Speculation: Bad Back to School Trends in Clothing

I’m watching commercials for back to school clothes. It’s important to predict the styles that I’ll be up against when I return. I consider each possible combination that could arrive in my classroom. No, I don’t want to own them, I want to be ready to mock them, and some heads up is helpful in improvisational comedy.  Sometimes I think Fashion Avenue visited Wheel of Bad Fortune over too many $15 martinis. They spun the roulette wheel, creating combos no sober person could take seriously but teens everywhere would flock to buy in this largest-shopping-season-outside-Christmas. Add in a marketing genius, a three-digit price tag for a ridiculously cheap to produce item, and a celeb or two for good measure, and you’ve got a formula outfits I can mock clear till spring. That entertains me.   The fashion designer who gets them to buy the dumbest looking, least practical fashion item wins. “Let’s put leg warmers….” spin the wheel “with cardigans!”

Screen Shot 2013-08-10 at 5.18.31 PMI’m not innocent here–I’m a school child of the 80’s. I’ve admitted to swimming in $3 discount-rack teal, wearing tin earrings, thinking the worst perm in the world would make me cool. An icepack couldn’t have made me cool. Not to mention the jelly bracelets–very little more than thick elastic scraps from some manufacturing process. Some guy swept them up and said, “Make them pretty colors…the Americans will buy them. The British, too.”

Friendship pins

Friendship pins (see credit below)

We had “friendship pins.” Safety pins with colored beads in patterns of coded significance on them. Doesn’t get cheaper and stupider than that. You put them on your sneakers. You made one for each of your friends. I loved them. The kids with the most pins were the most popular. It was our equivalent of goths wearing soda tabs. Are you recycling, or too cheap for jewelry? Much like liking your own stuff on social media, people made their own pins to bolster their popularity, but if you got caught, it was “reset to zero” time. Not cool. You were not just a loser who had no friends, you were a loser who got caught. I didn’t have many pins. It was a big deal if someone didn’t give you one–we didn’t care so much about self-esteem in the 80’s.

There were several 80’s fashions that should never come back, but they seem to be. The colors that remind me of Attack of the Highlighter, the skinny jeans, the leopard print. Heck, we wore old-school skinny jeans before spandex–when you had to hold your breath all day to fit in.  When they went out of style, everyone took one big breath heading for the loose and sagging 90’s…to make up for the decade without air. That’s when global warming accelerated. Look it up. It’s true.

Teen fashion just cycled through some regurgitated 60’s fashions followed by some 70’s. It’s like a time machine on crack. Each decade lasts a week, it seems. In real life, it took us ten years to impose and escape a decade of bad fashion, but now it seems that the cycles compress faster and get more extreme as the trends pass by, getting more and more expensive all the while.

Screen Shot 2013-08-10 at 5.20.46 PMI did like the neat suits the students sported a la Mad Men. Those were classy. Students in suits and ties looking suspiciously like interviewees… “Nah, Miss, no reason.” Society’s gotten so casual that students will dress up to rebel and tell me such. What kind of awesome is THAT?

So, we’ll see what they come up with this season, and I’ll mock it in due time. In the mean time, I’ll watch commercials and trends. The K-mart “Yo mama is so fiscally responsible,” commercial made me applaud, but the “Back to School Style Guide” advertising Flashdance midriff shirts for back to school? Not so much… maybe for a pole-dancing PE extracurricular activity, but not in my world. Not while my mind is still alert.

I have commented on teens before. Saggers and goths and preps, oh my! Give it your best shot, future students–it’ll be hard to outdo my bad fashion, but you’ll push the limits this school year, and I’ll do my best to chronicle it here. In twenty years, you’ll all come back and say, “You were right. I did look ridiculous.” And the worst part–they charged you for the privilege.

[images: Copyright Kim Dietrich Elam 2010 (Friendship Pins) http://www.betterphoto.com/gallery/dynoGallDetail.asp?photoID=9747583

and polyvore.com and tumblr 1960’s fashion]

Edit and correction: I thank Kim Dietrich Elam for providing the correct photo credit–I credited the pinner. My screw up meant I got to meet a really interesting person. Kim has a super business: K*Notes (Creative Stationary and Photography).  I loved her selection and gallery, and she’ll make pretty much anything for you.

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The Next Deplorable Trend in Fashion: Teen 101 Series

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 6.16.46 AMSagging. Butt cracks. Guys with skinny jeans that look like they got robbed from a second grader. Hundred-dollar ripped jeans. Sneakers that are venerated not played in. Chains on pants. Bright red hair. Micro micro micro minis. Shirts missing sleeves–maybe it was a half-price sale for one.

These are the fashions I deal with daily in school.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

“Miss–your sweater’s ripped.” I look down and feign surprise. Indeed it is. Truth is, I knew that. I laid out my clothes for the next day, not realizing that the seam had ripped out my entire left arm, leaving a gaping flapping sleeve. I was cold. I had two choices. Run with it, or wake my husband at dumb o’clock in the morning rummaging for another warm thing to wear.

I went with “run with it.” I figured that if I can be butt-cracked daily by sagging teens eight feet taller than me, I can wear even more bad fashion. Much better than creating a grumpy guy.

But then, I got an idea.

“I know, isn’t it cool?” I said. Puzzled looks…

“It’s the next great fashion. It’ll be bigger than leg warmers and teal.  You all ripped your pants and drew on them with Sharpie already–that’s old. This is new. The next thing. By the end of the week, I predict you’ll be ripping your sweaters, too. By Friday, they’ll be making these in China for the runway in New York.

I nodded and walked away, a group of freshmen looking at each other quizzically, one or two staring at a sleeve wondering if it should get ripped.

Only the two seniors stood in the back laughing .

[image: ultragross.blogspot.com]

 

Hoodies will get you extra points

I think that computers and start ups are the only fields where looking like crap scores you points. Actually, it seems to be a badge of honor. No one wears a suit jacket. The guy with the suit jacket sticks out. Everyone wears a hoodie.

I brought my one hoodie–my Grockit hoodie sent all the way from Silicon Valley, and tried to fit in. I may have to rewear it today, unlaundered and all. I think that the crumpled look will get me points with the judges.

Maybe our product will too. It solves a problem in education, one that no one has solved, the fact that entrepreneurs and teachers need to have a way to connect, getting good products to students and classes. The fact that entrepreneurs need feedback to develop these products. For too long, I’ve been looking at unused icons on old computer desktops. Products that students hate. I want these entrepreneurs and visionaries to give students products they love.

They can’t do that unless they meet teachers and teachers tell them what they need. Our creation, BetaMatch, solves that. It also solve some other problems, problems I hadn’t even anticipated. Like, how does investor know if a start up is legitimate? If kids would use it? If it is been proven in front of teachers? It came to my attention that this solves this problem too. If you had told me a year ago that I would be solving problems for venture capitalists, I would’ve laughed at you.

We came to the table with a very simple solution. It seems like it has grown into something more. Sort of like every problem, and every solution, in life. That is my lesson here today.

I never expected to get this far. It’s been a surprise. And fun. I met some inspirational people who are solving the problems of education. There are a lot to choose from. Win, lose, or draw, that’s all that matters. It’s why I came here.

I got to see the inner workings of Socratic Labs, an ed tech “accelerator,” a company that develops some of the EdTech companies you will come to know soon. I waited on the subway platform at 3AM, saw my friend Heather Who Never Sleeps, she sleeping now as I write. I hope she didn’t lose her superpowers.

I met inspirational mentors, like Doug, Ash, and Chris, who helped me add value to our new company.

I even got to meet my West Coast boss, Farb Nivi, who in addition to having done some pretty great things for education himself, is a much better musician than me. That carries a lot of weight in for me.

Most importantly of all, I worked with an amazing team. I got to meet visionaries. People whose companies you will see you soon. People whose companies my company may bring to you. It was synergistic–I loved watching people work together to solve the problems of education,often working together on each other’s products. I met some people who will become my friends. I learned a lot in the process.

That’s what it’s all about.

So now, let me go prepare for our pitches tonight. I have to take some extra time to crumple my hoodie just a bit more.

The Reason for Low Test Scores is Teacher Clothes

Screen Shot 2012-12-05 at 6.09.31 AM

If you have followed my writings, you know that I struggle with fashion. I hate it, as a matter of fact, though with proper guidance I clean up well.  But I think I’m in a better place now than I was in September when I prayed for Carson Kressley to come and take me to 5th Avenue even if it meant that someone on reality TV got to laugh at my transformation.

I’m grateful, in part, to the lady at Banana Republic who took my coupons and came back with clothes. I’m not saying this was easy—I refused to let her put me in the size that she said fit, if only because it gave me an atomic wedgie of the proportion reserved for 80’s movies where the nerd got skewered on the flagpole. We don’t allow atomic wedgies these days—zero tolerance for bullying. As such, I refuse to be bullied by my own clothes—I’ll wear them slightly oversized.

I have improved in my ability to look at fashion. I’m in a place where I can now look in the mirror and determine if an outfit works or not even though I really don’t match colors well. I can’t, on a good day, place salmon in the color wheel and when called upon to choose colors for my bathroom, I redecorated using the colors of nature—yellow and green. It looked nothing like nature—it looked like it was a hangover job done by the marketing guy from Sprite.

So, I plagiarize a lot.  I’m not above looking at someone’s well put together purple sweater, realizing that I have a purple sweater sitting in a bin that could well see the light of day.  In fact, that’s how I chose my outfit today. And I seem to be getting by.

But there’s a larger disruption going on in the field of education today, something very wrong indeed. It’s lowering test scores and distracting students…It might be too late to save us, in which case we should just pack it up and declare Finland the winner in all things education. The problem, in my mind, isn’t the achievement gap. It’s…

Teacher clothes.

They’re horrible. If I think teacher clothes are an issue–zero fashion me–then there must be a disturbance in the force. When fashion is so…unique…that even I am distracted, I can say with data correlation that it most definitely affects student achievement. I couldn’t do a math paper if I had the opportunity to stare at my instructor’s Rudolph Christmas tie with the LED blinking nose.

I went to a conference recently. My favorite thing to do at teacher conferences is to look at teacher clothes.  It makes it tough to learn about, say, vocabulary or classroom management when there are so many bright and shiny things to capture my attention.

Teacher clothes have been the subject of jokes for 50 years.  The schoolmarm in the a-line skirt brandishing a ruler over the cowering students image that won’t go away. Every time I look around a room full of teachers, I see the following:

  • Power suits.  These are cool.  I suspect teachers with power suits came over from Corporate America seeking to change the world or work fewer hours. Since teaching is actually a 24/7 job, they probably suspect they made a mistake, but still believe in world-changing, so they hang on. That is, until their first second-grader sneaks his second chocolate milk and barfs all over the power suit. That’s $800 down the drain.
  • Cardigans.  These can be done well, but more often than not, they represent the repeat syndrome.  Most teachers have one or two sweaters that they drape over the back of their chairs for the three coldest months of the year when the heating system malfunctions.  It’s like hiking Everest. You have to have layers.
  • Vintage clothes.  I respect teachers with experience, and I, too, have been guilty of wearing vintage clothes. I tried to rebrand it as Zen. I don’t need to be materialistic and buy hundreds of dollars worth of new clothing just because the runway season changed. But there’s something to be said for ditching the powder blue leisure suit, too. “Vintage,” only goes so far.
  • Holiday-themed sweaters.  Yes, the dreaded embroidered Christmas sweater. The only excuse EVER for wearing such an item is for making fun of someone who wears such items. In the case of humor, satire, and practical jokes, a holiday sweater can be worn if the wearer can keep a straight face. Holiday socks are okay, however.
  • Clothes that don’t match with the decade in which the wearer was born. This one is tough. I’m 41. There is no reason on earth that I should be stuffing myself in things from the Junior section. Even though it would fit, it would be wrong. Not allowed.
  • Bangles.  This is a personal issue—I don’t own or wear a lot of jewelry. Some people wear it in style.  But in any case, it shouldn’t be worn all at once like a Mr. T revival.  At many teacher conventions, I see so many layers of beads, bangles, and bracelets, I wonder if I’m in the wind chime aisle at my local garden superstore.
  •  The scarves—oh, the scarves!!  Teachers love scarves. They wear them indoors. I wear scarves, too, but usually just when my heat doesn’t work or when I go hiking.  I can’t figure out scarves. Too close to macrame or hojojitsu (the samurai art of knot tying).  For the brief time I lived in Russia, I associated scarves with old ladies. The word for scarf in Russian is, in fact, babushka, which also means “grandmother.” I don’t want to be an old lady. No scarf for me.

As I get older and confront my own mortality, I have to address the subject of teacher clothes in my own life. In 20 years if I’m still in the classroom, I think I’ll be the hippie crunchy teacher—the one with the silver braid, hiking boots, and Irish cable knit sweater playing music from two decades ago.  But that’s a long way off. In the mean time, I’ll keep bringing my coupon to the girl at the store that tells me what to wear. And I won’t wear teacher clothes.

 

[image: nothingbutdollsonstrings.com]

Fashion Emergency 101: Someone Tweet Carson Kressley! Stat!

I hate shopping for clothes. It’s a problem. I get anxiety. If I had to name five things I’d rather do besides being beaten over the head by the fashion industry, they would be the following:  clean the refrigerator, take out garbage in the infectious disease unit sans mask, scrape road kill off highways on a ninety-degree day, polish kid vomit from the floor at school, or repair industrial tractors in the middle of an Oklahoma corn field waving a Nebraska flag.

Fashion mystifies me. I hate clothes a lot, but I hate “teacher clothes” more.  You won’t catch me alive in a Halloween or Christmas themed sweater.  If I’m thrown in one when I’m dead, I will find the culprit and haunt their family for generations. Poltergeist-style.

But it’s back to school time, and I do need clothes.  And so I forge ahead and shop. No pointy heels and A-lined skirts for me, thank you.

Fashion rules for teachers:

  1. I must look cool(ish) in an old-person geeky sort of way. I should project enough of an air of authority so students to not want to chuck spit balls at my cardigan when I turn around.
  2. I must feel comfortable. I’m active. It’s tough to jump over small items of furniture while dressed like an investment banker.
  3. I should not look like someone’s grandmother.  That would require me to bring in milk and cookies every day, and that’s just not healthy.
  4. I should never look like a candidate for prom queen. This includes the times when I attend school functions that require me to dress up, like dinners and proms. This is public education, not a Nabokov sequel.

To solve this dilemma, I created a “school uniform.” It’s a public school. Even though studies show that schools requiring uniforms achieve success at higher rates, I’ve only seen a couple of public schools implement uniforms fully. Most of those that try say the uniform is “optional” because no administrator in his or her right mind wants to box three rounds with the American Civil Liberties Union, whose watchful eye protects the rights of students to wear death metal t-shirts, sideways-fitted caps with stickers and a healthy collection of gothwear.

Because no one will force me to wear a uniform, I’ll force myself.  I have no desire to have Catholic school flashbacks. Those obnoxious plaid miniskirts that Sharon Stoned girls’ at recess scared me away from skirts forever. Just a simple pair of khakis and a golf shirt for me, please. I want people to wonder if I’m about to teach or about to pop under the hood of a car. Universal worker-wear, the kind that makes you want to get down and dirty. Because education is a down-and-dirty kind of job if you do it right.

I created my school uniform for a few non-fashion reasons, too.  One, because we have “dress-down day” fundraisers. I don’t like to pay for dress-down days. I think I dress down enough as it is. Dress-down days always raise money for a good cause, but I like to choose, myself, where I give. I’m not too cheap. I can certainly afford two dollars on the days I carry cash, which are few and far between—teachers do not carry cash.  It’s just that giving is personal to me.

Also, I don’t want to be shaken down for money for the honor of wearing clothes to school. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. I’d have to wear clothes anyway or I’d be facing far bigger problems than who blew off my homework, but I’m also uncomfortable having a policy that defines charity.  And then there’s the issue of The Sticker. Even if I did give, I would politely refuse to wear The Sticker saying I contributed. I don’t need a badge identifying me to the Giving Police. I do want to be helpful. I just don’t love dress-down day.

But that’s not the reason for my uniform either. The real reason I created my school uniform—khakis and an array of golf shirts paired with my favorite Keen hiking shoes, is because I can’t coordinate fashion.  It sounds so much better when I put it in a sociopolitical context and cite data, performance, experts, and research, though.

The truth is, I can’t shop for clothes. It causes me anxiety. Serious, go-see-someone type anxiety. Oh, how I’ve prayed that I’d win a contest and have Carson Kressley walk through my door saying, “Oh, no! We’re going to take care of that girl right now.” And he would wave his fashion wand over me like Cinderella’s haute couture godmother, replacing The Uniform with things that make runways appear before with the speed of light.

But he didn’t appear, and I struck out on my own. I went to several stores, tossed some things around and emerged with one measly shirt.  One…shirt.  I feel no achievement  at this because I already own that shirt in three different colors.

First, I failed to find a suitable pair of shoes in a warehouse of more than a thousand pairs of designer shoes.  I walked out overwhelmed and empty-handed. Next, I exasperated the kind retail professional who pulled out all the stops to show me a million outfits that just might do. At outfit twenty, I told her she deserved a raise.  She laughed a little.  Just a little. Because what I said was true.

She brought me blue suits (too Republican National Convention). Cranberry pants, pink shirt, (too ice cream shoppy), grey flannel “blazer,” (to bathroby-Thurston-Howell-the-Thirdy), a purple shirt (too “holy crap that’s ugly”) and some fancy shirts—shirts with low necklines and flowers tied in the middle in just the right spot to make me feel like I had a third boob.

When The Girl Who Deserved A Raise finally escaped for a breather, I struck out to find something on my own. I found the shirt.  It had been folded into a perfect square, with about fifty little pins, pieces of cardboard, and plastic collar supports ensuring that it would look perfectly square forever when matched up with other perfect squares lined up in perfectly aligned rows. Was I even supposed to touch this?  After reading the shirt-origami instructions, which were completely in Japanese, I unraveled the booby traps I tried it on.  And there was. The shirt. My one, tiny, victory.

All in all, I think I failed. And I blame Carson Kressley, who did not come to my rescue. Couldn’t he have taken one little day away from his busy schedule transforming slovenly bachelors for me? I’m hoping somebody will send me his number.

As a last resort, I considered putting an ad on Craigslist, “Professional fashion-deprived individual seeks kept woman to help her shop for clothes. Must have at least five years experience spending husband’s money. No leopard print need apply.” But I can’t tell a Gucci from a Prada, and I think Vera Bradley looks like very much like my grandmother’s front room curtains. And certainly don’t want someone else’s initials written all over my purse to the tune of five Benjamins.  Generally, a cloth shopping bag suits me just fine. I might be beyond redemption. Better not to waste someone’s time.

So now I’m home, waiting for the anxiety to pass and my heart rate to return to normal. I’m going to retreat to my desk and come up with seven more studies that show scientific proof that the school uniform will indeed be the key to education reform. And then, I’ll wear it forever.