One American contributor to HBC recalls a frather touching confirmation suit his mother made for him because they did not have money for a new suit.
I was raised Roman Catholic in a small farming town in the far southern
suburbs of Chicago. During the 1960s and 1970's, there weren't many choices
for churches within the small community; the Catholic Church, Protestant
Church, and Lutheran Church were the choices, and as children, we had no
choice. My father wasn't a spiritual man and would have preferred the
Lutheran Church over my mother's Catholicism, but it was a mother's duty to
raise the children back then. St. Paul's was an integral part of my
boyhood, for the church was involved in many youth activities, including Boy
Scouts, catechism, and weekend dances. We all knew the parish priest, knew
where he lived and often passed by the rectory on the way to school (St.
Paul's itself was located across the street from the public elementary
We were always told to wear our Sunday best, but as the years
progressed, jeans were more commonplace except for the holidays and special
events. Yet I recall that our family (mother, a sister and a brother;
father never went), always tried to look our best. There was a marked
difference between dress clothes and play/everyday clothes in those days.
Jeans were everyday wear whereas dress pants were only for dressy occasions.
Church was one such occasion.
I don't recall my first communion that much, accept that the bishop
presided over the ceremony as he did for the important ceremonies that
included the youth. Mostly I recalled how boring church was, always being
nauseated by some of the censor smoke, and having to attend Sunday School
with many of the kids I went to public school with. For church, we normally
wore blue pants and a blue or white long/short sleeved dress shirt
(depending on the season), and black dress shoes and dark socks. Ties were
for the holidays, as were suit coats. These were normal clothes for me, and
I felt more comfortable in the dress slacks than the jeans.
I was a relatively slim child until I was about eleven or so when my
thyroid went berserk and unnoticed until I became a victim of cretinism. My
views on clothing were affected by this, for the heavier I became, the less
pleased I was with the jeans, T-shirts and the like. The jeans always wore
out at the thighs first, due to friction; the shirts always tore at the
flanks, due to my girth. I was summarily forced into an adolescence of
black leather lace up oxfords due to the fact of my flat footedness, having
to visit the podiatrist regularly to have my feet cast for inserts for my
shoes to help build a nonexistent arch. I hated wearing white socks with
black shoes, since my father did this and I never liked the look, so I
always demanded dark socks (which was the norm at the time, until one
entered middle school and began proper gym class, including a gym uniform of
school shorts (very short and tight fitting cotton shirts with the school's
name stenciled on one leg) and white T-shirt (again stenciled with school
name), and at that time I discovered white athletic knee socks [HBC note: tube socks], usually with stripes.
Being a fat kid, I wanted desperately to have a body like the normal boys, a
normal body, and the one's I singled out had muscular calves and wore knee
socks, sort of hero worship which coexisted well with my comic book hobby;
also, I began to wear knee socks full-time around this same period, but
there was more colors to choose from than dark, dressy colors; tan, red and
sky blue were popular). I didn't start wearing tennis/gym shoes full time
until I was out of high school, and even then as only work shoes.
Button-down shirts seemed to show less of my obesity and felt better than be
ing exposed in only a T-shirt or pull-over shirt.
One fabric that I came to dread, mostly due to the chafe factor, was
polyester. It was a relatively new fabric at the time with "better"
maintenance than cottons or so the advertising went. It was used to create
some of the most horrendous clothing of the century, and was highly
flammable (unlike the newer polyester blends of today). It was a course
material than was dyed in various outrageous colors. In fact, the seventies
was a synthetic fabric decade that gave rise to the proliferation of nylon
and polyester and rayon. Together with widening lapels, widening neckties
and color, Technicolor everywhere, the 1970's was quite garish. And as a
boy I wore it all. Being in a middle class family, money sometimes became
tight. The cotton/wool blend dress pants were replaced by polyester ones.
My thirteenth year was a meaning full one, for at 13 years of age I graduated
from middle school and also had my confirmation at church. Confirmation is
a ceremony that marks the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood in
the Catholic Church, and we were expected to take the responsibility of
adult Catholics, in other words, to take Church seriously. At this time,
catechism went all out to drill all the tenets and laws of the church into
your head and soul, then for the ceremony we adopt a saint's name as our
own. I chose "Michael". For our Confirmation, we had to make a sash out of
a velveteen material and decorate it with various Catholic symbols and the
name of our patron Saint. We wore this at the ceremony.
My mother made some of our clothes at this time, and to save money (since I
was graduating middle school, and my brother was being confirmed
simultaneously, since he was only 11 months younger than I was), she
decided to make blazers for both me and my brother. I'm not sure if we
helped pick out the fabric as we often did when Mother made our clothes. I
ended up with a red and white plaid made out of polyester. My brother's
blazer was also plaid, but I think he had a green/blue scheme to his (all
colors seemed markedly brighter in those days), but we both hated them.
Everyone else had plain black, blue or brown blazers or wore only shirt
sleeves for the ceremony. I wore navy blue polyester pants and black lace
up shoes, white shirt and a tie of some unrecalled color, together with that
sash draped across my wide girth. I became an adult Catholic while looking
like a clown, but such outfits were normal at the time (and at least I
didn't have matching pants, which were common in that decade as well).
I'm not sure if the sash was a parish event, or if it was mandatory by
Church catechism, since it was an ornamental statement for all to witness
our devotion to continuing in the Catholic faith. I know that my own was
red, but can't recall if we had a choice of color (we mostly glued sequins
and sparkles to the stenciled images), and we had to use a symbol of the
church I think. But I do believe that confirmation is at thirteen, whereas
first communion is at 7 or 8; just for the fact that most teenagers must be
confirmed before they have driving privileges, since by age 16 many leave
the church because of being a teenager, etc. I stopped going after
confirmation as well, since it was my choice, but I waded through it until I
was about 16 or 17.
Gradation was easier, since we wore the usual graduation gown over pants
and shirt and tie. The only uncomfortable thing about middle school
graduation came from being in the school choir, which wore a white sash
around our necks over the blue gowns. During the heat of early June in an
un-air conditioned gymnasium, it was a bit oppressive. But at least the
colors were normal and not laughable.
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