Around the age of fourteen I had my one growth-spurt of adolescence and reached my full height of five foot one and three quarters. I also attained the full maturity of my glands, including those I sweat with. Soon thereafter my mother decreed that in order to protect my good clothes, that is, any article of clothing I wore to church and many I wore to school, I had to wear dress shields.
In case you don’t know about these little monsters, let me describe them. About the size of a shoulder pad, but meant to fold into the armpit instead of over the shoulder, a dress shield is an oval of layered cloth and rubber. Many come with little straps.
Back then dress shields didn’t come in disposable like they do now, and after I wore my dress shields a few times, even my mother, the power-laundress and detergent-maven, couldn’t get the smell of sweat out of them. So I’d end up embarrassed over my possible body odor and therefore inclined to keep my elbows locked into my ribs.
My mother had other devices, too. Even now I have trouble keeping my bra straps on my narrow shoulders. So Mom came upon a solution when she discovered strap clips in a bin at Kresge’s Five and Dime close by the dreaded dress shields. This meant when gussied up for school or church in a bra, slip, and dress shields, I’d have wads of straps so thick and cumbersome that soon they slid off my shoulders and thus kept me from lifting my arms. What with the stinky dress shields under my arms and several straps across my biceps, no wonder I rarely raised my hand in high school.
The dress shields and clips weren’t the only devices of torment Mom hobbled me with. Though I never weighed more than one hundred and five pounds till I was past twenty and was, besides that, fit from twice weekly dance lessons and lots of walking, the conventional wisdom of the time said good girls wore panty girdles to hold up their stockings on Sundays and also to hold in the tummies they wouldn’t have until they got married and had a bunch of kids. Of course, a properly fitting panty girdle was guaranteed to dig grooves into the bottom of any girl as she sat through three hours of Sunday school and church.
My mom even managed to get my daddy in on the instruments of torture, for it was her contention that I was hard on shoes. Indeed, she believed this and kidded me about it until I was well into my fifties. So, to virtually every new pair of shoes, dress or casual, I got during my adolescence, Dad nailed heel taps, little pieces of metal shaped like flattened cashews. This meant, unless I wanted to make a clatter on wooden and tile floors, I had to tiptoe. On carpets, the taps tended to make me skid. Trying striding along confidently when you have taps on your shoes.
Now, to sum this whole torment up, picture me on a typical Easter Sunday when I was in my mid-teens. There I sit in the pew to which I tiptoed in my new shoes with the taps on the heels. On my little face I wear cat’s eye glasses that I push back up my narrow nose from time to time–when I’m not easing the clips that hold my straw boater firmly clamped to my aching temples like the claws of some vicious bird. Under my beige silk blouse and cashmere sweater with orange piping coordinated with a silk skirt, I wear slip, bra and dress shields into which I’m heartily sweating because of all the layers I wear including the panty girdle and hose.
From the perspective of several decades removed from that poor, challenged girl I was, I realize now that it was very hard for me to feel worshipful back then when I constantly fought my clothes. I’ve always thought going to college led me to rebel against church-going at age nineteen. But now I wonder if it was my dress shields instead.
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Juliet Kincaid writes the Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mysteries for grown-ups featuring a favorite fairy tale heroine and the calendar historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900 that tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond.
You can buy Juliet’s novels and stories at Amazon.com as trade paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. (They’re always free from Kindle Unlimited.)
Juliet’s most recent publication is “The Barn Door,” a prequel short story to her calendar mysteries that introduces her dashing detective Daniel Price. Click on this link to go to it: www.amazon.com/dp/B073G7ZXMP