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  • Writer's pictureDonna Gerard

About Dresses



I was born in 1961, in an age when all little girls went to school in dresses. My questioning of this norm began in kindergarten. Part of the kindergarten day was recess followed by rest time. I loved the monkey bars on the playground. I learned quickly that when you hang upside down in your skirt, your underwear are clearly visible to the world. There are three ways of dealing with this.

  1. Stop climbing on the monkey bars. Even if you don’t hang upside down, any one passing under you can see the underside of your skirt.

  2. Ignore the snickers and do your thing.

  3. Wear shorts under your dress.

Damned if I would eschew the monkey bars. I was kid #2 until I got older and became kid #3. I should say girl #2 and girl #3, because the boys did not have these issues.

Boys, however, became a problem after recess when we laid down on our mats. They just loved skootching around on the floor pointing at girls and giggling, “I can see your underwear!” Then the girl in question would skootch away or tuck her skirt closer to her body. Soon the whole class would be involved in the little ritual and we’d all be writhing around the floor, either in pursuit or escape, like so many little inchworms. The teacher would get aggravated and declare rest time to be over. I am not certain how the other girls felt about this daily ritual, but I remember feeling a combination of embarrassment, if I was being pursued, or left out, if I was being ignored. Either way, my conflict with the dress had begun by age 5.

As time went by, more and more girls wore pants to school, but it was also the day of the mini-skirt. My mother did not approve of girls wearing pants to school but she didn’t love short skirts either. She bought me somewhat longer dresses and I wore shorts underneath. It’s not that I was still in my monkey bar phase, but I was bound and determined to play on the playground at lunchtime without worrying. By middle school, my mother gave in to the inevitable march of fashion, and I was in pants on a daily basis.

Fast forwarding to my adulthood, I eventually became a teacher. As a teacher, in the late 1980’s it was the expectation and dress code in my district that female teachers could wear dresses, skirts, or non-denim pants. I owned a mixture of all of the sanctioned garments. I opted to wear skirts and dresses below the knee because I still felt overexposed in anything shorter. One day I was leaving the building, making my way down the front steps of the school and there was a huge gust of wind. My calf-length A-line skirt blew up, a la Marilyn Monroe. I don’t thing anyone noticed, but it was the very last time in my life that I ever wore a skirt or dress without shorts underneath.

Then there was the matter of my performance review in 1991. The principal, an older man, decided to trash me for dressing unprofessionally. I never, ever, broke the dress code. But on the day of my observation I was wearing dress pants and a shirt. I tearfully showed the offending observation report to a colleague. Apparently the principal had done the same thing to other female teachers because it was his personal opinion that women should be wearing dresses and skirts. The colleague, who wore pants all the time, took me to another teacher who wore pants all the time. She had gotten the same comment years ago and decided to just blow it off. They recommended that I go to the principal and object to the comment. Shaking, I did just that. Silently, he reached into his desk drawer, took out a blank observation form and rewrote the entire review without the offending comment.

From this experience, I learned three things. First, people have opinions about how I dress. Second, it is up to me to disregard those opinions. Three, it makes no sense that there are gender specific clothes to begin with.

I continued to wear dresses for many years, but I have questions. Uniforms, for example. The prefix to the word “uniform” is uni-, meaning one. When a place of business, or a military unit, or a school has a uniform, why are there separate sets of clothing for males and females? Should there not be one set of clothing? A student in a private school, for example, is a student in a school with a uniform. It seems to me that all students should be wearing the same thing. No dresses for girls and pants for boys. Why do female members of the armed forces not wear the same dress uniforms as the males? Why do women wear dresses at all? They potentially cause unwanted exposure, sometimes limit movement, and they differentiate females from males in an environment in which the only thing of importance should be getting a job done.

Here is the burning question that I seek an answer to, for anyone who wishes to put forth a logical answer.

Why do male and female clothing exist?

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