My mom showed up at my house a couple of weeks ago with an armful of hangers. “I brought you some of your clothes,” she said.
“Wait, what? What clothes?”
“Your clothes. From your closet at the house. They are all clean, and in good shape. Do what you want with them.”
And there in her arms were tops that I instantly recognized as yes, my own…my own, from middle school and high school. I held up each piece up for inspection with a suspicious eye. I totally appreciate vintage clothes. I’ve saved some of my mom’s handbags and skirts from her Betty Draper days; well-made, beautifully cut classic wool skirts…now lovingly stored for the day that I shrink to the size of a Betty Draper smurf, so that I can actually fit into them. (Note to self: Food was just healthier back then. It’s today’s additives. It’s advertising. It’s the economy. It’s your crazy schedule! It has nothing to do with how much you love cheeseburgers!) What I was looking at now, my friends, was not vintage.
The turtleneck tank top had arm holes that most certainly would have reached my waist band. My arms in high school were like matchsticks. How did I get away with this? Wait, it must be a headhole. No? Definitely an armhole? Oooooh, I forgot about the second tank top underneath. That must have looked fantastic. I stared at it. “I can’t wear this one mom.”
“Sure, you can,” she said matter-of-factly. “Wear it under a blouse. You know, like a dickie.”
Aaaah…the teal button down, dare I say, “blouse;” also square, also cropped, but with a sophisticated hint of acid wash. I remember popping the collar on that bad boy to show off my asymmetrical bob (with perm), polishing the look with some high waisted, white, peg leg pants. I was trying to remember what shoes I wore with this while Zach lay across my bed on his tummy, legs kicking up in the air, chin in his hands, carefully surveying the situation. “That shirt looks like Spongebob Squarepants.” I nodded my head in agreement and put the Spongebob Squarepants shirt into the very special pile with the dickie.
I held up the short sleeve pink cardigan and it formed a perfect rectangle. I peeked at the tag. Hold the phone! Benetton! Scoring something from Benetton was a real coup in middle school. My mind was reeling with possibility – I could belt it, or wear it with some skinny jeans and flats (I say that about EVERYTHING). When someone would undoubtedly ask who the designer was, I could say “vintage Benetton” like they do on the red carpet…you know, vintage Chanel, vintage Halston…it would be exactly like that. I set about unbuttoning it, getting it off the hanger, mumbling to myself, “I’ll just take a sec and try this on, lemme get my arms through the holes, button this up…there we go…I can make this work, let me just take a look here – wait, no, nevermind… I cannot. I cannot make this work.” I cannot wear a square tummy revealing pink cardigan with giant buttons, even if it is Benetton.
It’s not like it was Esprit. As a kid, and through certain parts of adulthood, I would wear anything Esprit. I’ve never since had such fierce brand loyalty. My parents would take me on pilgrimmage to the San Francisco outlet. I’d save every tag, and catalog each piece in an Esprit notebook. And this felt like a totally normal and appropriate thing to do as a brand loyalist. Last year, as John and I were strolling through New York, my heart leapt when we spotted…an Esprit store. I didn’t know any existed. I raced in, and though it didn’t smell the same as it did when I was a kid, I had the same sense of euphoria. Before escaping to the Sony store to try out a 3-D TV, John looked around. “They know who their audience is,” he noted, “They are are marketing it directly to you.” He was right. I was surrounded by women who looked exactly my age, and who I’m guessing were crazy for the sutff in 1986. They probably cataloged their stuff in an Esprit notebook too, also in a totally not-weird way. I bought a pair of pants that day, which as it turns out, are the best pants in the world.
As for the little slouchy black cotton jacket with distressed metal snaps that my mom delivered with the other stuff? That, I may have tucked quickly and quietly into my closet.
The photos at the top are of my very styley and tiny mom. The b&w photo is circa 1958. The ones with the baby (my brother) are circa 1963. Down here, that’s me as a kid. I was really into “outfits”. I thought I was pretty hot stuff….I’m pretty sure it’s 1986, maybe 87. If you look closely, you can see my first Swatch.