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Ironing and Politics: An Old Wrinkle in Social Fabric

April 07, 1986|CAROLYN KENNEDY | Kennedy lives in Cupertino

Is it merely a coincidence that after six years of a conservative Republican Administration, ironing has reasserted itself onto the social fabric of our lives?

The signals are loud and clear. These days, fashionable clothing comes in only one flavor: natural. Polyester, that man-made, non-wrinkle, miracle fiber, has been terminated from the scene, pushed out by cotton and linen, fabrics that have the ability to suck wrinkles from the air.

But even more ominous, tucked casually into the spring issue of Working Woman magazine, right next to articles on making it to the top and the executive personality, sits an in-depth treatise on ironing.

The article, "Warm Weather's Here, Get Out the Iron," counsels readers: "Life in the executive fast lane calls for natural fabrics, constructed garments and (sigh!) ironing," and promises that ironing "smooths the way for power dressing."

Readers are duly instructed on the fine points of ironing, including techniques for using the sleeve sausage (looks like an upholstered loaf of French bread) to press sleeves, pressing mitts to smooth out shoulder pads and strips of brown paper to eradicate creases from seams.

Now I'm not saying it's a plot hatched by the President, but there have always been strong connections between the status of ironing and the political climate generated by the occupant of the White House.

During the Republican Eisenhower years, ironing played a major role in women's lives and gave them something to do after being forced out of the exciting work in foundries during World War II.

Women not only devoted an entire day each week to ironing, they engaged in pre-ironing activities as well. First, clothes were sprinkled with water, rolled in towels and stashed in the refrigerator overnight. (For some reason chilled clothes take a better press although the scientific reason behind this has never been discovered.) Some women even dipped their husband's shirts in starch. Many ironed sheets, tablecloths, and their husbands' boxer shorts.

As the Democrats waxed powerful, ironing waned. Women still ironed, but without the fervor of the previous era. After all, Betty Friedan had written "The Feminine Mystique" and suggested that women would not find fulfillment ironing the drapes.

Then came Vietnam and ironing took a back seat to protest. No one ever said, "Oh, I've got to iron--I have nothing to wear to the peace march."

By the time the Republicans returned to office, the Hippie Factor was in full bloom and countered any Nixonian tendency toward ironing. If you wore pressed clothing during those years, you were branded a member of the Establishment, indicating, among other things, that you supported imperialism in Third World countries.

The Rush to Wrinkles

Watergate merely accelerated the rush to wrinkles, and by the time Carter arrived in Washington 97% of all irons in America had been put in mothballs.

In fact, during those years, ironing was not only out of favor, it was considered to be a symptom of moral depravity. The mood was--why would a person iron when they could be working for humanity in South America? Carter's own mother had eschewed the ironing board in favor of the Peace Corps.

But now, only six years later, how things have changed. Young women are flocking to buy irons and sleeve sausages and spray starch without even flinching.

But women--before you embrace natural fibers and fill your closets with cotton dresses and linen suits--ponder this corollary: Natural (fabrics) begats unnatural (ironing).

Ask yourself: Do you really want to become a pawn in the hands of the Republicans, who, when they couldn't keep you pregnant and barefoot, decided to go for the next best thing--having you engage in the ludicrous practice of pushing a hot piece of metal over every square inch of your clothing?

And remember, ironing takes time, and that's time away from accomplishing important things such as that career seminar, writing a novel or dating.

Even worse, ironing can lead to personality disorders. For example, the avoidance of ironing has caused some of the worst procrastination known to humankind. During the Eisenhower era some victims left their children's clothes in the ironing baskets until the children outgrew them. Think of the guilt!

Do you want your refrigerator filled with rolled-up clothing, soon to smell like salami and cucumbers?

Do you want your hands scarred with burn marks so inevitable when you become intimate with an iron?

Please, think about these things before you join the ironing generation. However, if you insist on leaping onto the ironing board, there is one consolation: Women aren't the only ones pumping iron these days. It's a wrinkle the Republicans couldn't have predicted.

Equal-opportunity ironing has arrived, and men, innocents that they are, have taken up the pressing cloth.

A friend told me when she recently asked to borrow a neighbor's ironing board, the woman confided that the board actually belonged to her husband, a full-blown fanatic, who irons every day.

And my teen-age sons, who insist on buying 100% cotton shirts against my direct orders (only nerds wear polyester, they tell me), have learned to iron and do so with the devotion of an Eisenhower-era housewife.

As for me, I'm hoping my polyester and I can hold out until sanity is once again restored to American politics.

Do you think there's any chance Jimmy will make a comeback?

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