ON GIRDLES AND GARTER BELTS…..

Wearing this confining body contraption since my surgery on April 22, I’m constantly reminded of life during junior high, high school, and even college.

Since at that point in time women couldn’t wear pants of any kind, hosiery (as it was called then) was mandatory, and not without problems. They came in “short,” “medium,” and “long,” and depending on the brand, that varied. They came shaped like the perfect leg, and if yours weren’t perfect, the fit might not be right. Too short, and they wouldn’t connect to the garter belt. Too long, and the top of the hose had to be doubled at the top, risking a run in the lighter-woven part and guaranteeing bunching at the ankles. Having a “run” in stockings was embarrassing. But we didn’t carry spares with us, so that shame had to be endured an we could only hope the run didn’t grow, and grow, and grow. Panty hose didn’t show up until the mid-70’s when “EGGs” came out, along with their sales girls wearing short shorts and driving cars with the “EGGs” symbol on the sides. Until then, getting dressed was a chore.

The hose were thigh-high, and not the “stay-up” sexy kind. Wearing them required one of two contraptions: a girdle with hooks to hold up the hose at the bottom, or a garter belt. And when we first started wearing them, they had seams up the back that were almost impossible to get on and keep straight.

Let’s talk about these methods of frustrating torture:

The girdle: White only. And they were open at the bottom giving the appearance of an upside-down “C.” No hooks at that underneath-strategic area to hold it in place. The prehistoric girdle wasn’t like the ones now. Moving, turning, maneuvering to get out from under school desk chairs could throw them off, the hose along with them. Between every class, there was a trip to the girls’ restroom to re-position and hope it would stay in place for another class period. I mean, after all, we had to maneuver ourselves into the next school desk chair in just a few minutes.

And talk about uncomfortable. They were itchy, clumsy, and still required wearing underwear, which made it worse.

Of course we had that wonderful alternative, the garter belt. Again, white only.

Now this wasn’t the sexy garter belt Victoria’s Secret has to offer. No way. This thing connected in the back with a couple of snaps or eyelet connections. And the long elastic straps that extended from the garter belt had these hooks at the end we attached to our hose. Front and back, hoping to get both legs on straight enough that they didn’t put creases at the ankle, because one those wrinkles were in place, there was no getting them to go straight again. If the fit wasn’t perfect, the hose would groove into the thighs at the top, an could crease under the clothes. If we wore a straight skirt when that happened, that groove would show through.

And this very unsexy garter belt didn’t come with instructions. Wear it over the underwear? Under the underwear? Both had plus’s and minus’s, but none were fun, and God help you if one of the elastic straps broke at the hose-connector-thingy and either the front or back side of one leg’s hose started creeping down.

Guys had it so easy. Have someone peg their jeans, and they were good to go.

There was also that “other” belt girls had to wear once a month along with the girdle or garter belt. It held that pad that was long enough to reach both the front and back of our waist, but was (with any luck at all) held in place by even more sliding hook connector thingies. Now, we’ve got your girdle/garter belt and yet another belt slipping and sliding and being maneuvered between classes.

Our mothers told us how lucky we were because in “their day,” they had to use strips of old sheeting. We didn’t care. We were in our own type of hell, and were always sure the guys could tell we were at “that time of month.”

Gym class was especially fun because we only had scant minutes to change out of our dresses or skirts & blouses into the lovely, blue, snapped-closed, Bermuda short length, short sleeved gym suits. Very few looked good in them, and when boys had to enter the “girls’ gym,” we were sufficiently embarrassed. Except in summer, guys didn’t see our knees.

Whenever I think of the girls’ gym locker room, I always think of Nell Sale. Nell was a CHS Mountain Lion cheerleader, and perhaps the tiniest person in the history of time. Cheerleading uniforms back in the day were wool drop-pleated skirts, a white princess-collared shirt, and wool letter sweater. I’m sure Nell’s weighed at least twice as much as she did…..yet she always wore a girdle. For some reason, my eyes went to her every time we were in the locker room, because if anyone ever didn’t need a girdle, it was Nell Sale, and I always wondered why she wore one.

For gym, we disconnected our hose from their clasps and shoved them down into our gym socks. Then, we pushed the garter belt/girdle into our underwear, because we only had scant minutes at the end of gym class to get redressed, re-connect the individual legs of hosiery to their slide-and-connect-keep-them-up-and-straight-if-you’re-lucky torture devices.

Of course, in that time we also had to re-apply our make-up, tease and re-coif our hair so we were back to looking beautiful by the time the line formed to be ready for the bell that would send us into the outside world of 2500 schoolmates.

And though it has nothing to do with the contraption I have to wear every day for 3 months, or the girdles, garter belts, an “other” belts we were subjected to, you wouldn’t believe the bras we had to wear. Again, white only. They made our boobs as pointed as a Wagnerian opera singer. Being over-endowed in those days was more than embarrassing. I never knew if guys were dating me because they liked me or because of how much my cone-shaped pointed boobs stuck out. (In ’88, I had them reduced from their 44DD to a civilized 36C. Happiest surgery ever, but I still have grooves in my shoulders from the straps of, as the guys called them, our “over-shoulder-boulder-holders.)

The girls today have it easy. Bras are built into tops of garments, so strapless outfits don’t require yet another bra. Hose? If they wear them at all, they’re well-fitting, non-twist-around pantie hose with no significant show-through-the-skirt features. They can wear jeans, where in my time, there were no jeans for women. We had to buy boy’s jeans, put them on, get in the bathtub of hot water, and shrink them to almost our size. Most of us couldn’t get the waist right, but at least we had jeans. And of course, blouses were tucked in. There were no tee shirts in those days, except the white ones guys wore with cigarettes rolled up in the sleeves.

Sweat pants and shorts are perfectly acceptable attire for class now..we were stuck with dresses, skirts and blouses.

We had our own fashion statements, though. Bass Weejuns were the shoe of choice, and we all wore them, along with scarab bracelets, circle pins at the neck, raccoon collared tan wool coats, and madras skirts or dresses worn with white shirts was the cool dress of the day. Skirts had to be at a length where the knee wouldn’t show if we crossed our legs.

We wore curlers to bed at night and sometimes slept with soup cans replacing the curlers if we wanted our hair to be smoother. We dried our hair by brushing it upside down over the heat grates in the floor or with lovely portable hair driers with elastic-bound hoods that fit over our heads and were so loud that we couldn’t hear ourselves think.

Coloring our hair was out of the question. There were no dyes then, certainly not in boxes available in any store. And in the summer, we used peroxide to turn our head blonder, or if our hair was dark, we hoped to add lighter highlights. Unfortunately, for those of us with dark hair, we ended up with orange tints instead. Bleach-blond hair was the sign of a hussy (that’s slut for the uninformed).

We dressed up for parties, wanted to look as perfect as possible for school, dressed up to go downtown to shop, or to pick up friends at the airport or train station, and wouldn’t think of flying without being well-dressed, fixing our hair, and applying make-up.

It was a different time. Yes, we wore mid-century torture devices with a smile on our face and a song in our heart. We knew how to pose for pictures — there was a proper way to place the feet, and we crossed our ankles at a slight angle rather than crossing our legs. Our hands were primly poised on our laps or at our sides. Our boyfriends came to parties dressed in suits. They opened doors for us, expected to pay the checks when we went out on dates, and called our parents “ma-am” and “Mr.” We only bought presents for our boyfriends on their birthday or at Christmas, and then, it was usually Old Spice cologne or a monogrammed shirt if we really liked them. We never, never, never called boys. That was unseemly. “Courting” was done in the living room. They never saw our bedrooms. Our dates kissed us good-night at the door after dates, usually with the porch light on and the parents looking out the windows. We went to drive-in movies or to special places to “park” and “make out,” but never went “too far.” Most of us were virgins on the day we walked down the aisle in that white dress, (or at least that’s the story we told) and though there were divorces later – much later, I have friends who married in ’64, ’65, or after they graduated from college in ’68, and are still together. Still to the high school love of their life. Or the guy they knew in high school but started dating later.

My high school love was a secret, forbidden one, and I’m pretty sure the reason I haven’t been able to find anyone who lasted more than 15 years is because there’s still a huge part of my heart that never got over him. But our parents would have killed us….or disowned us….so, it couldn’t happen.

Growing up in the 60’s wasn’t easy, but it was pretty carefree. Though some of us had things going on behind closed doors at home we couldn’t talk about, because in those days we “didn’t air our dirty laundry in public,” and were concerned about “what the neighbors would think,” we still could live a laughter-filled life outside our homes. If the principal found a 6-pack of beer in a guy’s locker (a girl would never do such a thing), he could be suspended or kicked out of school. Guys played football on the capitol lawn, and the girls sat around watching and cheering them on. A trip to The Sweet Shop for a burger and vanilla Coke was all we needed for entertainment, and Flossie always remembered our usual order. We walked to visit girlfriends, listened to records, had sleepovers where we painted each others’ nails and “secretly” told a couple of guys so they’d crash the party. We hid behind closed doors, sat in a circle, and whispered as we read “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” or “Candy” while gasping and giggling at the forbidden sexual content — some things we’d never heard of and certainly wouldn’t talk about if we did. Our moms baked us cookies, made pizzas or sandwiches and brought us Cokes. At parties, we played Post Office and Spin The Bottle.

I wish the kids today had been raised in such a naive and carefree time. They become sexually active much younger, and sex takes over the relationship; it replaces friendships and getting together with others. Girls chase guys to the point that the guys have no idea how to pursue. And why should they? Sex isn’t a sacred thing anymore, just part of an evening out. Drinking and drugs are commonplace — not something forbidden and thrilling. There’s so little “all-girl” or “all-guy” time. They drive everywhere with music blasting, so communication isn’t what it used to be. Instead of the after-school phone calls to friends, today they’re constantly on their cell phones texting back and forth. I think it was better in our day.

Personally, I think they’re missing out. Their childhood ends too soon. Their world is a dangerous place where the news is filled with war and random shootings complete with teen-age and college-age suicides. There are few television shows that don’t include someone being blown away. In our ay, a degree guaranteed a job. Now, it’s just a piece of paper with no guarantees and little hope attached. They graduate and end up tending bar or taking jobs as bank tellers hoping it leads to something.

I’d like to go back to that gentle time. When movies had plots and acting instead of sex and explosions. When vacations meant no contact with home until we returned. When meeting friends at a bar meant laughter and talking, not everyone paying more attention to their phones than their companions. When we looked forward to receiving and reading a hand-written letter from a friend who took time out from their day to “spend some time” with us. Of “Thank You” notes and cards for no reason. Of summers spent lying in fields of clover looking up at the sky and picking out animals and Volkswagons and faces in the clouds and making daisy chains from the clover. Of hours searching for 4-leaf clovers instead of playing sometimes violent video games. Days at Rock Lake, lying out, going down the slide and dancing in the bandstand. It was OK to go with parents, because we’d meet up with our friends when we got there.

Weekend days and early evenings were spent standing around our cars at Shoney’s or KFC in Kanawha City drinking Pink Lemonade and talking.

Somehow, I think this generation, and probably those who will follow it, are being cheated.

So I’ll spend time in the past, hope to find friends who also appreciate that gentle time while existing in a time when everyone is expected to be a Type A personality.

And you, my friend. Take time to watch an old movie. Walk to the store or to the fast food place to get an iced tea. Call a friend on the phone and actually talk instead of sending a text. Write a letter. Lay out in the yard and read a book. Look for pictures in the clouds. Make a wish on a star. And take time to breathe.

Until next time, know you’re important — to me, and so many others. Be good to yourself.