Probably one of the best things about being a little kid was never having to worry about what clothes I was going to wear. I know this isn’t a novel reflection, that most little kids don’t really spend any time considering their outfits, but it’s still something to think about, to put life into perspective, into a point of view that makes me feel like I took my childhood for granted, like I used to be able to just go outside and feel great without caring at all about how I looked.
I don’t remember ever going clothes shopping as a little kid. My mom would just buy stuff and there it would be in my dresser drawers, shirts, pants, whatever. We did have to go to the shoe store to buy sneakers, because with footwear I guess you need more of a precise fit, and that shoe guy needed to get out his foot measuring device and everything. Oh yeah, and no laundry, that was another great thing about this whole setup. I didn’t have to buy my clothes, didn’t have to pick them out, and I just threw everything in the dirty pile to have washed and folded for me by my mom.
I did have some cool outfits that I remembered preferring over others. One summer when I was like seven or eight I remember having this neon green mesh tank-top/neon green and black shorts combo. I felt so cool all decked out in neon green. I felt a Power Ranger, even though Power Rangers wouldn’t be around for another four years or so, but you know, I’m just remembering this stuff, and so it doesn’t have to be exactly chronological.
And when you’re a little kid, you’re constantly growing, so nothing ever fits right, but it doesn’t really matter. Who cares if your pants are inch too short? It was the same with holes in your jeans. Whatever, just give me something clean. Or not clean, who cares? Just give me something to wear so I can get back to playing video games and tormenting my little brothers and sisters.
I remember exactly when things turned sour. Seventh grade. I had just switched schools. Going to a Catholic school, I had the whole uniform thing to buy me about a month’s worth of time, time enough to go about my day to day activities without really worrying about my clothes or what my friends were wearing. But I remember the first time I got together with some of my classmates outside of school, one of the other kids said, “Nice shirt,” in a mocking way that I didn’t even get until much later that night. What was wrong with my shirt? I think my grandmother had given it to me for Christmas one year, maybe two years ago. I had never even considered shirts something to be made fun of.
A couple of weeks later, my parents signed me up for basketball, and it was the same thing. I showed up for the first practice wearing a blue and white tie-dyed Bill & Ted t-shirt. I have no idea where it came from. I definitely didn’t pick it out. But whatever, it was a t-shirt. I think I was wearing plaid shorts also. As soon as I showed up, my coach asked me, “What did you get dressed in the dark?” Again, I couldn’t even piece together the joke/insult until much later, that’s how far my mind was from clothing.
As I settled into my new school, I figured out that everybody wore JNCO jeans, these super baggy pants that outside of hindsight, even right in the moment, they looked ridiculous. I realized this during our first dress down day at school. Seriously, the only good thing about Catholic school was that you got to wear a uniform, you got to remove clothing as something you had to be self-conscious about, which, until this first dress-down day, I was never conscious of. I wore a Pavel Bure Vancouver Canucks jersey, a favorite of mine from the 1994 Stanley Cup finals when, unfortunately, the New York Rangers won the playoffs. Those assholes.
Dress down days are a cruel joke. You can’t go from uniform to dress down in a single day and expect there not to be any problems. I had no experience in dressing down. It’s like if all of the sudden the school instituted a Braille day, where everybody had to read with their fingertips. I go into school wearing my hockey jersey, and the first thing I’m greeted with is some uptight teacher screaming at me that my shirt was too baggy and that I had to tuck it in. Tuck in a hockey jersey? Right this second! Now!
I looked like a huge loser. And then there was the whole JNCO thing. Being new to the school, I had no idea that every other person in my class owned a pair of JNCOs. I think I was wearing a pair Wrangler jeans from JCPenny. I had never wanted a day of school to be over faster in my entire life. For the rest of the year, any time we had dress down, I just wore my uniform instead and claimed I had forgot. Much better than trying to figure out how to put together a cool outfit.
I’m glad those days are behind me, but I’m still scarred. I’ve been left super self-conscious, about my clothes, about my appearance. But since I really don’t have a sense of style, I just stick to very utilitarian items, jeans, t-shirts, hoodies. That’s kind of like a uniform for guy in his late twenties. I’ll go to a bar and everybody’s wearing the same thing. And it’s much better. I wish there really were uniforms, for life, nothing to worry about, nothing to get all self-conscious about, constantly checking your self-image in any reflective surfaces, worrying that your basketball coach is going to pop up out of nowhere and make a crack about your shorts in front of all these new kids.