FASHION: WEARING THE FLOWERS
I spent my early years in a Parochial school where the uniform of the day was a white shirt, navy trousers and a school tie for the boys - white blouse, blue jumper and a matching blue beanie for the girls. Public high school offered the opportunity to ditch the uniform but in the early '60s, dress codes were not something to be laughed at.
Today it's difficult to remember them without laughing.
The primary desire of every adolescent is to be cool. In the early '60s, that meant snug fitting trousers short enough to show four to six inches of white socks, unbuttoned shirt collars and foot wear and undershirts as dictated by your individual clique.
Penny loafers or sneakers and white T-shirts were for the Rah-Rahs or Jocks. The hoods and bad boys favored black T's, pointed toes, cuban heels, black leather motorcycle jackets with zippered sleeves and a wide black belt with a heavy buckle. The misfits and nobodies dressed in cuffed trousers that were too wide, shirts with the collars buttoned and sweaters or jackets that didn't match.
Then came 1966 and with it, a fashion and dress code revolution completely unrivaled until 1967.
Then...Well, you get the picture.
For about ten years, taste in clothing was a victim of the age rather than a sign of the times. We went from madras shirts, chinos and loafers to tie-dyed Tees, patched denim jeans and sandals in what seemed only a matter of months.
Crew cuts grew into shags or pony tails and hair length became a measure of ones commitment to non-conformity.
As the '60s became the '70s, caucasians began to sport Afros, military jackets became the uniform for those who'd never served, hotpants and pant suits for women were seen everywhere, including on Wall Street secretaries, lunching on the benches in Battery Park.
The mini-skirt shrunk to become the micro-mini (God, how I loved progress) and every last conservative was trying to make a fashion statement. That may be where the polyester Leisure Suit came from but it wasn't around long enough to matter, thank the fashion gods.
I always prided myself on my grooming and wardrobe as much as on my conservative values (I spent 68-78 in the Marine Corps), but by 1973 the social atmosphere allowed for universal acceptance of just about any taste, so even a GI home on leave could be taken for a free thinker.
The only thing that raised an eyebrow was a uniform with a short haircut.
But even though society had relaxed its time worn dress code, a person's individual appearance was still considered an accurate indicator of their values and moral fiber.
Men with earrings obviously were gay or used drugs.
Blacks with large Afros were most certainly militant radicals.
Women who had abandoned the use of supporting undergarments were probably of easy virtue.
And if you had a tattoo or motorcycle jacket, well, you just had to be an unemployed ex-convict and/or a drug addict.
These weren't uninformed value judgements or arbitrary and capricious criticisms either. As anyone who watched Archie Bunker, Sandford and Son or the Saturday Morning Cartoons would attest, you could judge a book by its cover. It said so on television so it had to be true.
And there were some elements of society which continued to display a marked anxiety and in many cases, outright fear, for the future of a generation that didn't seem to care about how they looked.
Parents, clergy and authority figures (law enforcement and politicians in particular) felt threatened that they were losing some if not most of the control they had always enjoyed. There was a movement afoot to relegate the established order and its self-appointed guardians to a position of less importance and respect than they felt was their due.
These young rebels were wearing hair as long as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, beards like Abraham Lincoln and Saint John the Baptist, sandals like Jesus, robes like the apostles, spectacles like Ghandi and Ben Franklin and going around shamelessly spouting rhetorical slogans like "Give peace a chance" and "Believe in yourself".
They even spoke publicly of such dangerous concepts as peace and love.
Surely this was the work of the devil!
Couldn't they have found better role models than those outdated troublemakers and rebels whose odd dress they tried to imitate?
The answer is yes.
They could have had short hair like Benito Mussolini who made the trains run on time.
They could have scorned beards like Adolf Hitler who was a modestly talented architect.
They might have been fanatical about their wardrobe like any jack-booted SS officer, but they chose to exercise their right of choice and dared to be different from the preceding generation.
What gall! What arrogance! What impertinence!
What the hell difference did it make!?!
The difference is that even though it had been done by every generation of youth before them, it had never been done so blatantly, so quickly or so completely as it was done by the "Baby Boomer" generation.
But the end result was the same as it had always been.
Parents, clergy and the establishment gagged, choked, pontificated and reacted - for a time.
Then Dad let his sideburns grow, Mom bought a pants suit, Reverend Jones wore jeans and sportshirts, and Officer O'Leary grew a mustache.
In time, nuns even stopped wearing the customary habit and we learned to our amazement that they actually had knees, waists and other attributes that we'd thought only regular women had.
I suppose the moral is that clothes really don't make the person or some such cliche as that.
They also don't foster communism, promote crime or lead to the downfall of democracy.
Rather, diversity in dress is just one more example of democracy in action. Any effort to curtail that freedom of reasonable choice is a step backward in the march toward creating that Utopian civilization which all humanity has sought subconsciously throughout its existence.
Today, I wear a conservative suit or a black tuxedo when the occasion calls for it. But after two decades divided between law enforcement and the Marine Corps, I favor jeans, sweats, tennis shoes, sandals, and boating shoes sans socks.
For years I sported a pony tail that hung well below my collar and I continue to wear a silver hoop earring which has special meaning for me personally.
For the same reason, I still wear a silver ring that was common to my most memorable outfit in the Marines and on my wrist you'll see two silver POWMIA bracelets that I'll continue to wear until all my 58,100+ brothers and sisters whose names are carved on the black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans memorial are accounted for.
I wear a silver necklace symbolic of my religious beliefs and when riding my custom Harley-Davidson (a bud planted in the 60s which I couldn't afford to cultivate until the 80s), I don a black leather motorcycle jacket and black helmet with a skull and crossbones insignia. But I don't have any tattoos and as a political moderate, I doubt you'll ever catch me dying my hair orange or wearing any of those drug-inspired, wierd, subversive getups that today's unwashed, anarchistic, Punk-Rapping, shaven-headed teenage deviates seem to crave.
Even non-conformists have their limits.