Having examined this ballclub through the lens of Sports Illustrated covers, I was struck by the ubiquity of what has not changed in the game. Everyone holding a bat is happy. Everyone about to pitch is happy. They’re playing baseball for a living, so of course they’re happy. So, for the most part, were the people in the stands.

The only covers I saw with sad faces were people who had bungled themselves right out of the game by a lack of self-discipline; those who couldn’t shut up, those who couldn’t bring themselves to back down from a nearly limitless supply of dopamine hits, no steroids necessary to knock you out of the game.

Then there were the men in their ties.

Dress Code

Watching much of the past century uploaded to Redleg Nation’s media cache, I liked seeing the oldest photos the best– the men in their hats, the ladies in their gloves and heels.

That doesn’t mean I’d like to attend a ballgame in gloves and heels. It sounds miserable, especially in the Ohio River Valley in August. It sounds exactly like a production of clothing planning and careful accessorizing akin to attacking a day at Kings Island.

Those days are not a visit to an amusement park. It’s dressing for war– war against the sun, the humidity, the drink rules, the bags-on-board rules, the wild movement of everyone’s hair, and, most of all, other people.  You know you’re settled in as a Cincinnatian with access to season pass-holding children if you have Kings Island-specific clothes.

But look at this. I don’t see people dressed this nicely at funerals, and these folks were taking in a ballgame.


I can carry the Battle of Kings Island off because I can wear about 99.9999% of whatever I want out in public. Probably the only thing I’m not allowed to wear in any venue is nothing. It is staggering to think there’s an entire generation of women within living memory who, if they were one of the small number of women who attended college, were obliged to follow a dress code of heels, skirts, and hemlength.

When I was a freshman, I attended a Spanish class in my nightshirt because I was a freshman and when I overslept for the 9AM meeting, I panicked and threw a pair of shorts on underneath it and made for the aula. It had not yet occurred to me that I was allowed to skip classes. I’m kind of sorry I found out that I could.

Meanwhile 70 years ago, women dressed like they were going to meet the Pope to watch the Red Sox disappoint them again.

The Problem of the Pocketbook

The point is, however, that my classmates barely noticed I had no bra and no idea of what time it actually was. It was a women’s college. We weren’t there for the catwalk. It was hard work to be us, we thought, and it made our lives a bit easier when we could slap our way across campus in shower sandals rather than four-inch stilettos.

And mothers herding children can wear a Kroger’s bag, as far as I’m concerned, because I’m amazed these women are still operational at all, let alone willing to subject their children to the outside world and the outside world to their children.

But I couldn’t quite get enough of the images of these ladies with flowery hats and smart pocketbooks. Then I realized: Where would she put a purse? I’ve seen Crosley Park seats. They’re not big. Pocketbooks, I imagine, wouldn’t like living under one of them. Did she just… hold it in her lap? What if a foul ball came along? How did she hold a bottle of Coke at the same time? How do you hold a fellow’s hand with all this crap in your seat?

The Happiness of Crowds

When I went to the ballpark– and it’s been years– I’d strip down to pockets as much as possible to avoid hauling a purse through the Sun Deck. It was a frightening exercise– what if I couldn’t go nine innings without the second packet of tissues or the emergency back-up vent brush?– but one I imagine pocketbook-era ladies faced down every single day. How? The woman needed to look at a map if she needed to get anywhere. Where did she carry a map?

I’m thinking ladies might have been a little bit tougher when they had to reserve pants for farmwork only.

The parade of uniforms and the appearance of the crowds was a tour through fabrics, social change, and sneakers at Riverfront. But no matter what they were wearing or how hot it was, the fans were almost always smiling. They were watching baseball.


12 Responses

  1. gusnwally

    It was possible then for women to go straight from the Ruth Lyons show to the ball game.

  2. LDS

    Generally, I’m not a fan of dress codes or expectations, from women in dresses and panty hose to men in suits in ties. Overall, it’s simply artificial status unrelated to who the person is.

  3. Mark Moore

    Sweet piece with some vivid imagery. My first stint as an undergrad included a strict dress code (only lasted 3 semesters). But the dressing up for ballgames and the old air travel suits/dresses/ensembles still make my head turn a bit.

    In the end, they are “watching baseball” as you said. Not much better than that. It was enough for me last July up in DC when our Reds were winning.

  4. AMDG

    It’s always interesting to see photos of back when people cared enough to present themselves well, and dress modestly.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I have trouble finding Mass-appropriate dresses. Sometimes I don’t know if the item of clothing I’m looking at in a store is a dress or an unusually long shirt.

  5. Oldtimer

    I have a picture of 1958 Opening Day. Men in their Stetson hats and ladies in their hats and white gloves. Some wearing mink stoles.

    I remember the first Earth Day in 1970. I walked to class barefooted in cutoff bluejeans and t-shirt. I discovered skipping class as a sophomore. I perfected it as a super senior (second senior year) by earning only 3 credit hours of B grade in two semesters. I had 105 credit hours after 8 semesters. I had 108 after 10 semesters. I had 131 after the 11th (and final) semester. PS – I paid for the 9th, 10th, and 11th semesters by myself

  6. Jim Walker

    I am happy I missed most of this by being a guy raised in a rural small town environment. Dressing up was for Sunday go to meeting, weddings, funerals, and special extended family gatherings like Christmas/ Easter.

    We were always admonished though to be sure we had on clean underthings in case we got in a wreck and ended up at hospital, I always puzzled over this because it seemed if we were in a wreck and injured enough to be at hospital, one way or another our underthings would be soiled regardless.