“501s” – our only pants
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Even before TikTok and Instagram came along, it is not like humanity was free of comparison. Even Betty Rubble probably looked at Wilma Flinstone and thought – “Rock necklace, eh? What an uppity beeyatch!”
I was no different, especially as I rolled into teenhood. All of a sudden, just grabbing your cleanest dirty shirt off the floor wasn’t the only question. Nope, no matter how small your cohort you had to look around to see what the cool kids were wearing.
Living in the sticks a lot of my life, clothes shopping was not about a trip to the mall. Rather we had this amazing device called a “Sears Catalogue”. Check out the pages of child models with “Say cheese!” grins, fill in the form, and a host of last year’s generic branded fashions were yours for the taking.
I think as we got older we had a little more say in what Mom ordered, but it was still a pretty small selection and the budget was restrictive.
Near the beginning of high school I moved to a new town. On the first day of school I sashayed through the door (late*) in a shiny new pair of Sears corduroy pants with a canvas belt. I walked in to hear the homeroom teacher saying “Alistair… Scroff?”.
“Here.” I said, and all heads whipped around as I slid into the nearest chair. Even my tablemates Dave and Jay, who were clearly not the cool kids, were not wearing Sears corduroy pants. New school, grand entrance, starting out with a fashion faux pas. Oops.
I think I had one pair of jeans, faded denim, that became my go-to. If I took a hit on the playfield at lunch and smeared them with grass and dirt, that night I would be dutifully walking around in my skivvies while my handwashed jeans drip dried near the wood stove.** If I wasn’t thorough enough with the wringing, the next morning my mom would be yelling at me to catch the bus while I frantically tried to dry-iron the moisture out of them. Anything to avoid the corduroy!
As the second half of the school year rolled around, it looked like things were going to improve in the fashion department.
- Our new town had a shopping mall.
- That mall had a department store.
- That store had in-store credit, with a points program, and my Mom wanted to spend her way to a new barbecue.
The stars were aligning!
There was a problem, this store was Zellers (RIP). Even before they got themselves into deep financial trouble, they must have relied on factory seconds and styles popular in the lesser Eastern Bloc countries.
While I could be quite independent, I was still reliant on my Mommy’s, I mean Mom’s approval. So I came away outfitted with some jeans, probably acid wash, and a black and white striped shirt more suitable for a struggling French artist. I had also been greatly coveting a denim jacket. Not just any jacket, a genuine Levi’s denim jacket. It was the kind of perfect chameleon skin for a 14 year old kid. You could dress it up or down, go a little preppy or rock out with hair band patches or go with studs, rips and magic marker homages to your punk idols. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, so it seemed a wise choice – perhaps the only sensible choice – of spring outerwear.
Now, Zellers didn’t necessarily carry Levi’s, or perhaps the confluence of cost and the magic number of points for my Mom’s new barbecue didn’t add up. But, Mom found a jacket on the rack and assured me I was making a great choice from the secondary options.
The next day I found myself walking the halls in my brand new Federico Phillippe jacket, with its way too dark blue colour, embroidered calligraphy logo and lovely Euro-cut and v-seams. There were some positive aspects to my new look. I certainly made my friends feel a lot better about their fashion choices. And the jacket did go smashingly well with my French artist shirt (which invited a number of yobs to mime the twisting of their waxed moustaches and make rude comments involving baguettes). I suppose you can add this to the list of things that helped contribute to my character, or as I like to call it: “Stuff to talk to my therapist about.”
That summer I saved my pennies and bought my first item of official Levi’s clothing: a pair of jeans, light denim, and discounted as they were irregular – with orange tab. Such a naïve kid… I should have realized it was red tab 501s or nothing!
Eventually I gave up on being fashionable, a trend I have followed until today. My garage sale and thrift shop style is best described as “Mormon eclectic” (there are perhaps 10 LDS churches in a one mile radius of our house).
But, I am happy to report that dreams can come true. Last week Valerie took me to the mall, dragged me past the Cinnabon to the Levi’s jacket rack, and I walked out of there with a classic 501 trucker jacket with the elusive red tab on proud display. Whether it goes well with my grey hair and wrinkles, not so sure (will report back on when I hear my first “Nice jacket, grandpa!”). Regardless, it is a fun example of how we can close off those little bits of unfinished business from our childhoods.
Feel free to weigh in, what did you covet in your childhood but never got to have? Or like me, did you finally go for it as an adult – and relish that first cake from the EZ-Bake oven your parents never bought you?
*”of course” added my wife, but this is my blog so…. Delete.
**”And that was the last time in my life I did laundry” Another suggested edit from Valerie.