My mother and aunt sat watching TV whilst I peered aimlessly in to my smart phone’s mesmerising screen… as usual.
“It reminds of when those skin tight jeans first came into fashion.” my aunt said as she and mum sat bemused in front of the TV. “Or deelie boppers.” she added with a grin.
“What are deelie boppers?” I asked.
Mum described the novelty headband to me and I knew exactly what she was talking about. “We never thought they’d catch on either but they did.” she added, before turning back to the TV.
They were watching the local news programme which reported on a protest outside one of the high street stores. The footage showed a small group of people holding home made banners bearing the slogan ‘let boys be boys’ and chanting the same four words over and over. The scene cut to the interior of the store and showed racks of dresses and frocks on display… then my jaw dropped when the presenter began to speak. “This may look like any other high street store, but all is not as it seems as this…” he gestures to the display of frocks, skirts and dresses, “…is the boy’s department.”
“I think it’s scandalous.” my mother commented.
“I think it’s about time.” my aunt added before turning to me. “Would you like to wear a dress Peter?” she asked.
“No way!” I exclaimed. “Only girls wear dresses.”
“Maybe not for much longer.” she grinned.
Mum said it’d never catch on and her sister-in-law agreed, before saying something about girls having only worn trousers or pants for last hundred years or so. “Before that I expect girls looked as strange in trousers and boys would in dresses.”
That was months ago and now there’s more and more high street stores stocking the new trend in boy’s fashion. At first they were tucked away in a discreet corner of the boy’s department, but now they’re in pride of place at the front of the boy’s department. The high street retailers are flat out promoting dresses for boys in both print and on TV, and far too many commercials on the children’s channels now feature boys wearing a variety of girlie styles including skirts, culottes, play suits and of course, dresses. One can easily point and laugh at the poor lads who feature in such advertisements. Even seeing the ‘boy’ mannequins in the shop windows clad in skirts, frocks, tights and dainty little shoes wasn’t uncommon, although actually seeing a boy in real life wearing a dress or a skirt is a very rare sight. But it is certainly unsettling, especially when my mother says something positive in passing. I was happier when she claimed the whole thing to be scandalous.
As the weeks and months passed, the new fad began to make its way from the shop window displays and TV commercials onto the high street itself. My personal instinct was to point and laugh on the rare occasion one was spotted, but Mum told me that such behaviour wasn’t nice. She rightly pointed out to me that the boys who do wear dresses or skirts would clearly rather not, and the miserable, mournful expressions on their faces confirmed this. Its bad enough when my mum insists I wear a smart shirt or jumper I don’t like… so it must be awful for the unlucky boys who’s mothers like the new fad of putting their sons in skirts and dresses.
There are rumours of a handful of boys at school who’ve been bought dresses by their mothers, but not surprisingly the boys in question flat deny the rumours. A couple of boys who live on my street had been reportedly spotted wearing dresses getting in or out of their dad’s car. It turned out that they’re only for ‘best’ and not for playing out in. One of the brothers, Andrew was clearly not happy about having to wear a dress when I mentioned it to him. I mentioned this to my mother and the first thing she said was, “I hope you haven’t been teasing him!”
“Course I haven’t!” I replied. “George Nelson told me he’d seen them and you know what he’s like.”
I explained, George Nelson being a well known tell-tale. “I just asked Andrew if it was true.”
“And what did Andrew say?” Mum asked.
“He said it was true… but he’s not happy about it.” I replied, trying to recall the entire conversation.
“Well I don’t want you teasing him, or his brother.” my mother insisted.
“I won’t.” I assured her. After a brief silence, my mother asked what their dresses were like. “I dunno.” I shrugged. “Like I say, George Nelson told me… I haven’t actually seen them myself.”
A few weeks later, both Andrew and his brother had been spotted first hand by both me and my mother as they walked down the road one Sunday afternoon. “They’re very plain aren’t they.” Mum said as we watched discreetly from the front window.
“They’re horrible.” I gulped as they passed. Each wore a matching knee length dress in blue with a plain white collar and short sleeves. Their legs were clad in white tights and on their feet, a pair of plain blue ‘deck’ style shoes which were the least girlie thing they wore.
“I’m sure you’d rather wear a dress like that than something really pretty.” mum said.
In a way I guess she was right. Some of the boy’s dresses I’ve seen on TV or in shop windows have been horrendous… all pink and frilly with bows and lace here and there. “I’d hate to wear any dress!” I insisted. Mum just smiled at me before peering out of the window to watch Andrew, his brother and their parents disappear from view.
The following day during lunch break, Andrew sauntered over to me and said that he’d noticed me and mum in our front window yesterday. I apologised and told him that we were just looking, not staring. “You looked OK.” I added.
“Thanks.” he frowned. “I felt like a prat but…” he shrugged.
After school a group of six or seven of us walked home together. Two of the group, Patrick and Nigel were giving Andrew and his brother a hard time about having dresses and wearing them. They defended themselves by claiming that they don’t like them, they’d rather not wear them and only do so because their mother makes them. I also backed them up, using the analogy of our school uniforms. “None of us want to wear this everyday but we have to.” I said. “We all have to wear what we’re told to an extent.” I added. The retort was one of ‘if my mum bought me a dress would I wear it?’, to which my reply was, “I’d rather not but like I say, we all have to wear what we’re told sometimes.”
Andrew’s brother Mark began to explain how both he and his brother had tried their best to avoid wearing their dresses, especially out of the house, but this was met with a torrent of abuse from Patrick. None of us were more shocked than Patrick when Andrew thumped him in the face, sending him crashing to the floor. Tears welled up in his eyes as he picked himself up, but his abuse continued as he parted from the group. Not wanting to receive the same or similar, Nigel muttered an apology to Andrew and Mark, before heading off after Patrick. “That certainly showed him.” I said to Andrew as he checked his hand still worked.
“He’s always been a gobby little prick.” Andrew replied, before thanking me for backing him up.
“No worries.” I replied. “Is your hand all right?”
“Yeah I think so.” he gulped, but it clearly hurt. Not surprising as it was some whack!
I mentioned the incident to my mother when I got home, but spared here the finer details. Mum claimed that Andrew should have just ignored Patrick instead of hitting him. I would have done, but then again, I’m not much of a fighter. Patrick wasn’t in school the following day, and Andrew’s hand was in a bandage. The day after that however, a very sheepish Patrick did turn up, sporting a very black eye. Wisely, he kept himself away from Andrew, but I’d heard that the headmaster had had words with both of them. I told my mum about Patrick’s shiner, and whilst she agreed that he probably had it coming, she maintained that there’s never an excuse for violence.
On the weekend, I went into town with Mum as usual to help her carry the weekly shop. I was used to seeing the ‘boy’ mannequins dressed in girl’s clothing in the shop windows, but seeing actual boys wearing skirts or dresses in the town centre is still an unusual sight. One poor lad looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him whole as he walked with his parents through the main square. Clad from head to toe in various shades of pink, he wore a candy pink satin dress that would be too girlie for most girls, let alone a boy! His pale pink tights had little white love hearts on and even his shoes were pink with little kitten heels. But worst of all was the big pink ribbon tied on his very boyish head. Mum thought he looked sweet. I said it must be horrible having to wear something that prissy. “It wouldn’t be so bad wearing a dress if it was plain, blue maybe and not satin or frilly.” I added.
“I don’t see the point of plain dresses for boys” Mum replied. “I they’re going to wear plain clothes then they may as well just wear what they’ve always worn.” she mused. “If I was buying you a dress it’d be a really pretty one.” she suggested, much to my horror.
“Please don’t.” I asked. The level of fear was evident in my voice.
“Don’t worry.” mum grinned. “The really nice dresses are far too expensive and the affordable ones are far too plain.” she smiled. As usual, Mum wanted to browse around the department stores, and as usual, the assistants approached us and asked if they could help. “No thanks, we’re only looking.” mum respectfully replied. Thankfully, the normal boy’s clothes and the boy’s dresses were in separate sections of the boy’s department. I nervously glanced at the unlucky lads who’d been dragged into ‘that’ section by their mothers. Most looked like they were ready to burst in to tears. To my surprise however, intermingled with the normal boy’s underwear and socks was a wide variety of pink & frilly stuff that sent shivers through me. Alongside the socks were packs of tights and white girlie knee socks, and right next to the pyjamas were nighties and girlie PJs. Some of the nighties were trying to be boyish, bearing Ben-10, Star Wars and Marvel prints, but they were still nighties. Thankfully my mum didn’t give them more than a superficial glance as we wondered through. As we left, I spotted a boy aged about eight or nine, looking positively petrified as his mother held a green gingham school dress against him. I hoped for his sake that she wasn’t planning on actually sending him to school in it!
Our house is relatively close to the town centre so transport isn’t needed to get the shopping bags home. As we turned onto our street, we noticed Mark, Andrew’s brother, playing wallie with a few of his friends against the end terrace. “I hope that ball isn’t annoying Mr Bishop!” Mum said, addressing the group rather than Mark himself.
“He’s gone out.” Mark replied. Seeing kids kicking their football against the side of that house wasn’t unusual. Mr bishop didn’t mind if he was out and we knew no to do it if we know he’s inside. What was unusual was seeing Mark wearing a baby pink t-shirt, a little denim rara skirt and stripy leggings. One of his friends wore a casual cotton dress, but the others all wore normal boy clothes, and none of them seemed bothered in the least.
“Mark looks nice doesn’t he?” Mum said once we were well out of earshot.
“He looks OK I guess, but I wouldn’t like to dress like that.” I replied.
“So you keep telling me.” Mum grinned. “If every boy on this street started wearing skirts or dresses, you’d still be refusing to budge.”
Of course I’d refuse to budge. If boys want to wear these newfangled fashions, they can. Good luck to them. But I honestly can’t imagine me wanting to wear stuff like that. I cast my mind back to the boy in the store and his mother trying a school dress against him. I imagined being his age and having less say in what I wear than I do now. Thankfully I’m thirteen and a half and Mum lets me make my own choices for the most part.
“Hey up Pete!” Andrew’s familiar voice yelled and dragged me from my thoughts. “Mrs Jackson.” he added. “Is Mark down there?”
“Er… yeah.” I replied as I looked him up and down. “He’s playing wallie.” I informed him.
“You look nice Andrew.” my mother said. “How’s the hand?” she asked, noticing it was still in a bandage.
“OK.” he replied with a frown. “Apart from the fact I’ve been grounded for a month and aren’t allowed to wear pants unless I’m at school.” he added.
“Oh.” my mother cooed in empathy. “At least pants aren’t the only things boys can wear these days.” she smiled. “I keep wondering when Peter’s going to ask me to buy him a nice skirt or dress.”
“Oh mu-um.” I blushed. I knew she was teasing me, but still.
“’ere, I’d better get going.” Andrew said as he started off down the street. “See ya!”
“Bye Andrew.” My mother replied.
“See you.” I said as he trotted off towards where his brother was playing. He also wore a rara skirt, but his was cotton with flowers on. He also wore a pair of black tights, flat black ballet pumps and a blue top with a white lacy collar and long see-through sleeves. I said nothing as Mum and I walked the rest of the way to our house.
“Are you not tempted to try a skirt or frock now that your friends are wearing them?” Mum asked as we put the shopping away.
“Nah.” I replied in an instant. “Anyway, Andrew’s only wearing his because he’s been grounded.” I said, “For giving Patrick Thistle that black eye.” I added.
Mum thought for a moment before saying “I suppose it is a bit mean if that is the case.” She looked at me and smiled. I agreed that it is a bit mean. “Still, he looked happy enough… as did his brother and his brother’s friend.” Mum suggested. “I might buy you one of those nighties.” she said to my horror.
“They were horrible!” I insisted. “All pink and prissy and… yuk!”
“They weren’t all pink and prissy.” Mum replied. “They had loads of boyish ones.” she reminded me, before listing: Ben-10, Iron Man, Spider Man, Star Wars, Pirates, Football, Racing Cars, etc.
“They weren’t too bad.” I admitted. “But I’m too old for Ben-10 and Star Wars.” I reminded her. Mum smiled at me. I sensed she was only teasing me, or testing the water. “Anyway, they’re still girl’s nighties even if they have boyish stuff on them.” I added, just to make sure.
“They’re not girl’s nighties Peter.” she stated. “And for the record, I liked the pink and prissy ones best of all.” she grinned.
“It wasn’t all that long ago you and Auntie Helen said it was ‘scandalous’.” I reminded her.
Mum reminded me that it was only she who’d thought it scandalous. “Your Auntie Helen was all for it.”
“So why do you keep going on about it if you think it’s scandalous?”
“I don’t keep going on about it, and yes I did think it was scandalous…” Mum replied. “…at first.” she added. “I quite like it now I’ve got used to it.” she grinned.
I exhaled long and slow through my nostrils before telling my mother in no uncertain terms that if I want to start wearing that stuff, I’ll ask for some. I was calm and considered I might add, not shirty or disrespectful. Mum smiled through pursed lips and nodded. “Well if you do change your mind, don’t be shy.” she advised. “And if it is just a nightie, no one else need know because you’d only wear it at bedtime.” she smiled.
Mum didn’t mention it again and neither did I…. until about three weeks later. I’d got home from school and mum said she had a surprise for me. “What is it?” I excitedly asked.
Hoping for a new video game or DVD, a digital watch, maybe a TV in my bedroom… Mum told me it was in my room. I scampered upstairs with a TV in mind… I’d have been happy with a second hand one, but no. All my hopes of a decent surprise were dashed as soon as I burst in. Mum was right behind me. “What do you think?” she asked.
I was speechless as I stood and stared at the item on my duvet. After a few very long seconds, and feeling my mother gently place her hands on my shoulders, I managed to muster a few words. “Oh Mu-um… I told you I didn’t want a nightie.” I gulped. “Especially not a pink one.” I added.
“It’s not a nightie Peter.” Mum replied. I could feel her smiling through the back of my head. “It’s a dress.” she added.
“It’s horrible.” I claimed. I could feel tears welling up as I observed the cute combination of kittens & cherries and its little elasticated sleeves. If it was just pink it’d be bad enough… but kittens and cherries! I felt my mother squeeze my shoulders just a little, as if to reassure me. I looked up at her.
“If I’d bought you a plain blue one that wasn’t pretty in the least you’d still say it was horrible.” Mum told me. “I don’t expect you to like your very first dress Peter…” she paused and smiled on me, “…so I bought you one that I like instead.” she dryly added.
“You honestly don’t expect me to wear that do you?” I gulped.
“Of course I do.” she replied. “I didn’t buy it for you to look at.”
After a short yet uncomfortable silence, mum added, “There’s some nice new panties and a vest in your drawer, and some tights…” She sat herself on my bed and looked me in the eye, clasping my trembling hands, she sat me down. “…and in here…” She pulled a box from under my bed and placed it on her lap, “…is some new shoes to wear with it.” she said as she opened the box to reveal a pair of pale pink sandals. “They match your dress, look.” she said as she drew my attention to the red plastic cherries that decorated the toe-straps. “Aren’t they sweet?”
I gulped. I gulped so loud even the neighbours heard. “Do I have to wear it outside.” I murmured.
“I think it’s a bit too nice for playing out in.” Mum said. “But if you try it just around the house… see if you get used to it?” she suggested.
“I won’t.” I bluntly interrupted.
“Well you won’t know unless you try.” she told me. “And it’s more about how it feels than how it looks. If you like how it feels than maybe we could get one that you like.” she said. “I’m sure you’ll forget all about how pretty it looks once you’ve had it on for a bit.”
How on Earth could anyone forget they’re wearing something like that? I thought as I glanced at the dress on my bed… my dress. I looked back at my mother and pleaded with her not to make me wear it… “Please mum, it’s like a little girl’s dress.” I pined.
“Little girls haven’t worn dresses like this for years.” she retorted. “This is definitely a teen-boy’s dress.” she insisted as she ran her hand over the kittens, cherries, strawberries, flowers and bows that decorated the pale pink fabric. “At your age you should be embracing the latest fashions.” she added. “Plenty of other boys are.”
Nothing I could say would convince her otherwise. I cast my mind back to the day Andrew gave Patrick a black eye and my own words of support in particular… we all have to wear what we’re told to sometimes.