In the mid-sixties teachers and school administrators were a lot fussier about how students looked than they are today. I received an urgent notice one afternoon about a serious problem of decorum at the Junior High, the precursor of the present-day Middle School. The big question confronting the administration was whether the girls should or should not be allowed to wear nylon stockings to school. Ye Gods! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that were all they had to worry about these days? Skirt length, which hovered around the knees, had already been established, but the idea of dress shoes of any kind, which required nylon stockings, was still not settled. After all, those nylons were rather costly and easily damaged. This problem reached as far down as the 5th grade, where long pants were also not yet allowed. It would be another two years before that barrier had been eliminated and you no longer had to ride your bike to school in a dress, and freeze your knees in the process, if, in fact, you rode a bike to school at all. Seems to me that Cary was the only person riding a bike to high school and was razzed unmercifully for it. It wasn’t until she had graduated and was in college that bikes became all the rage. She often said to me that Larry’s Cycle Shop in Summit, NJ, owed her big time!

I felt that I had enough on my plate, so tried to avoid getting drawn into a long discussion of teenage fashion. As long as a certain amount of modesty was upheld (and heaven knows that was measured by an ever-sliding scale) I was on board and not on the picket line.

In retrospect, maybe I should have been more vocal when it came to panty hose. It seemed ridiculous to ask young girls to spend time on frivolous fashion that inhibited their movements at a period in life when their bodies were growing and developing and they needed to move with abandon. I remember Cary, who was approaching six feet, telling me how she hated panty hose because they were never long enough and kept slipping down until the crotch was just above her knees. Hard to walk normally! There were no tall or extra-large sizes in those days. And besides, she was not a sedate prissy type, but loved to run and jump and ride bikes. Who could do this in stockings and pumps?

But I couldn’t be bothered. I was having enough trouble with my first grader, who, no matter how clean he was at the starting gate, always arrived at the finish line in a state of disarray. This was pointed out on occasion by Miss O’Brien, his first-grade teacher. To my consternation, at one particular Parent’s Night, she announced to me while I was chatting with several of my contemporaries, that my son always looked scruffy and needed some help with grooming. She came perilously close to accusing him of being a slob. That was news to me, for he certainly didn’t look scruffy when he left the house in the morning. I had to assume that calamitous things must have occurred en route.

I’m ashamed to admit that Miss O’Brien got under my skin, which prompted me to run downtown the next day and buy some new shirts for Robert. When he returned from school the day he wore his new attire, the collar was hanging off and one sleeve had been torn. And I had shelled out a full $6.95 for the best cotton available!

“It’s not my fault,” he proclaimed when questioned about the condition of his new shirt. “I was just walking to school and these four girls jumped from behind the bush and grabbed me. They pushed me and I pushed back. Then we started punching….” Seems the girls always liked Robert, but he was naïve to think he could handle four at a time. So much for grooming.

How refreshing that nobody cares very much about dress codes these days. The motto for boys seems to be “anything goes.” And if my eyes don’t deceive me, the same is true of girls. There are those who complain that things have gone too far with the tight T’s, the flashing navels, and the scanty shorts, styles that are said to have a deleterious effect on behavior. But I am confident that before too many years have passed, a happy medium will have evolved. We may even have a return to nylons!


I’ve made my share of mistakes when it comes to fashion. I often capitulated to the latest style because I liked it, but had no right to force it on unwilling children, namely my eldest daughter. There was a nagging dichotomy in my thinking. I encouraged my children to be individuals on the one hand and wanted them to “fit in” on the other. The two are not always compatible. At least to a young person, where ethical questions tended to be right or wrong, black or white.

Cary loved her jeans and T-shirts, once the school relented on the skirt and stocking rules. Every day she would appear at breakfast dressed in the same “uniform.”

“Cary, why not rotate your clothes and wear different ones every day, or at least on alternate days?  You have lots of choices. Isn’t it boring to wear the same thing all the time?” I asked.

“Mom,” she answered in an exasperated tone. “Think of how much time you waste every day trying to figure out what to wear…what matches, what doesn’t. I’ve watched you. It seems like a huge decision. I don’t want to spend my time on such things. I simply get up, get dressed, and go. It seems silly to fuss with clothes when I have better things to do.”

That should have put me in my place. It made a lot of sense. But I didn’t give up. I was determined to make a “lady” out of my daughter. I wanted her to be her own person, but also be able to fit into any group. I rationalized this by saying to myself that polite society was sometimes superficial and boring, but you had to know how to navigate through it in order to get certain things done in this life.

Even when Cary was a youngster, I admonished her to “walk like a lady” when she’d rather have stormed around like Davy Crockett on the wild frontier. As a small child I dressed her in frilly clothes, patent leather shoes, and, on occasion, an Easter bonnet and small purse. When I look back at the photos of those times there is a distinctly unenthusiastic look on her face. What was I thinking?

Cary had curly hair, which came from her father, who, on a windy day, resembled David Ben-Gurion playing Golda Meir at the Palace. When she reached college age she had a cascading mane of wavy hair that was the envy of all Woodstock-era damsels, but as a young teenager she had short-cropped curls. This was the post Jackie Kennedy era where bouffants were still in style, and most teens looked like characters out of the musical Hairspray. You know where this is heading. I took my darling daughter to Bardino’s Hair Salon in Summit and had that crown of curls blown and sprayed and set in a bubble. Then I went to an upscale store and bought a conservative “outfit.” Pleated skirt, blouse, vest, all “coordinated.” I cringe when I relate this tale, but to confess such egregious behavior may in some way prevent other parents from trying to mold their children “for their own good,” and help them to see how appearances can so skew our perceptions. And kill individuality.

That evening, Cary, dressed in her new outfit, was sitting at the dining room table after everyone had left. I’d never seen her so glum, so defeated. Suddenly, she lowered her head and started to sob. “This is not me, Mom. This is not who I am. I feel ridiculous.”

What an awful way to learn a lesson. I stood looking at my distraught daughter, aware for the first time of the damage I was doing. “You’re right, Cary. It’s not you. Take off the outfit. I’ll return it. And wash your hair. This was a huge mistake. Forgive me.”

My second daughter, on the other hand, had no problem with dresses…except that she wanted to pick them out, herself. I learned early not to arrive home with a bargain and assume she would like it, or even wear it.

She, too, wore jeans and T-shirts, not as a statement of simplicity, but to be part of the group. I remember this conversation at breakfast one Saturday morning.

“What an amazing coincidence,” said her father, when he gazed upon Martha and her two best friends standing at the kitchen door. “To think that you all dressed in separate houses and just happened to put on the identical clothes…jeans and a tie-dyed T-shirt.” The girls giggled delightedly. There’s no getting around the fad of the day. How well I remember the saddle shoes, bobby socks, and Sloppy Joe sweaters of my own teen years.

As pared down as Cary chose to be, Martha accumulated as much flounce as her closet would hold. She loved dancing and tutus and crinoline skirts. To supplement her wardrobe she sewed many a dress and pant suit during her high school years…just to make sure she had enough. She even designed a few outfits for me that I wore, proudly, at various conventions and trade shows. So what if they looked a little homemade.

I learned another hard lesson one morning when Martha was in first grade.

She came down the stairs on her way to school. I watched her make her way, tenuously, down each step, and noticed how strange she looked. Her skirt flared horizontally and she was waddling unsteadily. As I walked toward her, her lips started quivering.

“What on earth are you wearing?” I asked, impatiently, reaching over and counting several skirts, one on top of the other.

“My, uh, my dresses,” she answered. The tears started flowing. “You said if I didn’t clean up my room you’d throw them all away and I didn’t have time, so I’m wearing them. Please don’t throw them away!” By now she was crying so hard she was hiccoughing and nearly breaking my heart.

Yes, I realized something important that day as I walked Martha up the stairs and helped her hang up six dresses, returning her to normal size. Curb the hyperbole. Children are like wet cement. What you say as a parent makes a deep impression. They believe what comes out of your mouth. It’s powerful stuff, so you’d better choose your words wisely.


I loved the fashions of the ‘60’s…their outrageous hot pants, sassy mini-skirts, shimmery fake-silk shirtwaist dresses that flared impudently just below the butt, demure V-line linen shifts that morphed into extravagant pyramid dresses, long dangly earrings, heavy ropes of costume jewelry, and clunky flat shoes. I delighted in the multi-colored circles. The psychedelic designs. The bold intersecting triangles. And I could finally get out of those bone-crushing, bunion-producing, pointy-toed heels and into “sensible” footwear that was kind to my size 10’s. I bought the whole package, not even realizing it. I even bought the false eyelashes and flowing “falls” made from real hair, that made us all look like Agent 99 in Mission Impossible. I don’t know what possessed me or what message I was trying to convey, if any, but it all started in Florida, in 1958, after the birth of my fourth child, when the voluminous shift, often fashioned from what looked like hand-woven feed sacks, became popular. I do know, however, that it was perfect post-partum wear after four pregnancies. It gave my abdomen time to return to normal.

As the 60’s moved into the 70’s my kids didn’t buy my taste in fashion. In fact, they were horrified, except for Christopher, who loved to go shopping with me. He picked out two-tone dresses with flared skirts and wide belts, or taffeta numbers with plunging necklines and puff sleeves, accessorized with patterned stockings and gigantic hoop earrings—choices I would never have made on my own, and which caused quite a stir on the home front. Chris was way ahead of us all on the fashion scene.

I paid no attention to the complaints of the other four children, however, until Robert walked home from first grade one day to greet me with, “Oh, no, not another purple mini-skirt! And a yellow tank top?” (I’m glad he didn’t notice the purple bunch of grapes appliquéd on the front.)

Martha was not so gentle. “You’re not going out like that are you? That’s disgusting!” I was wearing a flowered shift made of some kind of faux-velvet with a ruffle on the bottom that, I hasten to add, looked a lot like something I saw her wear a few years ago. I said nary a word! But my kids were nothing if not honest. Today I think it would be called authentic.

Eveningwear was another story. I felt that I had been liberated, especially after I began the traveling phase of my career when my children were teenagers. I’d put three long dresses into a suitcase, knowing that they were wrinkle-proof, took up almost no space, and were perfect for any after-five activities. With their spaghetti straps they resembled long clingy slips and were fashioned of a stretchy fabric that could be washed and hung up with no ironing necessary.

These fashions were designed to be worn without a bra.  Mostly. This was when bra-burning was the rage and women were tired of being trussed into medieval armor, cutting underwires, girdles, and waist-cinchers.

Martha was studying dance and, since we lived in close proximity to New York City, we did a lot of theater together, especially musicals. Those were the days when people “dressed” for such occasions.

One evening as we were getting ready to go to the opening of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I put on a slinky pink number and prepared to leave.

“Mother, you’re not wearing a bra!” exclaimed Martha.

“Everybody goes without a bra these days,” I countered.

“Yes, but ‘everybody’ is not my mother!”

Call me a coward. That night I wore a bra.

I guess the most jarring episode in my children’s non-acceptance of my wardrobe occurred for me when Tom came roaring into my room late one afternoon, flung open my closet, and started pawing through my dresses.

“What on earth are you doing, Tom?”

“Yes, this is the one,” he said, pulling out a light paisley shirtwaist number with buttons to the neck and a plain collar. “Please wear this dress to the P.T.A. meeting tonight. I beg you.”

Good Lord, what drama!

“That’s a horrible house dress I only wear when I vacuum. I never wear it in public.” I replied.

“Mom, please wear it tonight…for me. I want you to look like a real mother, not a kook!”

How could anybody resist those pleading eyes? I think this was the turning point in my experimental, outrageous-fashion phase. I always taught my children to be individuals and not do anything just for “show,” or for fear of what the neighbors would think, but I could see that mothers had to take into account their children’s sensitivities and do a little compromising along the way. And save some of their most egregious craziness for old age.

In conclusion, let me say that fortunately nobody criticized me when I came back from the Summit Thrift Shop with a $14.00 black coat of ample dimensions that swept to the ground and possessed a giant hood a la Little Red Riding….It became known as my Dragon Lady coat and I still wear it today.