The Painted Parade
by Jacki Kellum
Watch the painted parade,
The bold and biting dragons,
Teasing all the toddlers—even me!
They’re really just pretending.
Everyday’s a New Year,
A fun and festive firework jamboree.
©Jacki Kellum October 19, 2015
On the surface, the above poem is about Snapdragons, which are flowers. On another level, it is about the years that I spent, playing the Fashion Game.
I was born in 1950. When I was a child, I wore cotton dresses with gathered skirts. Beneath my dress, I wore a stiff, mesh petticoat that was gathered on a band of elastic. I suppose that the elastic was not strong enough because my slip was always drooping beneath my skirt. At least fifty times a day, I would shimmy myself around and tug my slip back up again. The elastic was simply not adequate to hold my slip in place. However, the mesh must have been military grade. Within an hour of sitting at my desk, at school, the netting would begin cutting into my thighs. By the end of the day, my legs were almost bloody. I learned very early that fashion is often not comfortable.
During the 1960s, I was a cheerleader. We wore much longer skirts than the cheerleaders wear now. Our skirts had box pleats, and we wore letter sweaters during football season. During much of the football season, the heavy, wool cloaks were far too much for the early autumn air. Again, fashion demanded that we wear the sweaters anyway. Beauty is a bothersome thing, but until I went to college at Ole Miss, I had no idea how bothersome beauty actually is.
In 1968, I left my rural farmland and began college at the University of Mississippi. I cannot tell you how unprepared that I was for the demands of that fashion scene. I live in the North now, and every time someone hears my accent, they ask me where I got it. I tell them a bit of my story and invariably, the response is, “The women in the South are beautiful.” That seems to be a common perception, and the women in the South suffered long and hard to earn that respect.
When I started college, girls were not allowed to wear pants on campus. Getting ready for class was like getting ready to go to church. I would wake up a couple of hours early. I lived in a sorority house. I won’t divert now, but being served meals in an Ole Miss sorority house was an education all its own. For now, suffice it to say that I would go downstairs and order a full Southern breakfast of eggs, bacon, biscuits, and grits. I would sit down in the beautiful dining room and eat breakfast, and then I would go back upstairs to begin the Beauty Battle.
The electric curlers would be turned on and would begin to heat. I would pull a dressy outfit from my closet. I would curl my hair, and then I would insert a hairpiece beneath the crown area. The fashion of the day demanded that the co-ed’s hair be high on top.
When I was a senior, the girls were finally allowed to wear pants on campus, but we were still not allowed to wear jeans in public. The Hippie movement had hit every college campus but the University of Mississippi. Although there were a few hippie-like people at Ole Miss then, they were the minority; and while kids on other college campuses had begun taking drugs by then, that rarely happened at Ole Miss then. At least, that was the case for a year or two longer.
I did buy some bell-bottom jeans, and at first, I only wore them around the sorority house and to art class. It is interesting that the girls in art school could wear jeans on campus, but we had to wear raincoats over them. We had to cover our bottoms and thighs. I have always been the arty type, and I altered a few pairs of jeans.
For the most part, the University of Mississippi was still fairly high fashion during the 1970s. The Ole Miss girls then were more likely to wear the short, A-line dresses than to get grubby in jeans.
Part of me hung on to the need to play the fashion game, but part of me sided with the Hippie movement.
I had always been of the Peace Corps mentality. For many years, I sang and played the guitar in folk groups. With all my being, I endorsed the 1970s songs of peace and love, and part of me was urged to dress the part. I began to ride the fashion fence. Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul, and Mary, was my idol, and for many years, I styled my hair like hers. I tossed the heated curlers and the hair pieces out the window.
I never got involved with the drug scene that permeated most of the Hippie movement, but by the mid-1970s, I had purchased a wide array of flannel shirts and jeans; and to this day, that is about as high fashion as I dare to jump. I spend most of my days at home now, and you will usually see me there, wearing my pajamas.
©Jacki Kellum January 3, 2016