Pantsuits

Accepted dress has certainly changed in the last twenty-five years. Being a teacher and a school administrator I was expected to wear a tie. Men always wore a suit and tie to church and on special occasions. Women never wore shorts or pants in public and most wore hats and gloves to church.

About 30 years ago there was a big public debate about women wearing pantsuits in public. The general public condemned the wearing of pantsuits by women; however, some of the more progressive women began wearing them anyway. Some even were bold enough to wear pantsuits to church. There were stories in the newspapers about women wearing pantsuits being denied entrance to public places like restaurants. Many businesses had rules that women employees were to wear dresses to work.

Being an elementary school principal where all of the teachers were women, I thought that I should follow the popular thinking and announced that teachers were to wear dresses in the classroom. This was a more daring move than I realized at the time. Having attended the Fayette County Schools and being a very young principal, some of the present teachers were my past teachers or at least had taught in the school when I went through.

One of these teachers, Violet Jones, decided that she would test my rule. She was one of the sweetest, most lovable people you could ever know, a strict disciplinarian with a mind of her own. Like Rosa Parks, she took her stand and came to school wearing a pantsuit.

The word came quickly to me that Violet was wearing a pantsuit!

I made a bee line to the lower hall where she was on duty. Sure enough there she was in a very nice pantsuit with the biggest smile on her face as if to say, “What now?”. Other teachers were standing in their classroom doors watching to see what would happen. I almost wished I’d never made the rule but I had made it thinking the public wanted it that way and felt a need to stand by it. I suspended her from school until she changed her attire. She went home and changed and was back at school in no time.

News quickly traveled around town to the superintendent, the board of education and the public in general. Violet’s husband was Sheriff Jones. one of the most influential people in the county. Of course he didn’t interfere but his popularity didn’t help my case.

I really don’t remember how this all ended, but it was not too long before many teachers were wearing pantsuits to school which was really more appropriate than a dress, since they had duties like playground supervision.

Violet never let me forget the episode. I saw her many years after we both had retired and she laughingly reminded me of the event. She still looked good in a pantsuit.

After reading this story Joan Neal sent me the following email:
Dean, the end of the story of the pantsuits and pants in general:
Violet, Hazel and I went before the school board and explained how short the dresses had gotten - mid thigh and every time you bent down to retreive something, it was very embrassing to some students. One of the board members had a son in the 4th grade and he made the motion to allow teachers and staff to wear pantsuits and no jeans. It passed unanimously...the next day Violet and I both wore pantsuits to school and the next day after that almost all were wearing the pantsuits. Good story and true.