The Horrors of Wool, Bread Bags, and Red Dye Number 7 Linda Knight Seccaspina
During the 50s because of the baby boom, there was suddenly a high demand for more stylish clothing for children. Many boys began to wear jeans to elementary school– but girls of all ages were still expected–if not required-to wear dresses and skirts for school, church, parties, and even for shopping.
Out of all the outfits I wore as a child I remember my 3-piece red wool winter snowsuit. It was a short red wool swing jacket with matching jodhpurs and a hat. That particular red outfit and enduring Toni Perms would have been enough to drive me to a psychologist for years.
There was nothing like playing out in the snow with this 3 piece red wool outfit on. I have to wonder what manufacturers and mothers were thinking. It wasn’t warm, and when it got wet it weighed triple its weight. The scratchy wool fabric rubbed my thighs so much that chafing couldn’t even be called a word.
Red dye number 7 has never been safe for the world, but in the 50s when you removed coloured wet wool your skin matched the shade you had been wearing. It took a lot of scrubbing to get the colour residue off, but nothing was redder than my raw inner thighs. I had matching red rubber boots and sometimes I had to wear bread bags on my feet in those boots to stay dry.
My friends next door hated the snow boots they had to wear. They were black boots with buckles on the front that every male in any generation seemed to wear. They were tough to put on and were even more difficult to remove. Worn over shoes, the heels of your shoe would tend to become wedged in the narrow neck of those boots.
To remove the boots at school, the boys would have to sit down on the hallway floor and try to unbuckle the now soaking wet buckles, which was difficult to do with cold hands. The boys could never seem to get their feet out of them without a fight. One boot or the other was always stuck halfway off, with one foot seemingly wedged in at some strange angle. Parents thought the solution to this was once again to place empty bread bags over their shoes before the boots, but it never helped. That idea only caused them to have to deal with wet, empty bread bags along with the boots. At least their parents were there to help in the fight to get the boots on at home, but at school the kids were on their own. By the time those feet got into the still damp boots, the school was nearly empty.
I hated wearing navy blue school tunics and white blouses and Monday seemed to be the only day I could wear the same white blouse as Friday without anyone knowing. In those days we wore uniforms so everyone would be dressed the same and no one would feel slighted.
Then there were the tights– yes, the tights. They were so uncomfortable and scratchy that I couldn’t help but complain. I even snuck into one of the church’s closets one Sunday before the service and took the tights off. Unfortunately my Grandmother caught me without my tights under my Choir robe and told me sternly, ”you have to put them on now!” I told her that they were uncomfortable but she told me I had to wear them for the rest of the church service at least. There just seemed to be something unfeminine about not being able to sit down comfortably with the crotch sagging down to your knees.
Now, most fashion for kids is just as trendy as adult fashion– even more for school. Every style comes back, even if you don’t want it too. Today, you need a small loan to buy a school uniform and as for the bread bags, well, I hear Reynolds Oven Bags, size Large, do a better job than Wonder Bread bags! As for the chafing– at my age my thighs don’t chafe anymore. They just applaud my efforts as I move around.