Practically since preschool, the only reason I’ve found to look forward to another year of school has been those magic words my mother always uttered right around the beginning of August: “We’ll have to go get you some new clothes.” Each year, my mall-loathing parents dragged themselves to the overcrowded, sweaty shops and put forth their credit cards, presenting me with the chance to grab as many new items as possible and convince them ridiculous finds, like the Aritzia spandex track suits of Grade 7, were necessities.
For me, the strangest thing about back to school shopping was the odd set of rules that my mother strictly enforced for my sister and I. Her rules, combined with my efforts to get as many new things as possible on my parents’ tab, looked a little like this:
1a) We MUST get a new backpack, even if last year’s model is in perfectly good condition.
b) After Grade 8, backpacks were embarrassing and were promptly replaced with trendy, impractical shoulder bags.
c) Coordinate all other purchases around colour scheme on new backpack/bag.
2. Items are to be bought in outfits, from hats down to socks, not as single pieces. This creates a cohesive “school look.”
3. Keep in contact with close friends to ensure they’re not choosing the same pieces, and if they are, at least claim rights to your favorite colour.
4. Even if it’s still 20+ degrees outside, back to school clothing has to include tights, sweaters, jeans and jackets. Tank tops are to be avoided at all costs unless part of an outfit and accompanied by a cardigan.
5. Clothing bought during the back to school shop (or shops) are not to be worn, tried on, or removed of tags before the first day of school. My mother’s theory behind this was that the clothing would no longer be truly “new” if worn too soon. I think it was her secret way of making me excited for the first day of classes.
At the time, back to school shopping was simply a chance to buy new things, but in retrospect, it was also my chance each year to change and grow through my wardrobe, and, when I wasn’t fighting with my mother, to exercise my freedom to shape myself. I’d spend hours consulting friends, sketching warped versions of myself, and laying out my purchases on the bed to ensure I had a new look for each day of the first week back in advance. The clothing I chose depicted the person I wanted to be, and as I began to make my own money, I learned who I was and how I’d changed based on the items I chose to take home.
Although the money is no longer provided by my parents and my school wardrobe is mostly based around surviving the Toronto winter, the need to reinvent myself each fall has continued. I find myself altering the items I do own, thrifting, trading with friends, and splurging on the occasional extra-special item to create the wardrobe I will live in for my last year of university. I can’t help but wonder however, when fall returns next year and I’m no longer cleaning out my computer and buying note books, will I continue to clean out my closet and find a new me?
text by Alyssa Garrison