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.


Congratulations. You’re the Proud Owner of a (Pre)Teen. Don’t fear!

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You’re looking at the candles on the cake and getting scared.  You know it’s coming, and you’ve tried to avoid it. You want to keep that cute little person small–there are so many advantages to having a cute, little person, but it’s inevitable.  It’s happening, it’s undeniable. The forces are stacked against you, and you never see it coming. Soon, you will have…a teen.

You may be a first-time teen parent, or you may still be in shock or denial from the last teen who ran through your house. Let me take a moment to run you through the signs that you may be growing a teen, and what to do about it. You need not be afraid.

  • Less food in the house.  Well, this is not exactly true. There will continue to be a steady supply of Things Nobody Likes, like baby spinach, for example, but if you go to a big box store for lunch supplies, snacks, chips, and candy trying to stock up so that you don’t have to shop daily–beware. It’ll last about three days. All frozen food is at risk. If you have any “once in a while” treats for yourself, they will be gone. Now’s a good time to start hiding those things. You can also mislabel them in bottles that say “soy milk,” “tofu ice cream,” or “protein bar.” Works like a charm–after all, adults need to eat, too.
  • Interesting fashion. This can go several ways, and will be a topic for a complete post about the care and wellbeing of your teens.  However, general trends include:
    1. Fashion from twenty years ago that was really bad when it was in your closet. Makes you want to laugh and embarrass them in public, doesn’t it? Everyone told me that wearing teal on teal with bangles and gel bracelets looked ridiculous when I did it in the late 80’s, but I refused to believe them until I saw the photos memorialized in my high school yearbook. Where they will sit FOREVER.  That’s okay, because I have no shame, and bad fashion creates awesome photographs. There’s no saving your teen from this–they have to learn for themselves.
    2. “Goth” fashion.  Everything’s black and they are required to look angry all the time.  Makes you want to chuck a history book at them and inform them that “goth” period had beauty–stained glass windows and awe-inspiring cathedrals,  not angry teens dressed in dark garb looking like they missed the last train to the British Punk revival. And one more note: VAMPIRES AREN’T REAL!!
    3. Harajuku. These are anime teens who love all things Japanese and are mad at you because you didn’t allow them to be born in Japan.  They draw and read anime, and often dress like cartoons. Watch out for the primary-colored hair, folks! Here’s a piece of Japan-related trivia to make you feel better–the Japanese teens are wearing Yankee hats getting mad at their parents because they’re not American.  I’m currently working on a large-scale international “exchange student” trade that will allow you to ship your teens overseas until they appreciate you more. You just have to take a Japanese kid to a baseball game in return–it’s a good tradeoff.
    4. GQ.  This will kill your wallet.  These teens wear brand names can neither spell or afford, including ripped jeans made by underpaid garment workers in foreign countries sold for far too much money.  But for all intents and purposes these guys look pretty dapper in public. They hog the bathroom and buy “product” that costs more than your car payment. I have an entire business plan formed around this group–I want to source a supply of inexpensive jeans and sit down watching TV ripping holes in them, and undercut the price of the factory-ripped jeans by fifty percent.
    5. Inappropriate fashion. Don’t worry, teens don’t really believe in the skin-tight pants belted around their waist making them walk like penguins. They don’t love sagging their pants and mooning the public.  They don’t love clothes that barely cover their bodies or clearly don’t fit. They know the direction their hats are supposed to point–they’re making a statement. No one is really sure what that statement is but then again, did your parents know why you were out there protesting war, social injustice, animal cruelty or whatever? They’re just trying to get even with you. That’s their job.
  • They live in their room.  They don’t come out unless they have a friend with a better room–if so, you can get them to dwell in their friend’s cave, you can save some money on your food budget.
  • They don’t want to be seen in public with you as much.  This is not always true–in every group of teens, there is one “cool parent.”  Statistics say that it’s probably not you. If it is not, your teen will tell you about this constantly. If you are the “cool parent,” you are lucky. You harness a rare power over your teen–the power to embarrass in front of friends. This should never be underestimated.  It can quell potential rebellion in many key situations.
  • They are glued to their phones and devices. This shouldn’t disturb you, because one of the main signs of approaching teendom is that you become far less intelligent or significant than their friends. You can use this to your advantage–insist that you be allowed to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or where ever. Know that they are trying to out-tech and out-privacy you and defeat them in their tracks. Monitor their texts because as my dad said, “Privacy begins at the end of the driveway.” As a parent, you need leverage–you have the single power to cut their ties to the world like a North Korean dictator. YOU can censor the internet. It’s a beautiful thing.

I could go on, and on, but in all seriousness, I love teens. I have hundreds of them this year in my classes. I have helped raise two and have taught nearly a couple thousand of yours. They’re the best group on the planet.  They have enthusiasm, spirit, compassion, vision, and the time to get things done.  I always remember this at “life planning time.” I’m filling out the college recommendations, mentoring a senior project, guiding my senior advisory to graduation, and teaching a whole lot of students who want to change the world.

Teens have issues. They also solve them.  Recently, the teens in my school responded to one of my colleague’s requests for help with a hurricane Sandy drive, and mobilized the region–including organizations from two states.  I couldn’t have been more proud.  The organization “Student Voice,” is a movement for students organized by students that advocates for student issues.  I see them on social media tackling ed reform and other tough issues, refusing to allow their voices to be left out of the solutions.

If that’s not enough to convince you, take a moment and watch this video produced by the organization Values.com.  Every time I watch this I get goose bumps, because I know that this is the side of teens that I most see–the girl who won’t allow bullying, the kid who says, “Hey, pay attention to the lesson,” and the teens that are always willing lend a helping hand.  This past couple of weeks I’ve been buried in work.  On two separate occasions, my teens stepped in and said, “Miss, let me get that for you,” and helped me out with critical classroom things like filing, setting up for lessons, and discussing ideas.  What lifesavers.  While teens on the surface seem to be in their own separate universe, they’re not. They’re highly social beings that will step in when you need them. They’re soon to be adults with highly-honed areas of expertise we can harness and use.  Don’t let them fool you because they tell you you’re stupid–they respect you. They just have an image to protect.

So, don’t look at your ten-year old with fear.  Imagine the thoughtful, caring, creative person he or she is going to become, and remember–it’s a teen’s job to hide that from you. Just play along.