleavage or a navel fine? Fashion and styles have changed (and come around again) from when I was a teenager, but not that much.

Some of the issues are still the same. The conservative people and administrators will still see certain fashion items as wrong, slovenly or indecent. My mother always equated jeans to working on farms because it was only farmers who wore them when she was growing up.

Granted times have changed and these days there are more and more cases of guns in schools (remember I’m talking mostly Canada here–gun mileage in your area may vary) so the range of what is acceptable may have changed with more “worldly” attitudes, but I think as long as the essentials are covered, in all positions (such as bending over or walking up the stairs in a short short skirt), then teenagers should be allowed the freedom to find themselves and experiment.

Of course, I don’t have kids. I could be singing a different tune if I did.


Filed under Culture, fashion, life, people, sex, shopping

3 responses to “Fashion and Discipline

  1. How i remember Archie and Acton (Wilcox in drag!). When I went to Fraser, we weren’t even allowed to wear pants, let alone jeans, and our skirts could be no more than 2 inches above the knees. My skirt rose in discreet increments until the old gal spotted me in the hallway, had me get down on my knees while she drew out her measuring tape, always at the ready, to measure. Probably a scandalous 3 inches over the limit and off I was sent home to change. Hopefully it got me out of her math class! As for Archie, I do have one nice thing to say about him – the time he gave me an insane break, that if he hadn’t I would have been up the shit creek at home, never mind at school. One of my teachers had intercepted a notebook full of…notes, yes the kind you pass back and forth with your class mate. It was full of the bad things we were going to do after school, involving testers glue and boys I’m sure. She took it down to Archie and what followed was a meeting in the principal’s office with myself and the cohort. Archie Wilcox presented to us a deal we could hardly refuse. He told us that if we both made the Improvement Roll within the next three months, he would not call our parents and the incident would be forgotten. I must say, my grades improved dramatically! Dodged a bullet on that one, thanks Archie!
    Do you remember the great granny dress protest? These outfits were hardly sexy or provocative but very trendy and hippie at the time so that alone put them on the unacceptable list. You would think the powers that be would have been relieved we weren’t making the boys overstimulated with mini skirts, good grief! The student body somehow galvanized in the playground or parking lot and loosely organized a protest whereby all the girls would wear their granny dresses to school, meet in the parking lot and refuse to go to classes unless the ban was lifted. I think it worked and that was one for the students. Yay, a small victory if I recall!
    One teacher there I adored was my grade 7 English teacher, Mr. MIller. He always encouraged my writing and my expression and he himself was quite eccentric. I loved him! Mr. Jesse was pretty cool too, although I seem to recall a stern but kind lecture he had to give me on my behaviour and attitude at one point. Teachers with whom I had no love or trust were the librarian (whose name I have forgotten, but not her face and will never forget her words that affected me negatively for years to come “Leeanne, you have a mind like a sieve”. Now I’m sure she meant it as my brain retained nothing and not that my brain only kept what was worth keeping!), and Mr. Evenrude, the Social Studies teacher. While he was young, he was very conservative and did not take kindly to me either; was this close to calling me a little bitch in front of the class, haha.
    What years were you at Simon Fraser, Colleen? I’m sure we must have met or known of each other, unless I was gone by the time you started? Great to read your take on the fashion police of the day 😉 cheers!
    Leeanne (usta be) Currie

  2. Greatttttt stories. I went there from ’75 to ’78. I am also curious as to when both of you went there?

  3. William T Wilkinson

    Thanks for this. My brother and I both endured Wilcox earlier when he was at James P Vanier. He pretty much tortured my brother for years. Glad things have changed a bit these days but you really have to wonder how guys like him get themselves into power positions with … kids!

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