Way Back When


While I was home last week at my mom’s house in Halifax, I came across a goldmine of a photo album of me between the ages of 8 and 12.

It’s an odd window. Before then, most of my clothes arrived in a housefort-sized cardboard box that would come in the mail twice a year from my bubbie and zaidie (mostly my bubbie) in Toronto. The box would be packed to the flaps with toys and department store clothes that always formed the basis for my back-to-school outfits. Every possible nook was filled with pickled herring, mixed nuts, crumbled kosher cookies, and trays of smoked salmon. My brothers and I would joke that we needed to shake out all our clothes before wearing them in case one last can of tuna was hiding in the pockets.

During that time, my family had a string of live-in nannies who, being in their late twenties and early thirties, had themselves been teenagers in the 80s, and all shared a love of its music, hairstyles, and fashion. At the start of the photo album, I’m still being dressed by my nannies in bubbie’s care package clothing. There are strong 80s currents in my top and bottom sets of clashing florals and layered prints. One of my nannies introduced me to wearing tshirts over turtlenecks, which quickly became a staple of my elementary school wardrobe.

By the end of the album, I’m starting to dress myself. That marked the beginning of my new consumerism, my headlong dive into nineties trendiness and mall culture, and my (relatively short-lived) obsession with shopping. Here came the baby tees, the ballchain chokers and friendship necklaces, the sparkly plastic rings, and the 120 bottles-strong nail polish collection.

Since then, I’ve left behind the Disney franchise, Delia’s catalogs, and posing with my stuffed animals. I’ve moved from a pre-braces, pre-puberty, pre-dressing-for-a-bodyshape me to some sort of adult who not only dresses herself, but sometimes even considers outfits in advance of wearing them. Yet, flipping through the old album, I was struck by how similar my style is today. Sure, “The 90s are back!” But even more than individual items, it seems like it’s the way I dress that’s stayed pretty much the same.


Back then, I had my flower-printed Blossom hat, Curious George tshirt, and patterned canvas shoes with fabric paint doodles that I wore with everything. These days, it might be a forest green wool scarf, a faded band tshirt, or a pair of velvet sunglasses, and it’ll probably be different stuff a year from now. But I’m always rotating a few main pieces, grabbing some loud, ugly accessories, and putting it all together with the colours and patterns mashing up against each other. Having the evidence in front of me in these photos, it’s easy to see how much that early environment affected my style.

By high school, it was a new millennium and my clothes had gone off in a different direction. I don’t know if I’m ready to go back there yet. Maybe next time I visit my mom I’ll come across photos from that period and it’ll be far enough in the past for me to remember.

- Tessa Smith

5 thoughts on “Way Back When

  1. Those mirrored, wraparound shades in the first picture are amazing. They’re like half Nascar and half Shield Sunglasses (you know, those ones that fit over prescription specs.) And that picture on the beach is something else. The colour and composition are the definition of nostalgia.

    Also – bubbie! How could a person bearing that moniker not send good things?

  2. @Ave… They look like a similar pair I had… I went through a “wrestling” phase (believe it, guys) and my dad took me to a wwf show in halifax and bought me those bret “the hitman” hart shades.

    Great photos!

  3. I can’t remember where the glasses got them, but I agree with g that they have a very grandma-behind-the-wheel look to them.

    Also worth mentioning that the girl with me in the last photo is the same one who’s wearing the rainforest tee and standing next to me in the crop top pic. BFF :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>