Sequoyah Styles
and the
Rise of the Pantsuit

Judy Brooks

When I was much younger, one of my chief sources of amusement was looking through my mother's high school yearbook. Her copy of the 1952 Sequoyah rested on a shelf of our living room bookcase, where it was easily accessible. I loved looking at photos of all the vintage cars, my parents, and the parents of many of my friends. I spent many happy hours gazing at pictures of the old Summerville High School - that same collection of beautiful buildings where we, along with many others in the community, stood in line for our polio vaccine (remember the drop of Sabin on a sugar cube?), went for football games, and where I would later attend junior high school.

1960 school

As I grew older, my reason for browsing through her yearbook changed, as I was approaching adolescence, and already way too smart-alecky for my own good. As I thumbed through the pages, I found it increasingly hard to swallow that people would actually wear such clothing. I couldn't believe it – didn't they know how ridiculous they looked? Even if it was the fashion, didn't any of them have sense enough to flout such a silly mode of dress?


I teased my mom mercilessly, who was (and still is) a beautiful woman, about the straight, plaid, mid-calf skirt she wore with the 1950s-style short-sleeved sweater. Oh, and let's not forget the de riguer saddle oxfords worn only with rolled-down bobby socks! The fact that I am still alive and able to write about this is a noble testament to my mother's great love, patience and sense of humor.

saddle oxfords

Little did I realize that I would eventually pay dearly for my mockery, as a few years later the Fates dealt my generation a serious fashion blow. The 1960s saw changes in dress that made the 50s look tame in comparison. Mary Quant, the Mods and the Rockers, and a couple of years later some contributing eastern influences all combined to create some of the weirdest styles this side of Milan. We bought Nehru jackets at Lowry's, of all places, and wore them with love beads. (Love beads, seriously? What the heck were we thinking?) We eagerly embraced bell bottom jeans, wide belts and even wider lapels. Young men began growing their hair longer, and that included various adaptations of facial hair.


I guess most of us remember that many of these changes were not reflected in our high school yearbooks until the 1970s. For years, the county school board, most of whom tended toward conservatism, and a couple that, as a teenager, I would have sworn were not of this Earth, but came to this planet from some prehistoric galaxy, heck-bent on their mission to keep high school students in strict “State of Topeka” styles of dress and hair lengths, blocked any changes in the school's dress code. Others may remember differently, but for me, the winds of change really began to blow when pantsuits became mainstream garments worn by the fashionistas of the day.

The 1970-71 Sequoyah was the first to show girls and women dressed in pantsuits. But, this was a hard-won battle, and was finally achieved only through a series of meetings with the school board, which resulted in approval, but with some conditions. Only pantsuits would be acceptable. Jeans would not be permitted, and no slacks or trousers could be worn without a matching or coordinating top, or tunic, which must come to the middle/top of the thigh. There was even a fashion show, organized and emceed by the always-reliable Mrs. Ellis (bless her sweet heart!), during which pant and top combinations were modeled by students to ensure all understood what was OK for us to wear, or what would get us sent home with a note to our parents.


Looking at the fashions worn by students today, it seems that maybe the pantsuit was indeed the first step of the slippery slope that some school board members were frightened of, as the above-the-collar hair rule for boys lapsed a year or so later. At the time though, it seemed like a great victory to be able to wear pants, and, looking back on those days, I wondered if Hillary Clinton had the same issues wherever it was she went to school. That is, until I found out that women were prohibited from wearing pantsuits in the United States Senate until the 1990s! Wow - it turns out that even the 1970s Chattoga County School Board was more progressive than I gave them credit for, at least on some issues. I feel I owe them all an apology, as well as a belated thank you, for making possible the yearbook photos of so many of us who wore our pantsuits proudly.


After graduating with the CHS class of 1973, Judy Brooks attended Berry College before beginning a career that encompassed a number of diverse positions, from bartender and directory assistance operator to assistant grant-writer and office manager. She has lived in Rome, Atlanta, and Paducah, KY, where she spent two years in the Information Technology program at West Kentucky College and Technical School. Judy returned to Summerville in September of 2010, and is quite content to be back among family and friends. She is currently a writer and editor, and has established an Internet publishing company. She is passionate about movies, books, writing, cooking, jazz, and spending time with her family, and would be thrilled to hear from friends, classmates, and other interested members of the community. Judy can be reached at

Copyright 2013 Greg W. McCollum.  All rights reserved.