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?


Rachel Nguyen responded on August 26, 2008 at 11:16 AM #

Procrastination pays off!

Today my kids told me that yes, they do want new clothes for tomorrow, the first day of school.

So off to the mall we went. I expected it to be mobbed, but it was actually pretty empty.

We got a ton of stuff on deep discount. Clearance rack sales, including gorgeous Land's End backpacks at 30% off. I am always willing to pay full price for Land's End backpacks because they are indestructible and last at least two or three years. What a treat to find that they went on sale today. I even bought one for myself for my big trip to Africa in January.

Throw in a quick lunch and we actually had a really fun last day of summer!