Friday, July 27, 2012

Back to School Blues...

... and reds and plaids and sweaters oh my!

It's that time again, when a woman's fancy turns to thoughts of love— as in fall clothes and what to love. Despite Houston weather (think Sahara heat partnered with sub-continent mosquitoes), I love summer. So why does the first hint of transitional apparel in the stores get me thinking not only about what's to come but what was back-to-school shopping back when there was school in my life?

Not much changed in the land of the Liliputian Bazaar

The season began with the arrival in early August of Best & Co.'s children's catalog. This looked old-fashioned even in the '50s, with its finely detailed black and white illustrations of impossibly angelic children in stiffly traditional clothing. We rarely visited Best & Co. The store sold better women's and children's clothing that was somewhat aspirational but still affordable for a special occasion. It was also not downtown but plopped in a semi-suburban strip mall that held little else to entice. May have been the stuffiness of the actual catalog, but its appearance was a harbinger of doom and the official beginning of the End of Summer.

Take a deep breath...

On the other hand, the arrival of my nine-years-older sister's copy of August Seventeen got me shreaming— dreaming of shopping— for all those cute teenage outfits that I was nine years too young to wear. Oversized at a hefty 10" x 13", it weighed enough to hold open a door and was printed in full glorious color.  Little has been written about the olfactory factor in fashion, but the smell of Seventeen— a mix of better-newsprint pulp and rotogravure ink— was heady perfume.

The Hathaway girls were not from St. Trinian's...

Nowadays I see the advantages of school uniforms. What a time-and-stress saver! School uniforms are intended to diffuse any questions of whose parents can afford the trendiest togs (though I think shoes have taken over that function). When I was in school, a uniform meant the exact opposite— your parents were rich and Waspy enough to send you to private school, in my neighborhood that was Hathaway School for Girls.

You needed at least seven

By high school, the thought of a uniform would have been anathema. In the land of I-have-a-different-cashmere-sweater-for-every-day-of-the-week, I had one (usually worn on Monday). Junior year of high school Irene Parker, a popular cheerleader, promised she would only wear black-and-white for the next two years. Her declaration was not in the interest of flying in the face of cashmere discrimination but rather an attempt to "save up" her clothing allowance for college. And so she appears in all the yearbook shots I have of her— in a white shirt and black cardigan or black turtleneck sweater with her black pencil skirt. She looks pretty cool.

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What prompted this post was my interaction with a customer at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work. She was looking for practical yet fun clothes to wear on the job as a kindergarten teacher. When I asked if she was ready to go back to school (schools re-open early in Texas), she lamented, with a smile, that "No, summer is too short, but at least there's back to school shopping!"


  1. I just took my kids back to school shopping - for uniforms! They are practical in a way, but you need to have enough pieces to get through the week. There's no throwing on some old jeans or running out to the store to get new ones if the ones you have get too small. I need to prepare for the year in advance.
    I'm nit ready for summer to end either, but I am looking forward to fall shopping.

  2. I ADORE this post, Michelle.

    Your writing is fabulous and I absolutely love it. I also believe I was at work the day when the kindergarten teacher came in, in the fitting room with you. How marvelous that such a short encounter could inspire such a witty and truthful blog post.

    I'm surprised you have not had more than 12k hits.



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