Category Archives: Fashion

Remember High Top Sneakers?

When I was in fifth grade it was decided by a committee of my teacher and my parents that I could graduate from Velcro sneakers to footwear with laces.  At the time these canvas sneakers that went high up on the ankle were very popular.  It was like all the kids wanted to pretend they were in the 1950s and helping Marty McFly get back to the future.

The canvas sneakers that I bought were turquoise in color, and after the newness of the sneakers wore off I indulged in the custom of writing on your sneakers.  Along with laced sneakers, I had also graduated to pens instead of pencils, which was good because it is hard to write on canvas sneakers in pencil.

Most other boys my age who wore the same style of sneaker had written on their sneakers “I love” and then the name of their girlfriend, or “I” and then the shape of a heart and then the name of their girlfriend.  I, being far too absorbed in my quest for the lowest common denominator, had no time for girlfriends, and so wrote on my sneakers “I love toxic waste.”  Somehow my parents, who had paid for the sneakers, did not appreciate my use of irony.

The following year ushered in the reign of the Nike Air.  This was a sneaker made of leather but with a little plastic bubble in the side that was allegedly filled with air.  I was sure that the sneakers would make me float and deliver me from the clutches of the gangs that roamed the hallways of the middle school kicking the backs of students’ feet while they walked.  Oh how I was disappointed to find that the Nike Airs respected the law of gravity, although the gang members were impressed by my insecure obsession with fitting in.

And then came the Reebok Pump.

Yes, my first understanding of the word “pumps” in relation to footwear was not high-heeled women’s shoes, but rather sneakers that had an inflatable pouch inside the tongue.  There was a bright orange rubber button at the end of the tongue that one would push repeatedly, particularly during class, to inflate the tongue, giving a more snug fit and greater basketball dunking capability.

The price of the sneakers was even more impressive than the inflatable tongue.  At well over $100 a pair, perhaps even as much as $200, the Pumps were as unattainable for me as Z Cavaricci pants.  I remember writing my Bar Mitzvah speech on the Exodus from Egypt, while fantasizing that I would receive enough money to buy a pair of Reebok Pumps and Z Cavariccis, and then stroll the hallways at my school and earn the kind of superficial respect of my peers that you see only in B-movies from the 1980s.

But the Reebok Pumps were not all fun and games.  There were reports of people who pumped the Reebok Pumps so much that they cut off the circulation to their feet, which then had to be amputated, and replaced with Prosthetic Pumps.

And there were reports of people being mugged for their Pumps.  How difficult it must have been to deflate and untie one’s sneakers at gun point, and then have to hold the gun while the mugger put on the sneakers and pumped them.
For me, however, the Reebok Pumps remained a fantasy.  At first I told myself that the price was too high, and that I was much better of selling my family’s cow for beanstalk beans than a pair of sneakers.  But I think the real reason was that I did not see myself as a pumper of sneakers.  In fact, it turns that I am not even a fan of high-top sneakers at all.  Today I walk the Earth in a pair of low-top loafers that can be removed easily at the threshold of my home lest the freshly swiffered floor be smudged.  The shoes are dark brown and non-descript, and say absolutely nothing about their wearer except that he loves toxic waste.

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Remember Wearing Fanny Packs?

Remember wearing fanny packs?

I do.

Fanny packs were manufactured pouches of canvas or leather that buckled around the waist and let people live out their fantasy of being marsupials. My fanny pack was turquoise and yellow, and it ensured that my wallet was accessible and that girls were not.  My mother wrote my name in it with black magic marker so that it would not get mixed up with some other kid’s turquoise and yellow fanny pack.

My fanny pack’s greatest journey was on a three-day class trip to Washington, D.C. For months I sold candy bars, saved my allowance, and begged my parents to write a check just so that I could wear my fanny pack to the top of the Washington Monument. I remember being more excited about having my Go-Bots camera and Bronx Zoo wallet at my fingertips than I was about visiting America’s greatest souvenir shops.

I think I will describe fanny packs to my children the way my parents described bell bottom pants to me: everyone wore them. All the kids on that class trip had fanny packs. I won’t go so far as to say that you were not cool without a fanny pack, but it certainly took you a lot longer to get your $10 out for an “authentic” copy of the Declaration of Independence without one.

We were at the Air and Space Museum, looking at the “Spirit of ’76” and wondering whether they served peanuts on it, when a friend of mine tapped me on the shoulder. “Look, Mark,” he said, pointing, “that’s kid’s wearing your fanny pack.” And, lo and behold, there was another kid with a turquoise and yellow fanny pack. He was walking away and I followed him into one of the simulators in the Flight Simulator Zone, where you could say “Folks, this is your captain speaking,” into a microphone and then see how creatively you could explain that the plane was not going to take off for eleven hours. It was dark in the simulator and I could not tell turquoise from other shades of blue. And when I emerged, he was gone. For the rest of that trip I kept an eye out for my fanny pack doppelgänger. I thought I saw him by the Lincoln Memorial, but it was just my own reflection in the Reflecting Pool. I never saw him again, and when I returned from the trip I retired my fanny pack.

I hear that fanny packs are back. They’ve added features like cup holders and USB ports, and it is rumored that Lady Gaga wears a fanny pack made of pastrami. I’ve even considered getting a new fanny pack just to hold all my rewards cards.  I saw the perfect fanny pack in a catalog and got very excited. It was black, and leather, and had a designer’s insignia emblazoned on the front. I took the picture to show my wife what I wanted for my birthday. But when she looked at it, she looked at me, and, without a word, slowly shook her head.

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Remember Snap Bracelets?

Remember snap bracelets (or slap bracelets if that’s what you called them)?

I do.

Snap bracelets were like the Huns. No one knew where they came from, and no one knows what happened to them, but when they were here, no one was safe.

A snap bracelet was a long strip of plastic encased in tight fabric, usually with a fancy print of brilliant color. The snap bracelet had two states – straight and curved. Both states were function of the structure of the plastic strip. When you applied pressure to the middle of the plastic strip, it would snap into a curved shape, like a bracelet, with a satisfying snapping sound.

The proper technique was to snap the snap bracelet over one’s wrist. I generally did not wear bracelets or jewelry of any kind, except a Goofy watch with hands that went counterclockwise around a reverse clock face, which I guess was really clockwise within the Goofy-watch frame of reference. But I wore these snap bracelets.

To this day I have no idea what possessed me to collect and wear snap bracelets. Perhaps it was because the snap bracelet was not just a bracelet. Perhaps I saw snap bracelets as accessories of action. Perhaps I saw the snapping action as a symbol of my own ability to snap into action whenever pressure was applied to my middle. Or perhaps it was because everyone else was wearing them.

The snap bracelets transcended gender, economic status and perceived level of coolness.  They were our armbands in an age when there was nothing for us to wear armbands for. And adults found them irritating.

I vaguely remember that some schools had banned snap bracelets because of student injuries. I don’t know what kind of snap bracelets were being peddled in those districts. The only injuries the snap bracelets in my school could cause would be a black eye from someone who was not amused by the snapping sound and bright colors. Maybe that was what happened at those schools.

At the bus stop we discussed technique for keeping the curve sharp.

“Last night I put my social studies book on top of it and left it there all night.”

“Interesting. I put mine in the freezer.”

“Why do you guys have to do that? Don’t they stay curved?”

“Obviously you haven’t been using snap bracelets that much. Can your parents not afford them?

“Shut up.”

And then one day I turned around and the snap bracelets were gone. I never got a chance to say goodbye. I don’t even remember them going out of style. The snap bracelets had just vanished into thin air, never to be seen again, except in my memories and eBay.

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Remember When It Was Cool To Bend the Bills of Baseball Caps?

Remember when it was cool to bend the bills of baseball caps into almost a cylinder?

I do.

Baseball caps were one of the ways I showed society that I was cool.  When I was a little kid, the really cool way to wear a baseball cap was by pivoting the cap around the head 180 degrees.  Around the time I started high school, though, more and more baseball caps were being worn straight on the forehead but with the sides of the bills curved down so as to make a small arch above the wearer’s face.

It is hard to describe what this extreme bill bend was like.  People used to curve the bill so much that it almost looked like they were wearing rolled up newspapers on their foreheads.  When a group of these extreme bill benders got together in a circle, they looked from afar like a gaggle of tall geese in denim.

I’m not sure how or why this trend developed.  Perhaps the idea was to hide the wearer’s face.  For some people this was good policy.

I received a baseball cap as a gift for my fifteenth birthday and immediately started bending it into the proper shape.  I did this in class when I was supposed to be learning about chlorophyll or something.  A classmate in the next row over, whose baseball cap bill formed almost a perfect circle if you at it straight on, told me that I was approaching the bend all wrong.  “What you have to do,” he said, “is wet the bill, and put a few big rubber bands around it, and put in the freezer for a few days.”

Knowing that unsolicited advice from a random high schooler could never lead me astray, I thanked him and implemented the technique as soon as I got home.  I sprinkled water on the bill, and sculpted it into that curved shape, and wrapped a few thick rubber bands around it, and put it in the freezer between some hamburgers and a Cool Whip container filled with sauce.  Then I went into the living room to watch Saved By the Bell.

Later that evening my mother was preparing dinner.  “Mark,” she called, “can you come in here please?”  I went into the kitchen and she was holding my hat with the rubber bands still on it.  “Would you mind telling me what this was doing in the freezer?”

I told her why.  The die was cast.

“I do not want to find hats in my freezer ever again,” she said.  I wanted to ask her how she expected me to achieve the proper bend in my bill without using proper freezer technique.  I wanted to tell her that if I was to be a leader among my peers, everyone was going to have to make a sacrifice.  But I held my tongue, and accepted my cold, wet, less-than-ideally-bended hat, and somehow survived my high school years.

I do not see many bended bills today, at least not the way they used to bend them.  Baseball caps are still very popular, and a variety of styles have emerged to supplant the extreme bend of my high school days, and I suppose a variety of kitchen appliances are being used to achieve those styles.  I don’t try to keep up.  Although I still have a baseball cap, it does not get much use, as people generally do not hire lawyers who go around in baseball caps.

But once in a while, when I’m at home, and feeling nostalgic…

“Mark,” my wife calls from the kitchen, “can you come in here please?”

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Remember When “Starter” Jackets Were Popular?

Remember when those “Starter” jackets and hats were popular?

I do.

I had never been into sports very much and so I was well into my teens when I learned that a “starter” was someone who played at the start of a game.  It had seemed to me that it was better to not have to start.

One day I noticed other boys wearing these enormous jackets – coats, really – with the logo of a team and the word “Starter” emblazoned on it.  The coats were quite grand looking.  Their wearers strutted around as if they were the starters, as if by merely donning the coats or hat they would be magically transported to the line of scrimmage or whatever it’s called.

There was a commercial, too.  There was always a commercial to go with things like this.  I don’t remember the image, but I do remember the word, “Starter,” spoken in a loud whisper.  The clear implication was that the wearer would walk through the halls and people would say to each other in whispered tones, “That guy over there.  He’s a Starter.  You can tell by the coat he is wearing.”

There was a guy in my math class who was particularly fond of his Starter jacket, giant coat, whatever.  Sometimes he added a Starter baseball cap to his ensemble.  He would stand at the black board and write out sines and cosines and with his back turned other boys in the class would mock him by saying “Starter” in the same loud whisper from the commercial.  I felt a little bad for him.  This feeling did not stop me from participating in taunt.

And then, one day, the Starter gear disappeared.  Vanished from history, like the Huns.  All that remains is a lingering memory of the days of giant jackets.  And sometimes, when the wind blows and rustles the leaves, I think I can almost hear the whisper:  “Starter!”

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