A friend of The Observer noticed during Central High’s homecoming week that her daughter was setting off to school in a pair of shoes she’d borrowed from Mom without asking.
“What are you doing with my shoes on?” she asked.
“Oh relax, Mom, I needed them for Tacky Day.”
What, you thought that it was Tacky Day every day? With the low cut chemises and hip-hugging jeans and boxer-flaunting baggy pants?
No. To the students, Tacky Day is when you dress in what their idea of tacky is: The clothes you used to wear. Styles you once embraced. Like the tight floral pedal pushers we saw one slender girl attired in, so bright orange and yellow they’d light up the darkest drive-in.
The Observer remembered an outfit we wore to Hall High. It was striped blue and orange double knit, with flared legs and a belt of hooked metal rings. We felt pretty special in it — especially since it was the first pair of pants we’d ever worn to school, the result of an eleventh-hour decision for the girls in the class of ’70, made the April before we graduated, that skirts would no longer be required.
Not only did we go to high school before pants were allowed, we went before pantyhose were invented. So there we were, seated at our desks in our mini-skirts, with the tops of our girdles’ stocking holders showing and our plump thighs oozing out the sides of the tops of the hosiery like sausage leaking from its skin.
In a word: Tacky.
The Observer’s friend pretended the hurt came from her daughter’s not asking first. She pretended it had nothing to do with the fact that she loved those little velveteen pumps she got when her high-school student was a toddler. So the velveteen is rubbing off. And maybe they’re not in style anymore. But tacky? Ouch.
Speaking of dressing up, The Observer attended a costume ball of sorts the Saturday before Halloween: the annual gala that wraps up the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, held at the Arlington Hotel. “Black tie optional,” the invitation read, and a few attendees stretched that option about as far as they could without it snapping back like a broken rubber band and leaving a welt across their cheeks.
There were many lovely dresses to ooh over, and plenty of men in classic tuxes and nice suits. And then there was the guy who paired his sport coat with denim shorts, the woman who accessorized her sparkly dress with a pair of flip-flops. And not the kind with sequins on them, either: These were Target end-aisle flip-flops. Shower shoes.
Among the men in attendance, the nattiest of all was a man we convinced ourselves was David Itkin, the music director of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, whose crested tailcoat initially caught the envious eye of the two males in The Observer’s party. It seemed like forever before he turned enough toward us to give us a glimpse of his front, but the wait was worth it. A spectacular gold-patterned vest — distinctive but not the least bit gaudy. Well done, Mr. Itkin, if indeed you were he.
Our favorite, though, was one of the film-makers, who showed up wearing a kind of Asian-influenced full-length clerical robe, light gray with a frog closure at the left shoulder. Very Jedi Council, or Fu Manchu minus the moustache. We gave him extra points for the kicky orange sash around his waist, but had to mark him down for wearing pants underneath — we felt it betrayed a lack of chutzpah. Or something.
The Observer’s daughter has a theory about clothing. It arose from her reading of “Lord of the Flies,” in which a group of boys turn into savages — or, return to the savage state, depending on how you read humanity. The tale passed right over our heads when we read it a century ago, but it was crystal clear to her.
Her sartorial theory is that the more savage we get, the fewer clothes we wear. She just put two and two together. 1. After so many years of what should have been a march toward increasing civilization, we’re still bombing and murdering and lying and cheating. 2. Her camisoles and bluejeans never touch.
So, she figures that since we came from nakedness, that’s where we’re headed. The Observer would add, with so many conch shells around, how can anyone form a thought anymore?
Maybe the filmmaker with the Fu Manchu robes will lag behind the rest of us enough to record our final downfall.