Levis and Weejuns

When my mother was ninety-one years old, I was visiting her one day and it occurred to me to ask her this question: "Mother, what is the best thing about being ninety-one." Without hesitation she said, "No peer pressure." I laughed out loud at her response but then I started thinking about it a little deeper. It was really a very profound statement. The reason she had no peer pressure is that she had outlived all of her peers. She also told me that it was a funny and lonely feeling when she thought about the fact that she was the only one left of all her friendships in life. And she had a lot of them.

Peer pressure can be an awesome thing for either good or bad. Too many kids are led into devastating things because they want to keep up with their peers. Life can be enhanced or blemished by one's response to peer pressure. As I think back on my high school days, I remember that there was a certain "code" of dress and conduct. If you were "cool" you had certain characteristics about yourself that just had to be the "in" thing or you, by definition, were not "cool." Now being "cool" in the late fifties and early sixties was the most important thing you could accomplish and we all wanted to be known as "cool." One of the things a cool guy had to do was to dress in tight Levi jeans. They had to be Levis. They couldn't be Lee jeans. They actually wore better to me and seemed to last longer but they were not Levis. The stitching didn't look the same. The hemmed cuff was a little different. Not bad, but just not "cool." And, my mother would invariably buy me the Lee jeans. I was thankful for them but I sure wished she had bought Levis. It was so bad that everyone in a group would always look down to see what kind of jeans one had on. And, there was no way to fake it or disguise the Lee jeans as Levis. You were HAD. Caught....in uncool jeans. Ahhhh, that peer pressure! It was something else. But finally, I got me a job at the radio station, WTIF, and I could buy my own jeans. Sorry, Lees, but Levis are "in." The maddest I think I ever got was one day I had on a new pair of Levis and the cuff turned up just one turn. That was cool too. But, one of the guys slipped up behind me and put a lit cigarette butt in my cuff. By the time I smelled it, it was too late. A hole about the size of a quarter had been burned in my new Levis. I was furious. That little trick was pulled many times on guys as we stood in a crowd down at the south end of the Tifton High building known as "Nicotine Alley." My mother tried to repair the burned cuff but they just weren't cool anymore. In order to really be "in", you had to wear the jeans a certain way. They had to be pulled way down on the hips and hitched up with a little white belt that was only about one-half inch wide. You had to have that white belt! It was also good if it was a little long with the end of that belt hanging loose. Peer pressure!! The shirt was important too. A lot of guys wore white shirts which were starched. The "cool" thing was that your cuffs had to be turned up two turns and your collar had to be turned up like Elvis wore them. The only thing about that was that the tip of your collar would be rubbing up in your Elvis Presley haircut and it would get some of the Butch Wax on it every day. Hard to get out of a shirt collar! But....it was the coolest thing you could do with a wardrobe.

Another thing that was a necessity in those days was a pair of Bass Weejuns. They completed an outfit and made a person fit right in as the coolest of the cool. Bass Weejuns are still sold today and they are a rather expensive pair of penny loafers. Most guys got them in a burgundy color. Before I got my job at the radio station, I had to wear a cheaper shoe. It looked like the Weejun and it was bought at one of the main family clothiers in town....The Big Store. My shoe was the same color. It was the same design. You couldn't tell if from the Weejun shoe. But there was one difference. The Weejuns had two little holes at the rear of the shoe on the strap that went from the heel to the top of the back of the shoe. Those two little holes were about three-fourths inch apart and they looked like where a snake had bitten the shoe. Those little holes marked the spot where the shoes were hung up to dry after they were polished at the factory. Now, you HAD to have those two little holes if your shoes were genuine, "cool" Weejuns. Of course, my shoes didn't have the two holes. People would look at your shoes and try to see if they had the little holes. That problem was easily solved for me with an old fashioned ice pick. When I finished with my regular old penny loafers, they passed the inspection and everyone thought I had on those cool Bass Weejuns. Ahhh, that peer pressure!!

Also, "cool" in those days were taps on the heels of your shoes. You had to be able to make a clickety-clack going down the sidewalk or you just weren't with it! We didn't need them because all those shoes had rubber heels but taps were a necessity it seems. A group of guys going down the sidewalk in Tifton sounded like a herd of horses. Who could walk the coolest. Who mastered his taps the best. So, here's the picture: A sculpted Elvis haircut, a starched white shirt with the collar turned up just right, a pair of tight fitting, low slung Levi jeans, and a pair of cool Bass Weejuns (with the little holes) and taps singing a cool tune on the pavement. All that was a necessity in the late fifties and early sixties, but the essential part was the Levis and the Bass Weejuns.

William F. Harrell

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