The impact of a short skirt in a small conservative town.
It was all Nancy LaChance's fault. It wasn't good enough that she was already the most popular girl in school, with perfect grades, perfect teeth and the blondest hair you'd ever see. It didn't help that Nancy also arrived at school in the quarterback's car every morning. No, it wasn't good enough that Nancy had all of this and so much more at her disposal; she just had to show up to school in that skirt – a skirt that showed her knees. Her knees! Can you believe that?!
As young women of St. Mary's Catholic school in the small town of Atkinson, we always wore our long skirts and gowns with great pride. As my mother always said, "What's beneath them should be kept between yourself, God and the lucky boy you'll marry someday." That rule was drilled into us from a young age and we took great pleasure in showing off our skirts; long and flowing, or long and straight. There were skirts of every shape and size, color and pattern. We had poodle skirts, pencil skirts and swing skirts, all designed and catered to fit our needs. I have over ten good ones in my possession, a luxury all things considered, for my mother was the local seamstress.
I always thought I looked pretty in my skirts, at least mother and father told me that all the time. My boyfriend, Charley Dickens, whose father owned the only bookstore in town, always called me his genuine Southern Belle, much to my delight. We planned to get married when we finished high school – which was why I had allowed him to take a peek at my ankle and shin...and nothing else.
So you see, for Nancy LaChance to come sauntering into school on that Monday morning, wearing that skirt – a pleated dark blue number – sent ripples and shockwaves around the school and indeed the whole town. How could her parents let her out of the house like that?! We were shocked and appalled. We snickered behind her back and called her names that would have made our parents blush in shame.
But most of all, we were envious.
Oh, how comfortable and carefree she looked. Her legs were long, shapely and pale like porcelain and as she walked, the skirt would swish against her hips with a soft whisper, a subtle and seductive movement that had everyone unable to look away.
Oh, how we envied the looks she received from the boys, and even the men; those hungry, leering males, who salivated like starving dogs as she walked past, leaving a lingering scent of roses and unspoken promises hidden beneath that cloth.
It was sinful. It was terrible, we told ourselves and yet we felt dowdy and old in skirts we once thought beautiful and proper. Oh, how we wished we could be as daring as Nancy LaChance, and yet we knew we could never be as brazen as the girl from the North.
However, Nancy's parade was rained out for she was whisked away by the headmaster and sent home to change her clothes. We cheered and laughed as we watched her leave. Like a defiant goddess, she held her head high. Her hair looked like spun gold, and she walked away with legs and knees exposed - a daring beacon for us girls to follow.
It was all we could talk about. How humiliating. How disgusting. How slutty. We tried to ignore the pained looks of longing in the males' eyes, the sharp scent of need, lust and desire that roiled off their bodies in waves as they eyed our long, drab skirts. Suddenly the day which had started out like any other, had become bleak and miserable.
We went home with smiles on our faces – false fronts of gaiety and excitement – but our hearts were beginning to cry out in rebellion. What would it feel like to be Nancy LaChance for just one day? For a minute? For a second? How would it feel to have the boys' eyes on our exposed flesh, to walk without fear, to taste freedom?
I stood before the mirror in my room, dressed in nothing but St. Mary's school uniform. Biting my lower lip gently, I began to hitch the cloth up. Higher and higher, inch by inch, I slowly revealed legs which had remained hidden from the public eye for as long as I could remember. My heart began to beat faster and harder in exhilaration, in fear, in knowledge. My tongue felt heavy and dry – a sour taste of my sweat or perhaps the freedom that I had always longed for.
If Nancy could do it, why couldn't I? Why wouldn't I? Why not? Why shouldn't I?
There was nothing to be ashamed of. Why did I need to hide a part of me that God had so lovingly created? Why did I have to remain trapped in a prison that society had created by forcing me to dress in an outfit that supposedly celebrated my womanhood? I wasn't made to remain hidden behind layers of cloth. I longed to be free as well. I longed to be able to smile like Nancy LaChance – that triumphant smile of victory that filled her visage as she was taken away.
My freedom finally came in the sounds of cloth being ripped.
Freedom came in trembling hands and fingers sewing into the wee hours of morning.
Freedom came in leaving the house earlier than anyone else, to escape the cold disapproving stares of authority.
Most importantly, freedom came from walking into school and seeing my female classmates with skirts - ripped or sewn - all exposing legs and knees which were no longer hidden behind the oppressing shield of society's rules.
And when Nancy LaChance walked in wearing a long, formal skirt, her expression was one of
surprise and yet undeniable pride as she looked at all of us. We laughed together, knowing
we had defied the authorities with one simple but powerful act of rebellion.