How Not to Shop for Back to School Clothes

It was the early ’80s. I wore a Swatch, owned a few Benetton rugby sweatshirts and a pair of Tretorns. On weekends my best friend and I would terrify ourselves trying to contact ‘the other world’ with our store-bought ouija board. I was consumed with envy over kids who could rollerblade backwards. What a time it was.

The decade didn’t start off so well for me though, sartorially speaking. The year I entered Grade 6 we spent the summer at a cottage. As we drove our wood-panelled station wagon through a remote town on our way to the even more remote cottage (in a remote part of Ontario), my mother pointed out all the teenagers hanging out looking cool in front of the imposing building on the corner.

I sighed. There was nothing ‘cool’ about this town. I forgot about it quickly and learned how to water-ski, read every Judy Blume novel, ate 140 pounds of ice cream and had a huge vertical growth-spurt.

A month later, my mother dragged me to the local store in the ‘town with no cool’ to shop for school clothes. That there was only one store was bad enough, but that was just the beginning.

Due to logistics I can’t remember now, we would be driving home on Labor Day, where stores that sold clothes I would actually wear would be closed (since back in the ’80s very few stores were open on statutory holidays, kids).

If I couldn’t find something here, in this small store that also sold varnish and fishing tackle, we would have to do our back to school shopping AFTER I went back to school. Great. Thanks to a growth-spurt I am not entirely sure can’t be attributed to my love of ice cream that summer – floods and belly baring shirts would be it for me on day one of the new school year. This was pre-Britney, so the situation was not ideal.

My mother, always stylish and put-together, assured me she would find me at least one new item of clothing to wear on my first day back to school that would a) fit my stretched out physique and b) not make me look like a transplant from the furthest corners of the earth. Then she sent me out with my younger brother to buy popsicles.

Flash forward three weeks later, the night before the first day of Grade 6. The car is unpacked. Our bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken has been consumed. My mother has been organizing our clothing and my two-grades-younger brother and I (my older sister had been at camp and swapped all her clothes so she at least had all new outfits to wear) walked into our rooms to find, lying on our bed…

Matching blue and white Snoopy sweatshirts.

A blue sweatshirt with white sleeves. With a picture of good ol’ Snoopy on it. My brother was excited! I was not.

At first I was confused. Then I was in denial. Add to that horror, rage, refusal and shock, and you have my not-so-appreciative response to my mother’s sole selection that day in the store-that-was-not-really-a-store.

There is a picture of the three of us, standing by the tree in our front yard that first day of school. My older sister looks cool in some corduroy pantsuit (C’mon, it was 1980), my brother wearing his Snoopy sweatshirt, but looking hip despite this with his cool punk knapsack an older cousin had handed down.

Then there is me. Squinting into the sun, I am in a severe sartorial funk. I have an uneven haircut, a skirt wrangled from my sister with the promise of doing her chore of setting the table all week, and the offending Snoopy sweatshirt.

So, as I prepare for my daughter’s first real “back to school” experience in junior kindergarten, that memory is not far from my mind. I have so far outfitted her with new shoes, new jeans, shirts and a new jacket. And, truth be told, a retro, straight from the ’80s, Snoopy backpack I found on Ebay.

Sometimes you just can’t let the past die.