Monday, August 30, 2021

My life in uniforms

Now that I am no longer required to don any type of conformist herd clothing, I have been reflecting on the uniforms I have worn over the years.    What is it about uniforms that I loved as a kid, and hated as an adult?  I suspect it is because the hype never lived up to the reality, so uniforms were vastly disappointing.  

I attended public school, so no uniform.  In my church, only the parochial school kids were allowed to sing in the church choir, no lovely angelic white robes for me.  No altar girls back then either, sort of when I cut ties with religion on the basis of patriarchal exclusion.  I was always jealous of my brothers who got to wear full-on Little League baseball and Pop-Warner football uniforms.  I didn't count my two months of Pop Warner football cheerleading at age 10, as the required attire was black stirrup stretch pants, generic white Keds,  and a white crew neck sweatshirt, available an any discount store.  My tryout consisted of me asking the coach if I could join.  Aced it.  

My first big opportunity to join something that required a uniform was Girl Scouts.  My 1960's Brownie uniform was exactly as pictured, except for the ankle socks.  I was a knee socks kind of girl.  I'm sure my parents could ill-afford it, but I was allowed to have the whole kit and caboodle.  I happily wore it every Wednesday to school, even on picture day  along with the rest of my troop, consisting of all the little girls from both 2nd grade classes in my elementary school.  Little brown felt beanie with the Brownie logo, how I loved thee.  After third grade I went on to Junior Girl Scouts.  Hated the tie, but there was somethingu about that sash with all the badges I accumulated.  For some reason our troop split in half in 6th grade, can't remember why, but I assume it had to do with adult in-fighting.  After that, it was Junior High, and most of us dropped out at that point.  I was a leader for my daughter's troop for a few years, but by that time neither leaders nor kids wore uniforms. 

There were no organized sports teams for girls in my home town.  Other than gym class, there were relatively few opportunities for girls to do sports at all until high school.  My elementary school gym teacher was 100 years old and likely invented field hockey.  She had been the high school coach in the 1950's, so naturally we were introduced to the sport in 2nd grade.  No wonder I hated it.  We used pinnies for that, also for basketball, the only two team sports we girls had.  Think of a sort old fashioned apron just like great-grandma used to wear.   It was fun in elementary school, but by the time we hit junior high we were over them since they were never washed and smelled bad. 

Junior high school gym suits were a horrible uniform experience, as was junior high in general.  Gym suits were largely viewed as a punishment, and I never understood why they were required.   Color coded by class, they were one piece, snap-up-the front cotton/poly nightmares in navy, cobalt, or pale blue depending on which grade.  They required ironing, something we were graded on.   Many of the smaller girls rolled the legs so they looked like bloomers, not a look I could pull off.   

In 9th grade, the gym suits switched over to a navy spandex-like bike short pre-cursor and striped t shirt.  We were required to bring it twice weekly along with a towel for requisite post-class showers, another rite of passage that today's kids don't get.   For so many stay-at-home moms in those days we were far less micromanaged, and expected to remember to bring our required paraphernalia.  No gym suit?  You got a D for the day.  No towel?  Points off for being a grub and not showering.  Left a towel in your locker from last week that is now moldy and smelly?  Definitely points off.  We were checked, towels wrapped about us, to be sure we got wet.  You were allowed one "excuse" per month.  Splash water on your face and shoulders,  get caught not actually showering more than once, and you got detention.  Group showers in high school, shudder.  As if the hygiene and body image issue was not enough of a humiliating rite of passage and source of sleepless nights. 

At the age of 14 I was finally old enough to be a Candy Striper, something I had craved to do since I was 8.  I always knew I wanted to be a nurse, and  I had read and re-read the book "Candy Striper" about 50 times  Being somewhat of a chunky athletic girl, the white short sleeved blouse with the Peter Pan collar and smocked drindl skirt and pinafore just didn't look as I had imagined.  I spent that summer working as a volunteer in the hospital coffee shop, far from the anticipated flower-delivering, water-pitcher-refilling, pillow-fluffing, baby-soothing candy striper I had been expecting. I learned to make tea, toast, oatmeal and coffee, an ominous harbinger of the future.  

High school sports did require uniforms.  Field hockey was actual kilts, and white blouses with numbers on the back. I was terrible at field hockey, and wearing a skirt on freezing November days was not any kind of fun.   I was a JV basketball player for 2 years, but my heart was not in it.  Those uniforms were the same as field hockey, except the kilt was replaced with a plaid culotte thing, I suppose now you'd call it a skort.   For softball we were given t- shirts.  I was a catcher so I wore long pants, I don't think we were even given hats.  Nobody came to our games, anyway.  

Cheerleading was the Holy Grail of high school sports, at least for me, although it was a last minute decision which to try out for, drill team (sort of a dance team) or cheerleading.  My dilemma: drill team had beautiful, short, navy velvet a-line dresses with white fur trim around the collar and hem.  They performed before games and at halftime, wearing white spats over their white keds.   They also did a simple baton routine sometimes, the reason I took lessons for 3 years.  I wasn't great, but I was a definitely better than most on the team.  

I switched gears on that tryout, my best friend was going for cheerleading and I went along and tried out too, shockingly making the team.   In fall, the attire for football cheering was woolen ski sweaters, a white turtleneck, and short wool pleated skirts in school colors with white socks and saddle shoes, yowza!  It was probably the first uniform that actually looked good on my more athletic frame.   It did look better on me than the velvet and fur-trimmed number I suppose.  A plaid kilt, white turtleneck and blue knitted vest with the ubiquitous saddle shoes for basketball cheerleading did not look as good.  I was short, the vest too long.  I resorted to rolling it up and sewing it to prevent bunching.  


I did a brief stint at the drug store soda fountain one or two summers (referred to in an earlier post), which required a really ugly 1950's style waitress-type uniform with a perky little pleated cap thing, which we steadfastly refused to wear. The button-down dress hastily thrown over street clothes was a hideous shade of green that has never existed in nature, ever.  The uniforms were abolished when the soda fountain was demolished to make room for a gift counter.  Man, I missed that grape juice machine.  The uniform sucked, though the new light-blue polyester 3/4 sleeve button-down pocketed smock we were required to wear was only a slight improvement.  

After high school the nurses aide uniform was  a polyester pinstriped, aqua-blue, short sleeved button-down-the-front affair, paired with white stockings, and white Clinic Shoes.  And a very silly cap that matched the uniform.    Nursing school was about the same, only it came in gray and fit much better.  

We were pretty proud of this uniform, as I recall, although they were not the most practical. We earned those suckers.  

Following fashion trends, nursing uniforms went from white dresses, to white polyester pantsuits,  to white scrub dresses with a colorful scrub jacket usually stolen from the OR at my tiny community hospital.  This was followed by a white skirt and colored blouse, and the continuation of white stockings.  At that time it was trendy to also wear white TEDS hose with our dress or skirt, usually stolen from the floors.  Eventually it was just scrubs.  The caps went by the wayside sometime before the 1980's, and  Clinic shoes were mostly worn by older nurses who wouldn't ever have worn anything else.  I loved my white, then black clogs most of my career, as I could never do sneakers.   As for scrubs,  I never hopped on the bandwagon of cartoon character and scrubs-for-every-occasion, it just wasn't me.  I had some prints, but mostly opted for navy, ciel blue, OR green, and of course, black.  During my stint as a school nurse, it was a white or blue scrub jacket over street clothes in which I felt most comfortable.    

Aside from scrubs, there was only one other adult uniform I was required to wear.  I was on an adult figure skating team for years, and we had lots of team attire; jackets, warm up pants, matching skate bags, hats, scarves.  As far as uniforms go, those were the most fun.