My family was never a fashion-forward sort. As little girls, my sister and I wore matching, homemade dresses on Easter that were complete with puffed sleeves, layers of crinoline, and wrist gloves. Our everyday outfits were also often coordinating, and were purchased at the local kids consignment shop. But we didn’t care. Because we were too busy pretending to save lives in outer space or fight Indians on the plains to notice that our wardrobes weren’t up-to-speed with Gymboree.
Fashion-Forward (Thanks, Gap)
When junior high and high school landed in our house, we popped our bubbles and began to notice that our denim faves weren’t quite the same as those worn by our schoolmates. The first day of seventh grade dawned and I marched to the bus stop in my carefully-chosen outfit: a Wal-Mart knit t-shirt striped with various shades of blue, jean shorts rolled to just above my knee, white socks, and white Reebok hi-tops. I was certain I looked great and I’d be welcomed into the circle at my new school in my new town. Neighbor-girl took pity on me–of that I am positive–and offered to show me the ropes when I descended off the bus at Ellis Middle. That first day of seventh grade taught me a lot: I had no idea that 1997 had bequeathed such fashion-conscientious 13-year-olds. Even the girl in the crocheted poncho knew what she was doing. I, on the other hand, was made an example of in homeroom for having shorts that danced on the too-short fence.
The days that followed all held the same scenario. I begged mom for new clothes that could only be purchased at the right stores. Otherwise, I was nothing but dog food. But Mom did not succumb to my begs and pleas. She saw no merit in shelling out grocery money so I could have shirts from the new spring line at Limited Too. And though the siblings had no care for such trivial matters, we all received the same chant:
“Be a leader, set the trend.
Wal-Mart, Kmart clothes are in.”
I would love to say that the first time I heard that chant, I got her point and we moved on in life with the understanding that since third-world children are starving, it shouldn’t matter what I wear. But that would be a lie. It mattered. I desired so much to rise above my current Purina status and become the meat so welcomed by the right people in the school hallways. Once I even forced Mom, bribing quite possibly included, to buy me the perfect dress for picture day. (To this day, I’m convinced I caught her in a sugar coma of weakness when she agreed to buy me this dress.)
Those teen years were brutal. My friends graduated to Gap; I was still getting sister’s castoffs. I spent nights agonizing over what to wear to school the next day, hoping that suddenly my closet would birth a new wardrobe. It was a glorious moment when Mom finally gave in to the power of the brand names, deciding that the clearance rack at Old Navy was worth her dollars. I spent hours organizing my new, seasons-old clothes:
brand names Old Navy went in front, everything else was hidden in the back.
My greatest wish in high school was to have a Gap sweater. Everyone had a Gap sweater. It was a winter staple, and since we lived in Tennessee at the time, you could spot the Gap sweater from miles away as no one bothered with wearing coats. If you wore a Gap sweater, you got a nod of approval. It was the in-thing for the in-crowd, I had to have one, and no amount of hounding my mother was going to make her enter that store.
One Christmas I finally opened a box from Gap. Inside was the most beautiful Gap sweater a girl could have. It was charcoal gray with one Fair Isle stripe and I cried just knowing it was all mine. Even though it was too big and we spent hours in line exchanging it during the day-after chaos, I considered myself the most dignified human being because I now possessed a Gap sweater.
Life since that Christmas has been a lot of the same for both me and my mother. I still require the right clothes; Mom still doesn’t understand. But. Those starving children in Namibia have more attention from me than ever before and I think knowing that, Mom was OK with buying me this year’s clothing demands.