When I was a teenager, I once came downstairs dressed in a body-hugging t-shirt, bellbottom jeans that revealed pelvic bones in the front and butt cleavage in the back, a woven Mexican vest to hide that décolletage (at least until I was out of the house) and a pair of fringed leather moccasins that were invisible when I stood still, due to the diameter of the aforementioned bellbottoms.
Those clothes, along with my past-my-waist hair, duplicated the appearance of the kids I'd seen on the evening news, the ones who hung out at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets in San Francisco.
My dad took one look at me and hit the ceiling.
There was a short but emotional discussion, resulting in my returning to my bedroom to remove the vest and replace the t-shirt with something looser that hung well past my hips.
As I headed out the front door, I muttered that wearing hippie clothes didn't mean I used drugs.
Dad said, "What you wear tells people who you are."
This may be why, years later, when my 16-year-old stepson started sporting a black raincoat he'd purchased at a local thrift store, I flipped out.
We fought like badgers over that coat.
He thought it made him look cool.
I thought it made him look like the guys you see coming out of XXX movie houses in the middle of the afternoon with furtive expressions and sticky-soled shoes.
He thought he should be allowed to decide for himself how to dress.
I thought people would peg him for a druggie.
In the end, he wore the coat, even through the heat of summer, until he finally moved out, to live with Jason W (who had a similar coat), just weeks before he would have graduated from high school.
That summer, my pastor, preached a sermon on dealing with teenagers.
"Concentrate on serious issues," he said. "Drugs, sex, staying in school.
"Don't waste your energy on the petty stuff, like what they wear and how they keep their rooms."
From time to time, I still wonder who was right--Dad or my pastor?
And I still don't know.
Which makes me thank God on my knees that I will never again have to raise a teenager.