Back to School? Better You Than Me.

School clothes, the bane of my existence.

I was thinking about how different this August is from last August.  In June, I celebrated Number Young Son’s graduation from high school; but what he probably didn’t know is that I also celebrated the end of school clothes shopping.  I hate clothes shopping.  I have always hated clothes shopping.  And I will hate clothes shopping as long as I live.

Yes, I said it.

Shopping and I have had a mutually antagonistic relationship from the start.  School clothes shopping was by far the worst.  For one thing, Mother was practical.  She had to be, with seven children on one income.  She tried very hard to be equitable for each child while maintaining her budget.  So there was an allowed amount that would be spent on each of us; we would get shoes, a winter coat, undies and socks, and maybe a new outfit.  Being the youngest, my wardrobe was supplemented with hand-me-downs, too, and Mother also sewed for us.

In grade school, my mother would take me to the local stores for clothes and would choose several things for me to try on.  I hated — no, loathed — trying on clothes.  I was a chubby girl, and it was hard to find clothes that fit me right.  She would come into the changing room with me, and after I dressed, I would have to stand before her, following her direction to turn, bend, squat, and raise my arms.  She would tug on zippers and snaps, check snug waistbands, adjust crooked seam lines, and button my blouses clean up to the top, with running commentary about my posture (“Stand up straight!”), the fit of the clothes (“Now, why would anyone put bust darts in a child’s blouse?”), and their construction (“That wouldn’t see three washings before falling apart!”).  Ugh.  By the end of the day, Mother and I would be angry and frustrated with one another, and I would try to distance myself as far from her as possible, which was hard to do in the car.  I grew up hating clothes shopping, and that has stayed with me all my life.

When I was a teenager, clothes shopping trips were a little better, only because Mother would load us up in the station wagon and drive 45 minutes to the only mall around.  Plus, Mother no longer had to come into the changing room with me.  It was one of the two times we would go there each year — once for school shopping and once for Christmas shopping.  My sister and I would be chatting about all of the new fashions of the fall that we had seen in  magazines and catalogs, and we were eager to make our pilgrimage to the department stores and mall shops.

I would follow my sister’s lead into the junior department, where she would find cute clothes at bargain prices.  Missy was a great shopper — she had style and an eye for quality.  She had extra cash from her babysitting jobs, so she often bought accessories to make her outfits more versatile.  She enjoyed shopping, and her enthusiasm kinda rubbed off on me during those trips.  Instead of getting frustrated with clothing that didn’t fit, like I did, she’d shrug it off and find something else.  We’d hit a few stores that were having big sales, and eventually, we’d be done.  Mother often put our items on layaway, which was more affordable, but that meant we couldn’t even bring our new treasures home yet.  All that work and nothing to show for it — what a letdown.

The only part of school shopping I actually liked, rather than tolerated, was when we would buy school supplies.  Now that was fun — new PeeChees, unchewed #2 pencils, hard pink erasers, and later, binders, compasses, and a TI-30 calculator.  I loved the stiffness of the new folders, the perfect point on the freshly-sharpened pencil, and the clean, white pages of the new spiral notebooks.  I would try to negotiate with Mother for the ‘cooler’ pens — Flair felt-tipped or a nice Bic 4-color retractable — and sometimes she gave in.  When I got my own babysitting money, I spent it on a fountain pen with different-colored ink cartridges, finely perforated notebooks that wouldn’t leave the ragged edge that spirals do, and mechanical pencils with fine lead.  In high school, I had pens of every color and style, stencils, stickers, fancy binders, and a better calculator.  I still made paper-sack book covers, though.  Didn’t everyone?

Now this is the cool stuff.

When my own children became school-aged, I had to step into my mother’s role and take my kids shopping.  I had to endure their frustration with the changing room routine as I found myself doing the same things Mother did: tugging at zippers and snaps, checking snug waistbands, and commenting on the quality of the clothing and my children’s posture.  It never failed that the size they wore at the beginning of summer was too small by fall.  I budgeted a set amount for each child and broke it down to shoes and coats and pants and shirts.  I hit all the sales in all the stores and tried to get it done before we were all tired and cranky from hunger.  Still, for me, the best part of school shopping was done not at the mall, but in the stationery section of the department store.  Binders. Composition books. Protractors. Crayons. Glue. Red pencils. Blue pencils. Index cards. Rulers. I was in heaven. My sons didn’t care at all about a certain type of pen, nor were they concerned about the lead thickness in their mechanical pencils, but I shopped my little heart out.  It sorta made up for the other stuff.  Sorta.

When my sons entered high school, clothes shopping got easier.  I’d follow them around to the stores as they tried on what they liked, and I’d whip out my credit card and sign on the dotted line.  That kind of shopping I can do.  We didn’t have to spend a lot of time browsing and pawing through racks of clothing for just the right color or style; we didn’t have to try on 10 different outfits at each store.  Get them some sneakers, some socks and underwear, some shorts and tee-shirts, and maybe a hoodie, and that was fine.  It was a necessary fall ritual, and although I didn’t hate it with them as much as I did when I was young, it still wasn’t on my list of fun things to do.  Sorry, guys.  I love you, but I hate shopping — that’s just how I am.

College — that’s the new mindset.  It’s a whole different ballgame, but at least they can do their own shopping.  Thank goodness.

photo credit (top) Jessie Pearl

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Aging like a fine wine. ;-)

8 thoughts on “Back to School? Better You Than Me.”

  1. You had it easy, only having boys. I re-lived my own shopping nightmares while reading your blog. My situation was similar to yours in that I got a few hand-me-downs, but not that many because I was too large for Val’s old wardrobe. I endured having to wear matronly outfits which mother would alter for me. She made me quite a few clothes because there were so few options. I never went to the Tacoma Mall until I was a senior, I think. Finding clothes which are suitable for girls is a challenge nowadays, but back in my day it was heartache for us chubbies who were not allowed to do the jeans-n-Tees thing. I had a few fights with my girls over clothing but not many. Glad those days are over. I, too, still hate clothes shopping.

    1. I had the same trouble with being too big for the hand-me-downs at one point; plus, Missy had longer legs. I will always remember going to school in a coat that, while in beautiful shape, was decades out of style. The kids were cruel and I was humiliated. I came home and declared I would freeze to death before wearing it again. I think I was in 3rd or 4th grade then. I still feel the sting of their snide remarks. I am glad I wasn’t restricted to skirts and dresses, like you were. The day I stopped wearing dresses to school was probably one of the best days of my life.

      I did buy school clothes for Daughter Dearest, but that was because I wanted to, not because I was obligated to provide her with a school wardrobe. Thank goodness. I am SO glad I’m free!

  2. Thank you for the fun laugh! I’m right there with you in regards to shopping. Office supply stores – easy! Acceptable attire amid crowded stores and so-called sales, not so much.
    Congratulations on your liberation!

    1. Thanks, Tommia! It’s my own personal holiday!
      I’m glad I’m not the only one. To this day, I dread the whole holiday season because it means shopping. Online, no problem. I love shopping online. Amazon is my best friend. 😉

  3. Oh, Becky, we are so alike in this regard. You evoke the frustration perfectly. The key was to fit in, and even though I wasn’t chubby, the effort and failure to look “just so” lingers. I hated anything itchy, and still do. Or anything even the slightest bit tight or awkward. I can’t smile when I’m wearing uncomfortable clothes, or, these days, a bra. I look pained. And now that I’m 56, I’m going through the “appropriate” clothes thing again! What does the mother of the bride wear??? “Wear brown and sit down,” that’s my motto. 🙂 Great post.

    1. Thanks, Christi!
      Yes, I am all about comfort. I don’t mind dressing up on occasion, but I’m glad my work doesn’t require it, as some do. Pantyhose is a work of the devil, I’m certain of that. I used to see girls come to school all dolled up, but that was never me. I remember going school clothes shopping with my best friend at age 16; she had her mother’s Nordstrom card and a $500 limit. I was astounded. She got some cute stuff, but it was overkill, as far as I was concerned. I’m a wash-and-wear, no blow dryer, no makeup kind of gal, and proud of it. I shop for clothes only when I must.
      I do have trouble sometimes with dressing appropriately, because I am sorely lacking in the ‘nice clothes’ department. I hope you find just the perfect mother of the bride outfit — one that’s classy yet not matronly, and which does not make you feel like a monkey in a costume. I’m sure you’ll be lovely and just as radiant as your daughter on her big day! I’m sure the Bearded One will clean up well, too!
      Gotta say, I do love that motto of yours!! Wear brown and sit down! Ha!!

  4. I love new pens, pencils and paper!!! I get kind of jealous that I can’t have new school supplies! lol I have grown to dislike clothes shopping, unless I do it at a thrift store. At least I feel like I am getting a big bargain if I can score something cool at the thrift store. My son and I just got done buying a few things for him. He is a nightmare to shop for, because he hates shopping. Our big score? A rocking Van Halen t-shirt for $6!! Totally jealous mom over here! lol

    1. I have a big tub filled to the brim with paper, notebooks, dividers, and a gajillion pencils and pens. Fortunately, I have two granddaughters who can use some of that stuff. Last weekend, hubby and I found a sale and bought a whole lot more, this time geared toward elementary school supplies. I coudln’t stop myself.
      When I was a teenager, there was a stationery store nearby called j.k.gill, and they sold lovely letter paper by the pound, matching envelopes, pens of every color, shape, and size, and stickers by the roll. This coincided with my then-boyfriend joining the Air Force, so I became a regular customer to keep up with my letter-writing campaign. I miss that store. It was addictive!

      I have been fortunate that my sons don’t mind hitting the thrift stores for clothing. It has saved us a lot over the years! And yeah — that is a great deal with the VH tee! (OMG, my music is “vintage” now!! LOL)

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