Shopping for School Clothes

When I was young, I loved shopping for school clothes with my mom. Or, I should say I loved the thought of it. Every year I imagined that I'd finally find the right combination of skirt, sweater, and shoes that would launch my social career. It never happened. My Mom would invariably veto items that were not her own taste, too expensive, or too “grown-up”. But I'm a slow learner and hope sprang eternal in my unfashionably flat chest. I especially remember princess pumps, then ribbon trimmed cardigans, then leather mini-skirts. I did have a faux leather mini that stuck to my chair and was as comfortable as a thick layer of Saran Wrap in the hot Rhode Island Septembers.

I'm assuming that parents are still buying back-to-school clothing for their young children. I wonder at what age the kids are just being handed some cash as they're dropped off at the mall. For most of my children's younger years, we shopped at an excellent resale shop in the wealthier section of Providence. The kind proprietor seemed to know every child's name and if you were looking for a special outfit for a recital or awards ceremony, she would keep an eye out. I loved that shop.

Both of my kids attended a magnet inner-city primary school and there was very little competition about fashion. Even in middle school and high school, the fashion of impossibly baggy jeans and a very large t-shirt for the boys, and tighter jeans and top for the girls seemed to foster conformity as well as any uniform. Sure, there were boys with their belts literally below their butts, and girls with clothing so tight that it seemed you could identify their internal organs, but my kids either didn't care, or knew that they weren't going to win any argument about showing underwear or the more intimate body parts.

There are many private schools in our region and I've always wondered about uniforms. The boys seem fine in sensible slacks and a polo or button down, but the girls look either frozen or entirely too sexual in their little plaid skirts.

I do have to wonder about the way some parents dress their littler children. When the 3 and 4 year old little girls at one of the nursery schools where I teach came in wearing black clothes and leopard prints, their wonderfully French teacher was appalled, saying something to the affect of, “Children should not wear black or animal, they have no idea what it's for.”

Where's the line for you on school clothes? Is it more important to fit in with a peer group, or to appear to be civilized in adult eyes? Are you the final judge or just the ATM? At what age do you just keep your eyes on the road or the newspaper and say a cheery, “Have a good day?” as they head out the door?

Kathy adds,

I feel fortunate to have my boys in a Catholic grade school and high school, so I don’t have to deal with this too much. The younger ones have uniforms, the older ones a shirt, tie and khakis. Pretty simple. Keeps the cost low which I appreciate and eliminates most of the competition.

They are growing like weeds though and need clothes for the rest of their lives. And it is at those times that I feel even more blessed. I have become the personal shopper! I love to shop, they don’t care and I spend infinitely less money shopping alone. These boys are happy when I bring home a few pairs of Levis, new shirts, a pack of boxers and some new socks. What is wrong with them? Have they no fashion sense?

I remember vividly shopping with my mom and my 3 younger sisters for school clothes. The woman is a saint. It took days. Finding something, putting it on hold in case there was something better out there, and then returning to where we started, only to buy that first item! I honestly don’t know how she did it. I am certain I would have killed me. But it was an experience, we were all together and happy and somehow the job got done.

Now that I have 2 in high school though, I am noticing a little more effort in appearance. Suddenly J Crew is much better than Kohl’s or Bob’s. Thank heaven for gift cards from the grandparents and aunts! The two of them actually pulled me aside in the Gap the other day to view a very stylish blazer, pointing out that the color was great with their red hair and made their shoulders look strapping! Maybe they don’t need a personal shopper after all……

Rachel's take,

I keep waiting for the moment when I realize that I am asleep and that this has been a dream. My kids have absolutely no interest in clothes whatsoever. We mostly load up on the basics at Wallyworld and then suppliment those with finds from the local department store thrift shop.

When I was a kid, I bitterly resented that I got all my clothes at thrift shops. Until, that is, I was able to take my own ten bucks and shop for myself. Suddenly the shopping seemed fascinating as I sifted through plaid mini skirts and dreamy 1940’s women’s blazers. I was a freak in high school, I admit, stomping down the hallways in stilleto heels with my sweaters on backwards. Once, a former babysitter ran into me on the street and pointed out that the skirt I was wearing had once been hers.

My oldest son has discovered grunge. For him the bigger, the baggier and the filthier the better. He now roots through my husband’s work clothes for jeans that are huge (on him!) and stained, ripped to shreds and apparently extremely cool.

Emmett just doesn’t want to wear power rangers anymore, thank you very much. Other than that stipulation, he’s ammenable to anything.

So, for us, school clothes shopping is a non-event. Next week they will have new shoes and the same shorts and shirts they have been wearing all summer. When the weather cools, we’ll get to the store after the rest of the frantic parents have left and pick up some stuff on sale. It’s all good!

Audrey concludes'

Okay, it seems like none of our kids are going to be voted onto the anyone's best dressed list in the near future. Parents of the fashion-forward out there, how do you deal with your Hannah Montana and P Diddy wannabes?

Hug a Grandma Today!

Have your kids hugged any older folks lately? I ask because I live in Rhode Island, which seems to be one of those rare American places where extended family still means a great deal. I know families that still gather at grandma's house for their weekly Sunday dinner. That said, my own parents moved 3000 miles across the country soon after my daughter was born, so my children saw them very rarely. Thank heavens for their father's parents. His mother was a wonderful grandmother, very loving and gentle. His father, still living, is a quirky representative from a quieter, more learned time.

I've been thinking about grandparents because there are some young people doing summer volunteer work at one of the nursing homes where I work. I wish there were many more children of all ages visiting nursing homes all the time.

Most older people love to see children and children need to realize that the old are just like them, with likes and dislikes, humor, and sometimes surprisingly interesting lives. They were young themselves, and during some very interesting times. I remember asking an 86 year old man who, at 19 had been at the bombing of Pearl Harbor if he'd been very scared. “No,” he said, “I was really mad 'cause we were supposed to have steak and eggs for breakfast, and there I was in the water thinkin', I'm not gonna get my steak and eggs!”

The young adolescent volunteers at the nursing home appear to enjoy their time there. They look confident and like to kid around with the older folks. Everybody seems to be having a great time.

If your children see their grandparents so rarely that they barely have time to get reacquainted before they say “Goodbye”, why not visit a local nursing home? Lots of folks wait until Christmas but the elderly are there all year round. Call your local nursing home and ask about volunteering to read books, sing songs, play games, or just sit and listen. It's a win-win situation for everybody concerned.

Rachel adds:

In high school, one of my brother’s friends had a regular gig going to nursing homes with his punk band. They’d show up with safety pins in their ears and funny colored hair, whip out a vintage silver microphone and start singing old standards from the 1940s. They were always a huge hit!