ATHENS, GA—Anger, shock, and feelings of intense awkwardness were just some of the reactions in the Helstein household Tuesday as Jeremy Helstein, 46, scolded his 17-year-old daughter Erica for allegedly wearing "next to nothing."
"This is my house, young lady," Helstein told the oldest of his three children—whom he says has lived by his rules ever since she was born and will continue to do so as long as she's under his roof—during the emotionally charged confrontation. "If you think you're going out dressed like that, you've got another thing coming, I'll tell you right now. For Christ's sake, everyone can see all the way from here to Timbuktu."
Despite efforts at mediation by his wife Clara, Helstein said he has no plans to rescind his condemnation of his daughter's outfit, a white cotton tank-top and snug-fitting jeans that "leave nothing to the imagination."
According to family members who witnessed the dispute, Erica responded to the allegations with severe sulking, angrily stomping out of the living room and violently slamming the bathroom door.
The high-school junior has denied the charges, admitting that the tank top exposes her shoulders and back but contending that it is not inappropriate Friday-night attire for someone who will be graduating from high school in less than a year.
She also claimed that Helstein, a furniture-warehouse manager and avid fisherman, "never lets her do anything" and is a "big, mean jerk bent on ruining [her] social life."
"It's totally no fair, because I've seen pictures of Mom from when Dad first married her, and she's got on these miniskirts and halter tops," Erica said shortly after the incident. "But when I said that to him, he just said, 'That was different,' and told me not to talk about my own mother that way, whatever that means. What a retard."
Following the accusations, Erica was forbidden to leave the house until she put some clothes on and warned that if she continued to "sass back," she may also find herself grounded for the next two weekends. She was also denied use of the family car.
"And another thing," Helstein reportedly yelled at the locked bathroom door, "when you come out of there, you'd just better have a goddamn bra on or there'll be hell to pay."
Although the dispute marked the family's worst incident of attire-related domestic instability in recent memory, it was not the first to cause unrest within the Helstein household. In May 1997, tensions ran high when Erica's father forbade her to buy a neon-pink string bikini she had found on sale at the nearby Northway Mall, calling the purchase "absolutely out of the question" and leaving her with nothing to wear to a birthday/pool party to which she had been invited.
As Erica has repeatedly reminded family and friends, he also refused to let her wear make-up until she was 15, and still complains on a near-nightly basis that she wears too much eyeliner, on one occasion even stating that her eye shadow looked "caked-on." She also noted that Helstein refused to allow her to go steady until she was a junior and once withheld her weekly allowance for two whole months after she came home a measly hour and a half late from a date with varsity swim-team member Joey Evantine.
Tensions between the two camps continued to mount throughout the 1998-99 school year, especially after Helstein wouldn't let Erica wear thigh-high socks, even though, as Erica noted, "practically all the girls were wearing them." Helstein also frequently voiced disapproval when Erica wore tank tops which revealed her bra straps, claiming she looks "like she's in her damn underwear."
Despite these ongoing conflicts, however, the situation had been relatively contained since March, with no major outbreaks for almost three months prior to Tuesday's resumed hostilities. Some observers within the home, notably mother Clara and younger brother Chuck, say this peacetime period may have been due to Erica's persistent hope that Helstein will break down and finally buy her a black Dodge Neon.
"After the way she spoke to her father tonight, though, I don't think she ought to hold her breath," Clara said. "She's on thin ice with him, that one is."
Following the explosive wardrobe-selection conflict, Erica spent an estimated 45 minutes in the locked bathroom before emerging in a bulky sweater and loose overalls to ask for the car keys. After driving to her friend Sara Armitage's house, she then changed back into her previous outfit, which she had brought along concealed in a large handbag, before going out for the night. Anonymous lunchroom sources allege that three hours later, Erica went to third base with senior Peter Koechley in the back seat of his car, though the reports could not be confirmed as of press time.