by Jeannie Prinsen
Something I read on Twitter last week got me thinking about the clothes that were in fashion when I was a teen.
Lee overalls were a popular item, and I had a pair in navy-blue corduroy. Overalls are kind of impractical when you stop and think about it, but I didn’t care about that: I was just extra cautious in the school washroom so that I didn’t come back to class with my straps twisted — or with one strap wet from falling in the toilet!
We wore hoodies back then, too, except we called them kangaroo jackets. (Did anyone outside Prince Edward Island call them that, I wonder?) I had a red pullover one that I wore constantly, often under a denim jacket. It strikes me now that many of the clothes that were trendy at that time were quite unisex — not to mention timeless. I wish I still had all those items. Well, not the overalls, maybe…
And let’s not forget Adidas sneakers. Some of them were white-with-blue-stripes, and some were blue-with-white-stripes. I had a pair that looked very much like the ones in this picture; I wore them till they fell apart. Actually, I think I ruined them when I was working as a flaggeron a road construction crew and accidentally stepped on hot asphalt.
It might sound like I was always buying the latest styles or begging Mom and Dad to buy them for me, but I think these examples stand out because they were exceptions. A lot of the time, in fact, I wore hand-me-downs from my cousins or other relatives. I didn’t mind, though; I thought it was fun to dig into a bag of clothes in the hope of finding some treasures. I still do!
Once when I was around 14, somebody gave us one of those bags of hand-me-downs. In it I found a pretty blue flowered shirt that buttoned up the front and had white trim at the collar and cuffs. It was loose and flowing and very striking. I thought it was beautiful, and I proudly put it on and wore it to school.
The second time I wore it, we had a substitute teacher, and she waswearing the very same shirt, only the flowered print was brown instead of blue.
This could have been nothing more than a eyebrow-raisingcoincidence — except she was pregnant.
It was — no doubt about it — a maternity top.
I’m sure the teacher never said a word (though she may have kept aneye on me for signs of morning sickness), and I don’t remember if anyone else did either, but I know I endured a day of mortification. After school I came home, stuffed the blue flowered shirt at the bottom of a drawer and never wore it — or even mentioned it — again.
It doesn’t take much for me to conjure up that teenage feeling of wanting to get it right, look right, be right — and the shame of thinking I’d gotten it wrong. I didn’t have a strong enough sense of self to say “I’ll wear what I want and make my own statement, no matter what anybody thinks” — but I wasn’t mature enough to laugh it off and turn it into a funny story at the supper table, either. I guess I was a pretty typical teen in both respects.
If only we could believe, at age 14, that it really, truly doesn’t matter what shoes we buy … or whether we have the “right” tag on our pocket … or whether we’re wearing the “wrong” shirt.
If only we could believe, at age 14, that one day we really, truly will laugh at these moments of humiliation.
Jeannie Prinsen lives in Kingston, Ontario with her husband and two teenagers. She teaches an online course in essay-writing at Queen’s University, writes fiction and poetry, and blogs about family, faith, books, and whatever else interests her at Little house on the circle. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.