Back to School Anthem: September….Earth Wind and Fire – music link
I was getting some computer help from a summer student at the library and on her last day she wished me a good year. If you are a student (or teacher), the year starts in September, if you are not, the year starts in January. So I started thinking about how it felt to go back to school when you were a kid, not that I would want to go back to those days, (like Billy Joel says in the Italian Restaurant song, you can never go back there again), but shopping for back to school clothes was always fun, and usually meant something plaid. I blame my mother for my love for plaid as she dressed me in a little red plaid kilt with a red sweater for my grade one picture. I remember wearing a stylish dark cotton plaid dress the first day of grade eight when I was just starting to be fashion savvy, and thinking it was the grooviest thing ever. High school meant a whole week of dress up days before we were regulated into ugly navy-blue nun-like uniforms with white shirts (which my mother had to iron every morning) and no pants either, although the boys could wear ripped jeans and t-shirts with bad sayings…..you would not get away with that kind of discrimination today. How I would have welcomed a nice plaid kilt like other Catholic schools had. Dress up days were also held the first Friday of the month and were a cutthroat competition as to who could look the most like a Seventeen model. I remember wearing a short plum skirt with a gold blouse and a plum vest with a gold plaid pattern on the front, and thinking it was the epitome of style…. kind of like a cheerleader’s outfit. Although I was never the type, I envied them their uniforms. Skirts were short, (looking back, really short), as it was the early seventies, and the nuns would go around measuring with a ruler if they were in a particularly mean mood. One winter when I was sixteen I bought a wool plaid winter coat at Saks where we hardly ever shopped because it was too expensive, simply because the sales lady talked me into it by telling me I looked like the cover of Mademoiselle, a magazine I was not familiar with at the time as it was for college students. I think I only wore it one year as the next year it was out of style, and the plaid was way too loud and garish. University meant jeans and plain polyester shirts with the occasional sweater – we were poor students with no money and high rent living in a big city where there was lovely shopping but who could afford it. We window-shopped instead. In first year, my roommate and I so coveted Viyella plaid housecoats that we used to stop by the nightwear department at the Eaton’s store and visit them when we were downtown. I finally bought a knockoff version because you had to have something to put on in the girls dorm, because horrors what if you ran into some guy in the washroom.
vintage red plaid housecoat
Does anyone even wear housecoats anymore…they seem harder and harder to find? After squirreling away most of my summer job savings towards the next year’s living expenses, there might be a bit left over to splurge on a plaid shirt before back to school, usually red but one year black and gray. I used to shop at Sears on my lunch hour and deliberated for hours over the color. I remember wearing a red and blue checked plaid shirt with a jean jumper to a party and dancing to Abba’s Dancing Queen when I was supposed to be studying for midterms, and I was wearing a plaid shirt and tight jeans at a fourth-year party the night I had to go to the hospital with what turned out to be a kidney stone, but which I had thought was just really tight jeans. These are my plaid memories – it seems archaic now when if you want something you just whip out a credit card, but back then credit cards were only approved for people who had good jobs, and you had to apply for them, they didn’t send you invitations in the mail.
I am still mad for plaid – it must be my Celtic DNA. I was in a material store the other day, looking for mesh bags for the lavender harvest, and saw my favorite red plaid tartan, and then the most beautiful navy blue flannel. But what would I do with it – it has been decades since I have sewn – when I was a teenager I would buy the material, pin and cut out the pattern, both of which I enjoyed and then lose interest when the seams didn’t go right on the old machine, and my mother would end up finishing the rest. My vision never quite matched the reality.
When you are older you should take your plaids in smaller doses – a plaid carryall for gym stuff or a cheery winter scarf.
There is something so inherently cheerful about red plaid and of course nothing says cozy like a soft plaid throw for the couch…how can it be that I do not own such a thing when I visit Winners on a regular basis? It’s a sad truth that now that I have more money to spend I so seldom find anything I like. But I will give it the old college try, and go shopping to see if something plaid catches my eye. Wishing everyone a good year!
Celtic Song: I discovered this Irish group Celtic Thunder while watching PBS one night…..I love public television…. click music link here