COMBING & CURLING
When your mother combs your hair,
Here's a rhyme for you to say:
If you try it, I declare,
It will take the snarls away!
In the ocean of my hair,
Many little waves are there;
Make the comb, a little boat,
Over all the billows float;
Sail the rough and tangled tide
Till it's smooth on every side,
Till, like other little girls,
I've a sea of wavy curls!
Gelett Burgess. Goops and How to Be Them.
My mother, bless her heart, tried hard to make me into a lady. Raised "genteel poor" (a preacher's kid in a family of ten), she relied on both Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt for insights into middle-class norms. My brother and I also read The Goops, though more for fun than guidance. The Goops offered this to little tangle-prone moppets like myself:
My mother didn't recite Burgess as she yanked the comb through my disobedient curls or poked my scalp with bobby pins during the Saturday night hair-setting ritual. She said, "You must suffer to be beautiful". That lesson would eventually apply to pointy-toed shoes, high heels, girdles and bras. And that was just for starters.
But at some point, I stopped believing that. There's grooming, and there's pain, and I am old enough to know the difference!
I'd hoped to find a cache of student handbooks to help me trace dress codes at the local high school, but it turns out they "don't keep those", so I am turning to the historian's best friend, microfilm. Yes, not everything is digitized and available online. I am focusing on the September issues of the daily paper, the Telegraph-Bulletin, since back in the day that's when back-to-school and back-to-school fashions were in the news. My main interest is the 1960s, when dress code conflict really took off (long hair, short skirts, etc.) but for personal interest I started with September, 1957. That's the month I left North Platte, and it was great fun to check out the TV listings and reminisce.
But I also found this, the Wednesday night, Sept. 11, paper, announcing the reveal of the display windows of all the clothing stores downtown as a special event, complete with a parade by the Senior High School band.
Of course I remember Christmas windows -- as late as the early 1990s, they were still a Big Deal in most cities. (They were also a BD in our household, since my husband worked for the display department at one of the big DC stores.)
I dimly recall going downtown to "window shop" in the evening, and I wonder if it was for this sort of event. At any rate, it's a fascinating look into fashion promotion in a place far from 7th Avenue.
There was also an article, which gave more detail and -- BONUS JACKPOT! -- a list of all the participating merchants.
(From the very-much-in-progress Age Appropriate.)
Here comes puberty.
The truly odd thing is that my life from about 10 to 14 is relatively undocumented by my otherwise shutterbug father. So I have a few pictures, but not what I would like for this project.
Here's what I remember:
First bra in late fifth grade or early sixth grade. It was one of those silly knit "grow bras" and I had already outgrown it. In sixth grade (1960-61) I went from one end of the gym line to the other, having grown six inches. I was no longer a short, skinny girl who loved to run and jump rope. Bouncing boobs were too embarrassing. My posture deteriorated. I lived in terror of boys snapping my bra strap, and was sure everyone was staring at me.
Summer of 1961
My first nylons, shaving my legs, my first purse, and first and only subteen dress. By that fall I was 5' 9" and wearing a misses 14. That summer a lifeguard flirted with me because he thought I was in high school, which I found funny and flattering.
Fall, 1961 (7th grade)
Trying to figure out what to wear was a constant puzzle. I outgrew girls' clothes so fast, and went right into misses sizes. I experimented with nail polish, make-up, and new hairstyles but had trouble getting the hang of it.
Maybe it is a good thing there aren't more pictures.
That's me, age 6, enjoying the slide in North Platte, Nebraska in 1955. This was a school dress, but I may have also worn it to church. (Cody Park was a favorite after-church destination for our family.) I had several similar plaid cotton dresses with white collars, in shades of dark blue, dark green, and red. The Sears has a similar style (1955 Fall catalog, below). I never owned any of the girlier styles on the page -- no "full circle" skirts or ruffled dresses.
Looking through my old photos raises some questions about the origins of my personal sense of style. My mother chose or made most of my school clothes, and I don't recall having much say about them until later elementary school (probably fifth or sixth grade). I am not sure why she didn't pick pastels, or why my clothes were so tailored, but it probably had to do with her taste as well as her perception of me.