Illustration by Jan Igoe
At this very moment, there’s another male designer on TV telling women like me how to dress. This one is wearing big, black glasses and an Elvis pompadour. His ensemble includes an orange button-down shirt in desperate need of a dimmer switch, a royal-blue jacket and lime-green pants that fit like last year’s leggings—a size too small, even on his size 2-ish frame.
To complete the look, his bony, naked ankles are peeking out over his loafers as seductively as bony, naked ankles can. My brother was built like that at age 9, but our mom never would have let him out without socks.
I know this because she wouldn’t let me out without them either. Socks in the 1960s—anklets, actually—were the last vestige of elementary school. I’d already scored my first training bra (the same day every cotton ball in the house went missing). The next feminine frontier was sock-free legs, which looked really groovy with saddle shoes.
In this century, it’s hard to imagine a schoolyard full of sixth-grade girls wearing dresses, but I was one of them back when Superman was still changing in a phone booth and we’d only recently conceded the world’s not flat. School leaders believed with every fiber of their prehistoric brains that if girls wore pants, life as we know it—and certainly higher learning—would cease. Wearing dresses, however, would virtually guarantee our admission to Harvard.
That’s when my personal fashion rebellion started. I begged my mom to let me wear nylons—a rite of passage granted by every mother on the block except mine. She might have said OK to pantyhose, but they had yet to debut in our backward little school. We were still garter-belt central.
No girl could survive middle school in anklets, but she wouldn’t budge. So, I started scouting bushes up the block where I could hide my socks and swap them for big-girl apparel on the way to school. I had a pretty good system going, until Mrs. Toomey’s pug got loose and was last seen heading east with a pink garter belt on its head.
My brother’s ankles had it worse. He was already a human bamboo shoot when he hit his growth spurt. The pants that were resting on his sneakers Monday morning were mid-calf by Friday. Mom’s pants budget was tapped out, so she whipped out her trusty sewing machine and remnant collection to add festive rows of fabric to the hem of last week’s capris. They began to look like the growth rings you’d find on trees, if they were visible from Mars. Mom liked bright colors.
My brother was even more distraught about his new wardrobe than I was about anklets. The modified pants were met with tantrums and absolute refusal to leave the house, even if it were on fire. (In that case, he’d stay until every last pair burned.) In Mom’s mind, resistance just meant he needed matching shirts. So, she whipped up some cowboy creations with snap fronts and pockets that matched the pant hems. Try to imagine John Wayne starring in Cabaret.
It’s too bad Mom and that TV designer never got a chance to collaborate. They both love glow-in-the-dark colors and know how to outfit beanstalks. But, if they ever did team up, I guarantee he’d be wearing socks.
JAN IGOE would love to convince fashion designers that there’s life after size 2—especially around Thanksgiving. Have a great holiday, and share your stories with her at HumorMe@SCLiving.coop.