KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Friday, November 07, 2008

Clothes Don't Make the Person

Michelle Obama's dress; photo by Doug Mills/The New York TimesYou know, I don't care how people dress. All I care about is that they're honest and hardworking and not shallow.

The heated discussion of Michelle Obama's election-night dress reminds me of when I was in junior high and high school.

I was raised in Texas by extremely conservative Southern Baptist parents, hellfire-and-brimstone Sunday School teachers both. Girls' fashions then favored miniskirts and often knee-high or higher boots. I wasn't allowed to dress that way—or anywhere near it. My skirts and dresses had to be below my kneecaps, and for years I wasn't allowed to wear pants to school, because "young ladies don't wear pants." It was the 1970s, and I was forced, for "modesty's sake," to look like a refugee from the 1950s—and not even a stylish one.

Girls my age made fun of my clothes everywhere I went in school, every single day. Many didn't want to be my friend simply because I dressed so differently. Didn't matter that I was a nice person—shy but friendly, kind, and smart. When, in high school, I finally talked* my parents into letting me wear slightly—very slightly—shorter dresses and the dorkiest shoes of the era rather than 1950s-style shoes, one snotty popular girl sent in a dedication to the school newspaper, dedicating the story "Cinderella" to me. She succeeded in embarrassing me in front of the entire school. One particularly hateful boy would lurk in the hallways between classes, trying to find ways to trip me as I walked along but denying doing any such thing when I told the school principal about it.

So am I enjoying the discussion of Michelle Obama's election-night dress? Not so much. Michelle's a smart, talented woman. I don't care what she wears.

*By that point, I was as tall as my parents were, no longer small enough for them to be able to grab me and beat the hell out of me until I agreed to dress how they ordered me to. I also had a part-time job and could save up to buy some of my own clothing.


Karoli said...

I could not agree with you more. Although I didn't have strict parents like yours, I had a weird dad. It didn't much matter what I wore because all the kids in the neighborhood knew how weird he was and so transferred that to me. And they loved to whisper about it.

When I see the focus on what Michelle Obama was wearing instead of the person she is, it reminds me of the uglier side of human nature. Perhaps a few years on the other side of the Bush administration will help us all to be kinder people.

Yes, we can. :)

Anonymous said...

I think it's great that she's made "toned arms" fashionable. I, for one, think about that when I need impetus to go to the gym. If she can do it, busy as she is, I certainly have no excuse.

She looks great whatever she wears, but I still didn't like the lava lamp dress.

libhom said...

When I saw a headline about that non-story as the lead on a Philly newspaper website, I couldn't help but wonder what the corporate media owners and publishers are trying to distract us from.

What a crock.

Mary Beth said...

I didn't know you are from Texas! Where, if you don't mind saying?

I'm so so sorry about the ickness of all that's in this post. The being as tall as your parents so they couldn't beat you up...hurts me for you.

I am grateful on a very regular basis to be grown up and out of such a stupid stupid social setup as high school. Those newspaper folks fussing about her dress (which I loved BTW)? Stuck in their teens.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Mary Beth, I grew up in the small Houston suburb of La Porte. My brother is still in the same town; my sister lives in another suburb.

Betsy Davenport said...

Katharine, thanks for saying this. I have downloaded scads of pics of the Obamas just because it gives me such pleasure looking at them. At THEM, not their clothes.

And I was a farm kid in eastern Penna. (Quakers, so we voted Democrat even though surrounded by Nixonians) who went to a Quaker school through 8th grade and when I hit the public school in 9th (345 kids, grades 7-12 and I thought that was huge), I was laughed off the school bus for wearing galoshes.

I had to walk out our muddy lane to catch the bus and it took me one day to realize I had to leave the boots under a bush. Took me one more day to realize I needed to put them upside down.

And don’t anybody say “Kids are so cruel,” because they aren’t; no more so than the adults they get it from. ;-)

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