26 August 2008

High school clothes: FOUR stripes??!! Nooooooo!!!

Or: "Don't feed the shirt animals"

Nettiemac's post about clothes shopping has nudged some memories to the forefront, and I cannot let these go by without offering up my own experiences.

I graduated high school in 1983, meaning I was at ground zero of some profoundly interesting clothing trends. Just between 1978 and 1980 alone was like 20 years ... collars got shorter, things got 'preppy' (so how many layers did girls wear in 1982? Turtleneck, oxford shirt, sweater, another turtleneck, yet another oxford, with a Members Only jacket just in case you're still cold after all that insulation), and we began sporting embroidered animals and shoe stripes as Major Status Symbols.

Yeah, shoes. Back in 1980, you could tell the brand of "tennis shoe" a person wore at 100 paces. Adidas shoes had three stripes, and had been around for awhile .... the Adidas shirts were very popular in the late '70s. Adidas, as some of us remember, stood for (A)ll (D)ay (I) (D)reamed (A)bout (S)ex, but that's neither here nor there.

I think it might've been Nike, which seemed to explode in popularity along about 1979, at least in Cape Girardeau. And it seemed like the "swoosh" ushered in distinctive symbols of the other athletic shoe brands ... Converse, long famous for their "Chuck Taylor" basketball shoes, also sold leather shoes with a pointy bracket to the right of a star. Pony shoes had a right-angle along the back. New Balance had, and still has, the letter N. There were a couple others, but they escape the stale and hardened mind as I sit.

Then you had the department store brands. I can remember some of the names today .... Payless had a line of tennis shoes branded "Pro Wings." One of the other shoe stores - Kinney, maybe? - had "Jox." Yeah, Jox. But that's no match for Kmart, who proudly sold a brand of athletic shoe called Trax. My, how uber-'80s-digital-new-wave-with-it. A Franke & The Knockouts cassette and a pair of green and white Trax. Oh sweetheart, you're so screwed.

Trax, Jox, Pro Wings and the other faux-brand shoes all had four stripes. Adidas had dibs on three. And those fake stripes were skinnier than the Adeeds, so there was no bright idea of unraveling that dreaded fourth chevron. They were ahead of you, smart-aleck freshman.

And then we have Sears. Good ol' Sears, Roebuck & Company, the company in the upper left hand corner of my Dad's paychecks between 1965 and 1993. You know the Sears brands like Kenmore and Craftsman, but they also had their own lines of clothing, right down to the shoes on your feet. Tennis shoes - if memory serves, their 'private label' brand of Converse "Chucks" were branded Jeepers. Jeepers, Creepers, where did you get those sneeeeeakers??

But in the late '70s, Sears decided to be "modern" and they trotted out an athletic shoe called The Winner II. (I don't recall a shoe called just "The Winner"). I think W2s were made by Converse, and while they didn't have the dreaded four stripes, it was instead some weird design I can see in my mind, but difficult to describe. Two stripes and a horizontal line back to the heel - can you form a mental picture from that?

And The Winner II was the brand of shoe my brother and I had to wear up to and including 9th grade.

I told myself at least it wasn't TRAX<<<, or -- did I mention Montgomery Ward's brand of tennis shoe? They were called Skips. I swear on a stack of 45s. Skips. Four stripes, each with one word, forming the sentence: BEAT ME UP, NOW.

At least we didn't have a Dad working for Ward's, I told myself time and time again.

My parents were the paragon of a united front. They weren't terribly affectionate with one another in front of us, but they didn't argue and disagree in our presence, either. But it appeared clothing soon became a rare point of contention.

If it were up to my Dad, this pimpled white boy would've been dressed as a 100% Sears fashion plate. It was the kiss of death, to be sure. And at age 15, I did not understand, but as I got older (side note: I love torturing my 16-year-old son with the phrase "You'll understand when you're older") I saw Dad's view for what it was: loyalty to his employer. I appreciate that now, especially seeing as how Sears - back then! - treated its workforce very well.

Understandable, but loyalty didn't mean a thing to a 15-year-old quasi-retard trying to at least visually "fit in."

It was Mom who did what she could to get her two children into a few brand-name duds. It started in 9th grade, when my pair of Winner IIs were pretty much ruined (pronounced: "roo-ent") during a bike trip to a nearby state park. Ankle Deep in the Muddy Creek. It was an accidental incident involving missing signage and what I thought was part of the equestrian trail was actually a dry creek bed, feeding right into a larger mudbed - within view of the Mississippi River, no less.

Oh boo hoo, my cheap Sears tennis shoes are roo-ent. Cry me a drought-plagued Old Man River bed.

I don't know what happened Behind Closed Master Bedroom Doors, but Mom took me shopping for some replacement shoes. Two months into 9th grade, I was the proud owner of a pair of $38.00 Nike Leather Cortez shoes. Hot bediggety damn on a muddy pair of Skips, I own a pair of Nikes!!!!

Never mind how much 9th grade was below hell. Part of me felt good wearing the Nikes. I still looked like TIMMYYYYYY!!!!!!!!! in P.E. class, but golldurnit I looked like TIMMYYYYYY!!!!!!!!! in a spiffy pair of leather Nikes.

And Mom -- just as Nettie's mother said -- made it abundantly clear to me that if anything happened to those Nikes, that I'd be wearing The Winner IIs forever and ever, amen.

Jeepers, Mom!

No, son, The Winner II.

Then came Fall 1980. Back-to-school shopping was a little different this year. I started 10th grade with two (2) gen-ewe-ine Izod Lacoste polo shirts. One red, the other brown. And two -- count 'em -- two pairs of gen-ewe-ine Levi's jeans. Not the "Roebucks" stuff from Sears, the real deal. Levi's.

With my Dad cringing on the inside, I walked into Cape Central High School on day #1 of my sophomore year wearing my red Izod with Levi's jeans. And Nike Cortez shoes.

Dad was cringing because I wasn't wearing HIS animal. Izod had the alligator, of course. JCPenney had their "fake Izod" polo shirt with a fox (I commented on Nettie's blog post that wearing The Fox Shirt meant, "I wanted to be stylish, but I hit the brick wall of parental resistance."). Not to be out-crittered, Sears had to throw their animal into the circus, and the bright minds in the Sears Tower chose a dragon. The Braggin' Dragon, it was called.

Dad was proud of that Dragon. But both of his children were mortified of it. Fortunately, Mom was a strong advocate. We got the alligator. (The Fox was the absolute last thing we had to worry about wearing!)

Then in 11th grade, I was given a yellow-colored specimen of something called a Polo shirt (with a capital P). 1981 was the first time I'd ever seen the Ralph Lauren polo player. And I'd go on to own a handful of Polos over the course of the decade.

Then and now, it's amazing what clothes can do for a high school person. And that's a big reason I think school uniforms are a very, very good idea.

My brother, though, ultimately had it much easier. For along about 1984, Sears started its "Brand Central" concept, introducing real brand names into its stores. Now you could buy a pair of Levi's jeans or Nike shoes at Sears.

The battle was over. The dragon lost, and left the building ... taking that pallet of Winner-II shoes with him.

Today? I'm wearing a $15.00 pair of Wal-Mart specials I bought last October. They're about to fall apart, too, so I don't think I'm gonna get a whole year out of 'em. Oh well.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "It's different at age 43 and having to buy shoes with my own money" Gleck


nettiemac said...

I have never laughed so hard as I did reading this -- especially about the "braggin' dragon" (BOY, do I remember the ads for those in the famed "Wish Book" and other catalogs).

And remind me to post about the Cuga story as well..... a/k/a The Day My Brother Wanted To D.I.E. Right On The Spot.

nettiemac said...

And this: I was actually looking through my 7th & 8th grade yearbooks over the weekend, when I was thinking about that conversation with my friends. There were mostly little tiny gators, and a few of The Fox, but I didn't see any dragons that I can recall.

By 9th grade, no one cared if there were an animal, an embroidered dude on horseback, or what beastie was on the shirt. They were still all over the place, but it wasn't quite as urgent as to which brand it was. I suppose it was a foreshadowing of the next couple of years of Reaganomics to come.