When I was still in college, I worked on a little local paper in Michigan. It was the sort of publication that has evaporated from the American scene – a weekly, countywide, cheerful and plain, serving a mostly rural audience and a few suburban outliers here and there. The nearby college and capitol city were so alien to this world that in all the time I worked there, I believe they were never mentioned even once. I remember covering things like VFW meetings and church rummage sales. I wrote features about macrame and Victoriana and took a lot of terrible photos and once I got to interview one of the county commissioners.
The first or second day, I came to work wearing a nice pair of pants and a nice shirt. I remember that I ironed the shirt. Part way into the morning, one of the women there quietly pulled me aside and whispered, “We’re not allowed to wear pants here.” I said, “I don’t have anything else,” and I didn’t – I was a poor college student, and my professional wardrobe was almost nonexistent.
The next day, Tuesday, I wore my other pair of pants – buying those two pairs of pants had really set back my budget. I could see all the women who worked there eyeing me silently – not with disapproval, but like they were waiting for something. But no one said anything – not the boss (who was the only man working there), not his daughter, not any of the ladies behind the counter or at the other desks.
On Wednesday, I wore the first pair of pants again.
On Thursday, everyone came to work wearing pants, including the owner’s daughter, and that was that.