Sunday, April 12, 2015

tuxedo junction

Winter is finally giving way to nicer, milder weather. And as the days get longer and the temperature rises on a daily basis, the school year begins to wind down. While most students are contemplating summer camp or a special family vacation, high school seniors are setting their sights on the grown-up world of the future. The future has a looming menace about it. An uncertainty that can be pretty confusing — even frightening — to a seventeen-year-old who spent the last decade in the protective cocoon of book reports and recess. So, the last thing that these adolescents need is another administrative, power-wielding adult telling them what is appropriate attire for the senior prom.

As far as proms are concerned, tradition dictates that the boys wear a tuxedo — and pretty much anything with silk lapels passes as a tux, even if the accessories include a pair of well-worn Nikes. Girls are expected to wear something that falls into the very broad category of "formal dress." Some schools and school districts have gotten very precise about the depth of necklines and the height of hemlines and the form-fitting tightness of the dress itself. For some reason (known only to school board officials), there is more scrutiny of girls apparel than boys. I suppose they are just happy that boys have the decency to put on long pants for a few hours. Girls, albeit unfair, are held to a higher standard. Over the years, school administrators have become increasingly adamant about gender-specific dress codes, asserting that it needs to be reinforced and maintained, lest the delicate balance of society be thrown towards an unspeakable demise. Even if the formal wear is made of an unconventional material (like duct tape), as long as the girl wears a dress and the boy wears a tux, our safety is protected.

It seems that each new "prom season," brings another news story about a girl wishing to wear a tuxedo to the prom. The community is aghast. The school bans the young lady from attending in male-specific clothing. An uproar ensues. The local news station sends out a camera crew. Everyone behaves as though a girl wearing a tux is the harbinger of the apocalypse. Just this week, a story about Claudetteia Love, a student at Carroll High School in Monroe, Louisiana, was initially banned from the prom because of her desire to wear a tuxedo. The school's principal  firmly stated, " 'Girls wear dresses and boys wear tuxes, and that's the way it is." Love, an honor student who happens to be gay, was furious over the decision. Several teachers stood behind Love and, through protest and solidarity, the policy was eventually relaxed.  Love was granted permission to attend the prom – tux and all. Similar stories have crept up every year, some with different outcomes, but always the same controversy.

I don't get all the fuss.

"Come on down,
you'll find me there"
In 1979, as my senior year was winding down, my thoughts turned to my own prom. I didn't have a girlfriend and I wasn't dating anyone on a regular basis, so I knew my prom date would not be of the romantic variety, merely a friend. At the time, I worked as a cashier, and the only male employee, in a women's clothing store. (My mom was the store manager. Never turn your back on a little nepotism.) I had become friendly with the assistant manager, Randi. Despite our constant battles stemming from her love and my abhorrence of disco, we got along pretty well. Randi, who was two years my senior, was a sweetheart. She was also one of those girls who had to go to as many proms as she could. She attended a senior prom when she was a junior, her own senior prom and one the year after her graduation. She made it very clear that she wanted to be my date for my prom. I was her "in" to one more high school gala. She also made it very clear that, instead of buying a dress that she'd never wear again, she wished to wear a tuxedo — one that matched mine, as a matter of fact. Without giving the notion a second thought, and being the die-hard nonconformist that I was (and still am), I just said, "Sounds okay to me."

Together we went to a tuxedo rental store. The place was jammed with guys my own age milling around, looking at the formal offerings on display on the many racks. Randi was the only female there (not counting some guys' mothers). Her inquiry to a salesman about renting a tux was only met with an amused smile and a couple of  side comments of "That's neat!," but nothing derogatory or insulting. Nobody screamed or fainted or told us we were going to hell. They just cleared out an area of the fitting room so Randi could have some privacy while trying on her tuxedo choices. The night of my prom, we danced, laughed, mingled and had fun. We even noticed a few other girls wearing tuxedos.

That was 36 years ago. And, believe it or not, the world didn't end.

1 comment:

  1. Weren't you cute :) I refuse to believe that was 36 yrs ago since I graduated in the same year and don't want to think I'm getting old.