The Monday Post, Vol. 18 — The Seeming Importance of Eighth Grade Fashion

Looking through my writing prompts again, here is one from a couple of years ago that takes me back to my 13-year-old self:

“Remember what you wore when you were a teenager. Write from point of view of yourself or a character, beginning with a small part of one of those garments. Write what happens. 25 minutes.”

(1968)

Pink and brown parallel stripes with a thin yellow stripe running perpendicular on a creamy background.  Looking down at my knee, that’s what I’m seeing, with satisfaction.  At last I have arrived.  In the eighth grade, I now have clothes I don’t have to be ashamed of.  I’m wearing a pair of Bobbie Brooks pants and I know that all the girls know that’s what they are.  There’s no label on a back pocket, no outstanding feature that screams “designer,” just the nice upper middle class look of the late 1960s that says you didn’t buy your clothes at K-Mart this time.  The look that makes it more acceptable for the nicer girls to invite you over, girls who can introduce you to their mothers with pride, instead of stealing a few moments to have lunch with you in the cafeteria, hoping no one else will see they’re sitting with you.

I chose these clothes three months ago.  Up until age 13 my mother chose all my clothes.  I never cared what I wore when I was younger; whatever covered me while I romped and swung and rode my bike was fine with me.  At that time clothes weren’t a calling card for children, and though I wouldn’t have chosen that muddy brown A-line skirt or that navy blue dirndl, I didn’t really pay much attention to them.  But at age 13, I began to hear comments from the other girls about clothes; theirs, mine, everyone’s.  I began to complain more and more often to my mother about her choices that I knew she felt were in my best interest, but were keeping me, I thought, from being “in.”

Finally, from sheer exasperation, my mother suggested I choose the clothes I’d be receiving for Christmas that year.  We’d shop in September and put the clothes away until their boxes were placed under the Christmas tree.  I agreed and we spent one dizzying Saturday downtown at Shillito’s as I rifled through rack after rack of the clothes that would befit my desired station in life.  That fall the Bobbie Brooks winter line featured pants, vests and skirts in that large, creamy pastel plaid, and we purchased one of each.  We added a brown turtleneck sweater and a creamy crocheted vest and I hugged the boxes to me gleefully as we waited on the corner of 8th and Walnut for the bus.  I couldn’t wait for Christmas, knowing my ticket to the life I wanted at age 13 was just waiting for me in the closet.

Christmas came and I opened the boxes, laughing as I expressed mock surprise at their contents, complimenting my mother on her choices.  I hung my new clothes carefully (a first for me, as most of my clothes ended up in a heap on a chair in my room) and waited for Christmas vacation to end so I could go back to school and silently shout, “See? See? I’m just like you now!” to the girls in the cliques I so wanted to join.

On January 2nd I carefully dressed in the plaid pants, brown turtleneck and the creamy vest that tied just under the bustline.  I took extra time with my hair and put on as much makeup as I could get away with.  Stylish as they might be, the pants provided little warmth as I shivered at the bus stop.  I was afraid my heavy winter coat was crushing the vest and was relieved when I got to school and could stow my coat away for the day.

The reaction wasn’t immediate; no one rushed up to me and said, “Ooo, I love your new clothes!”, but I knew from the looks on the girls’ faces that they knew these were Bobbie Brooks pants, and that gave me a confidence I’d never had before.  I sailed through the rest of that day with my head held high and occasionally someone did say, “That’s a nice outfit” or “You look nice today,” and that was enough to send me into the stratosphere.  I felt that same confidence every time I wore my new clothes, and though they didn’t give me the exact life I wanted, they helped me create a good junior high school life for myself from my new attitude.

The Bobbie Brooks look would be “out” in a matter of months, but I had had what I needed.  A year later I would learn to sew quite well and from that time forward I would have more clothes than I knew what to do with, and be the envy of some of those same girls I had been trying to please.  But I’ll always be thankful to Bobbie Brooks for helping me go from “urgh” to “okay,” and helping me understand that attention to one’s looks, if not a guarantee, certainly does help you get where you want to go.

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