I never liked school uniforms, which I had to wear for the four years I attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help Elementary School in my hometown of Lindenhurst, New York. I was delivered from the uniform obligation when I transferred from OLPH to the Edward W. Bower public elementary school in the 4th grade. From then until I went to college at West Point, the freedom to choose what I would wear to school didn’t seem to be a particularly controversial issue. Except once.
In 1958, at the start of my 8th grade year at Lindenhurst Junior High School, my Mom bought me new school clothes, including a red shirt, red pants and red corduroy sneakers. She thought it weird that I wanted to wear red pants, but they were neat, clean and properly fitted. So, one day shortly after the start of the new school year, off I went in my all red outfit.
To my surprise, I was promptly hauled down to the vice principal’s office, where I was told, “Don’t ever wear red pants to school again.”
I didn’t even know that the junior high had a dress code, much less that it prohibited the wearing of red pants. Girls often wore red skirts, but I suppose it never specifically occurred to school officials that any boy would wear red pants.
In any event, when I got home, I told Mom what had happened. She asked me how I felt about it and I said, “I like my red pants.”
She said, “Wear them to school again tomorrow.”
So I did. And once again found myself in the vice principal’s office. When he asked why I was wearing red pants after having been told not to, I told him that my mother had said to call her. He did and I heard him introduce himself.
Which was the last thing he said, other than “yes, ma’am”, and “no, ma’am”, for about five minutes. He finally finished his end of the conversation by saying, “yes, ma’am, thank you”, after which he told me to return to my class.
Thereafter, I wore my red pants (and red corduroy sneakers!) in my regular rotation of school clothes for the rest of 8th grade — and was never again told by anyone else to “take off those red pants”.
Epilogue: #1 son Douglas became a student at the University of California in January of 1991. Shortly before he began attending Cal, we went to the 1990 “Big Game” between the California Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal. Doug worked the 1991 and 1992 football seasons as a team manager for the Bears, starting what is now a 23 year family love affair with Cal football.
One of the traditions at Cal home games is that any fan who dares to wear the hated color red is unceremoniously told to “take off that red shirt/hat/dress”, as the case may be. For example, see this YouTube clip of the 2009 Big Game bonfire rally:
As a result, the color red has now been entirely banished from my wardrobe, but I retain fond memories of the time my Mom stood up for me against the vice principal’s demand that I not wear my red pants.