They were gathered in a circle when I walked in. Call it naivete or being preoccupied with my classes, I was totally unprepared for the conclave of bishops, school administrators and other assorted male authorities that greeted me on entering the conference room at Lancaster Mennonite School where I was part of the English faculty. Yes, I had walked into a hornet’s nest indeed:
Bishop: Hello, Sister Longenecker
S. L. (weakly) Hello
Bishop: We have called this meeting with you to discuss some matters that relate to the standards of this school and your manner of dress.
What! . . . This is an ambush.
S. L. Oh . . .
Bishop: Yes, you are familiar with the contract you signed last year when you were hired for this position.
S. L. Well, yes . . . .
Bishop: In it you agreed to uphold the “Rules and Discipline” of the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church.
S. L. Yes, I recall. . . .
Bishop: You remember also there is a statement about the wearing of the plain cape dress.
S. L. No comment . . . listening intently
Bishop: We have noticed that you are embellishing your dress with a collar and fancy button, which seems entirely unnecessary and certainly not a good example to our students.
Bishop: Also, you have been wearing another dress made of red material as well.
S. L. Now completely aghast . . . I want to disappear. Well, I do have a dress like that but the fabric has very dark shades of red, not very bright at all.
Bishop: And your shoes — the rules state that “ . . . dark footwear is the best expression of modesty and nonconformity for all our sisters,” and we hope that you will comply.
S. L. Looking down at my shoes, I see a black, patent leather shoe with a tiny bow and kitten heels. Dear Lord, this is getting very bad—I’m not a nun, but even I know that black patent leather shoes don’t really reflect up!
The Principal: To me, they look like dancing shoes.
S. L. Dancing shoes–gulp!–I don’t know even one dance step! Dancing is forbidden. It says so in the rule book.
Somehow the meeting concludes with no doubt some meek promise of compliance from me.
Fade to black . . . .
My Life in Shoes
Shoe drawing, circa age 10 Bane of the Bishop 1962
Break-out Shoes 1965 My style now – red and shiny
What emotional connections, positive or negative, do you have with a item of clothing in your past? Tell us your story.