Recently I learned that the city of Baltimore had voted to abandon the female gym suit. For years, it seems, the boys had been wearing white $5 T shirts and shorts for physical education, while the girls were required to buy $8 one-piece blue gym suits. In these days of Title IX, such unequal spending is unacceptable, so from now on it will be T shirts and shorts for all. It took a man named Fred Appleby, an official with the Baltimore school system, a year of study with a committee to recommend the change, and after he did he said, "It's a good thing, because the girls really hate the old uniforms."
Of course the girls hate them, Mr. Appleby; they always have. Although I've been out of Bellport (N.Y.) High School for a dozen years, and it's been a long time since I've given much thought to my old gym suit, the school official's remark got me reminiscing. My suit, like the abandoned Baltimore model, was one-piece, dark blue with puffy, bloomer-type pantaloons. There were snaps up the front and a belt with a sawtooth metal buckle sewn on the back. Only one local store sold the gym suit, and when you purchased it, the store would stitch your last name on the back in a contrasting color. That was supposed to help the gym teacher identify students during class and to discourage theft.
Not many girls looked even passably attractive in this outfit, and most would've done just about anything to avoid being seen by boys while dressed in it. The boys, meanwhile, wore navy-blue T shirts and shorts for gym; very nice, very neat, very practical.
I hadn't had that gym suit very long when I joined the Cadet Leaders Club. I only vaguely recall what it was that Cadet Leaders did, but CLC members wore a different, more flattering gym suit. This alone was enough incentive for trying to get into the club.
August 12, 1979
That same year, 1963, half of Bellport High burned down. When things returned to normal, the school decided to replace the ugly blue gym suit. The flames had consumed the girls' gymnasium and almost all the gym suits. I say almost all because I had been in gym when the fire alarm sounded and had quickly exited the building, saving, along with myself, a basketball and my gym suit, which I was wearing at the time.
A committee of junior and senior girls was formed to select a new style. They chose a white one-piece affair with snaps up the front, pleated sleeves and cuffed shorts. It was different, but hardly an improvement.
Part of our phys-ed grade was based on having a cleaned and pressed gym suit at the beginning of every week. On Sunday evening I would have to iron that wrinkled mass of snaps, cuffs, elastic and pleats. It would take the entire Ed Sullivan Show for me to finish. My sister Barbara never ironed hers. Rather, she would spread the clean suit carefully on the box spring of her bed, then lay the mattress on top and sleep on it overnight. Ingenious—and it worked.
I had four different gym suits in high school, but I cannot remember what I did with any of them. It may be a mental block. Gym was one of my favorite classes, but I always felt and looked silly wearing a gym suit.
And so, though I applaud the bold action of Mr. Appleby and the Baltimore School Board, I can't help thinking it's long overdue. They should have phased out the ugly, baggy gym suit when The Ed Sullivan Show was cancelled.