When I rolled onto campus for the first time as a freshman in the early ‘60s, it seemed almost normal that there were rules that governed how the female half of my class dressed. Now looking back at it across mists of time, those rules seem almost incredulous. Even the fact that there were rules for women and not for men seems outlandish. But it is true, there were rules that governed what a woman could wear on campus on almost every campus in America.
Most of those rules seem to be written from the same playbook: No woman student could enter the lobby of her dorm dressed in pants of any kind. Even if it was 90 degrees the middle of the summer and a co-ed was headed out to the beach, she had to have a coat on that came down to within 1 inch of her knees. Before leaving, she had to pass inspection by the dorm mother. Even blue-jeans were proscribed as too revealing of the female form. So many a picnic date started with getting that coat off once your date was in the car and headed out to the beach or the lake. What a pain in the rear that they were so afraid that some hormone-ridden, drooling male would see.
Did men have the same rules? Certainly not! Men dressed in three categories, frat (sports coat, tie and khakis), nerd (short sleeved dress shirt and whatever slacks were convenient) or jock (sweatshirt and jeans with or without the letter sweater). But the point was that no man had to comply with official university policy for dress. He walked around class hoping for that fortuitous gust of wind that would come along and reveal a little thigh if just for a moment.
Thighs made a jailbreak from their tight restrictions in the mid ‘60s when Twiggy and her sisterhood broke out the mini-skirt, and the view for my remaining time on campus improved significantly.
Sometime after I entered the workforce and campus life was in my rear view mirror, the rules changed. I attended some evening courses during the ‘70s and ‘80s in the college of engineering but I did not notice the change as the few women in my classes were jeans type women. All I noticed was that dresses disappeared, but that was true of the general office dress that I saw in my co-workers. Heck – even my professors wore jeans and polo shirts most of the time. Well all except Bill Eccles who wore short sleeved dress shirts and a western string tie. I kid you not, the level of “geekiness”, a desired trait in engineering students and faculty, is significantly enhanced by a string tie.
Today, when I arrive on campus on Mondays to do my radio show, I see guys dressed in one of three styles, grunge, frat and jock! The women, now that is another story, the sorority look is almost gone, there are two main styles left, hippie grunge or stylin’. What’s stylin’, you ask? Well, summer stylin’ is short athletic shorts, a t-shirt or halter top with bare midriff and canvas shoes without socks. Winter stylin’ is a t-shirt, leggings and canvas shoes. The midriff is covered by the t-shirt but not necessarily the top of the leggings. Either canvas shoes or boots keep the feet warm. This all sounds more lurid than it really is; the styles on campus are a only half step ahead of the general population, soon this will be the style in the office and on the city streets. The way I look at it, this is not a bad thing. I just pick up my pace and suck in my stomach just a little as I make my way across the patio, nothing's changed in 40 years there. But in my mind’s eye, I can just see the expression on the face of one of the circa 1965 dorm mothers. Oh MY!