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Senior Cords

August 26, 2015

 

From Senior Cords to Tattoos

 

or to Senior-citizen Cords

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

NOTE: This blog post is somewhat of a continuation of my August 12, 2015 Wordwalk blog post.

 

In the 1950s and 1960s, in the Midwest and especially in Indiana, yellow corduroy became the canvas onto which was painted some of the highlights of a senior’s high school years. Planning the emblems and designs that would be painted on the corduroy canvas–later to be worn as skirts or slacks–probably started soon after the Junior-Senior Prom.

 

After a hot Indiana summer of 1967, we seniors at Clinton High School–with never a thought given to an air-conditioned school–eagerly awaited the first cool-weather day so that we could sport our senior cords. I can recall the feeling when I first wore my senior cords in the hallway of the CHS Senior High Building: the old wooden floors felt like a runway; and I was somewhat uncomfortable with the thought that freshman through senior students, as well as teachers, would be looking at my A-line skirt onto which were painted some significant pictures and words. This tradition of wearing senior cords was such an important part of senior year at my high school (which had an enrollment of approximately 400). My school year of 1967-68 may have been the final peak year for the wearing of senior cords although we had no idea of the fading value of cords then. With all that happened in 1968, many traditions were re-examined; and some diminished until they were lost to history. If not before, the senior cords may have fallen out of favor in the very early 1970s. Nevertheless, perhaps, having begun at Purdue University in 1904,the senior cords sustained a rather long and colorful life. Weren’t paintings on senior cord the tattoos of their day? Instead of indelible marks painfully injected into one’s skin, the chosen artwork of senior cords could simply be placed on a hanger in one’s closet when a student chose to wear something else or was graduated. We all do gradually move on to other favorite things. I do imagine that many parents today would prefer a high school student’s selecting a design for senior cords than for his or her tattoo.

 

During the 1967-68 school year, in Indiana, the common length of a skirt was slightly above the knees. So, there was more of a canvas with which to work. A close friend of my sister painted my senior cords. Gina LaRoche Amerman did a superb job–most especially with the painting of my Toy Manchester-Chihuahua, Prince, who had an important spot on the lower right of the skirt’s front panel. This dynamic, little dog’s being on my senior cords was very appropriate because he was a special part of my family from 1962 through 1980. Actually, I may have been the only senior with a pet dog on senior cords that school year. Perhaps, this painting of my dog did portend the significance dogs–as guides–would have in my future.

 

Although my sister was graduated with the CHS Class of ’65 and I was a senior three years later, we chose some of the same designs for our senior cords. For example, each of our cords included a teacher pointing to a chalkboard on which were the letters “FTA”–Future Teachers of America. Yes, we both became teachers. Each of our senior cords had a sycamore tree, through the leaves of which was printed “ISU,” for Indiana State University, from where we earned three of our five degrees. While the emblem of National Honor Society was on each of our cords, I was most proud of mine having the insignia of the Quill and Scroll Society–the National High School Journalism Honorary.

 

As was customary for senior cords, I had “68” on a prominent spot. Typical of most CHS cords, “Wildcats” was written in the school colors of gold and black across the seat of the skirt. Although there were no girls’ sports teams during my era of high school, seniors who were on the sports teams had the appropriate sports emblems on their yellow corduroys.

 

Thinking back, I do imagine that some students could not afford senior cords; however, from the 104 students in my senior class, nothing was remarked about a classmate’s not having senior cords. Those were kinder and gentler days–an easier time to grow up in a rural area and small town.

 

During those high school years, I enjoyed making some of my own dresses, jumpers, and skirts. If I remember correctly, I made the corduroy skirt for my senior cords. Although I could sew in a zipper, I was always glad that my mother would hem the skirt for me. Well, that skirt is in one of my closets upstairs. Should I try on the senior cords? Oh, I will wait until the fiftieth reunion of the CHS Class of ’68, in 2018. My sister also saved her senior cords. As you read this, her senior cords are en route from Colorado to Indiana so that if she is unable to attend her fiftieth class reunion, her senior cords can be part of the decor (display of memorabilia) for the party of the Class of ’65, during Labor Day weekend.

 

If I really wanted to be creative for my fiftieth high school class reunion in three years, I would have someone make for me a yellow corduroy skirt–mid-calf length (to provide more canvas). I would like to wear painted senior-citizen cords to the party in 2018. Now, what would I have painted on these senior-citizen cords? My three guide dogs, a braille message, the URL of my Wordwalk blog, geraniums, … Oh, this is a topic for another blog post in about three years. What would you have painted on your senior-citizen cords?

 

 

Best wishes for happy reunions!

Alice and Zoe

 

August 26, 2015, Wednesday

 

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5 Comments
  1. Fran Rayce permalink

    Hi Alice,
    You certainly awakened some strong memories. Everyone gave much thought to what to have painted on their cords to uniquely represent themselves, their activities and what they valued. My cords were painted by Rick Alekna and featured a covered bridge, a symbol of the town of Universal. I also remember that some folks had the name of their boyfriend or girlfriend entwined with their own name, which presented a problem when a young romance became a thing of the past!

    An amusing anecdote recalls that a male member of the Class of 62, who were seniors when we were freshmen, wore his cords every single day, without having them laundered! On “Senior Day”, if I remember correctly, he took them off while wearing some sort of barrel, to the tune of “Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and tossed them to some junior boy to wear during the following year. (I am not sure that happened!) That was very risqué behavior for our high school and quite scandalous! I am not certain what the consequences of this behavior were.

    I no longer have my cords but I do have a skirt that my daughter and I constructed and painted for her to wear to some fifties activities while she was a student. It was still fun to decide what to emphasize about her life at that time.

    Eventually I finally ran into someone in my long time home in Michigan who knew about senior cords. She and her husband had grown up in southern Indiana and remembered the tradition fondly, still owning her personalized skirt.

    • Hi, Fran–Thank you for adding such an excellent comment to my post about senior cords. Since I am still fond of the covered bridges, I think your having a covered bridge on your senior cords was a superb idea. I had never heard the amazing anecdote which you shared about the Class of ’62 senior. How nice that you and your daughter shared some of the fun of senior cords! The tradition of cords must have been much more centered in Indiana than I had ever imagined. Many thanks–Alice

  2. I’d never heard of senior cords until now. Thank you.

  3. Alice. Thanks for the vivid detailed description of your senior cords. I hope your sister makes it to her 50th, and you as well, three years from now. Great post, once again! dp

  4. As you know, Alice, our new little grandson Caden James timed his arrival just perfectly to allow me to visit him and his family in Michigan and then to travel to Indiana to attend my 50th CHS class reunion. I was so happy to see very close friends from my high school years and many other classmates whom I had not seen since our 35th class reunion. The conversations about careers, family, and, of course, high school memories were enjoyable! Although many of us reside away from our hometown, I certainly appreciated spending that time “back home again in Indiana”–and I think my classmates did as well. Hope you and Zoe can attend your 50th class reunion in 2018!
    Love, Mary

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