She sat me down for a serious talk.
“This is Elizabeth City, not San Diego. You can’t wear those disco jeans to school.”
The “disco” jeans to which she referred were my favorite jeans with a satin rainbow on the back pocket. But they were much, much flashier than the Levis 501’s that Kitty and every other kid in our class wore.
So, she took me to the mall to buy my very first pair of 501’s.
Today you can go to a retailer and easily purchase a pair to fit. If, like me, you have much longer legs than the norm (thanks to my 6’4”, all legs father), you can always go online and order a well-fitting pair on the interwebs.
But back in the day (1979), it didn’t work that way.
One had to go big—four inches to be exact. Raw, 100% cotton denim is eminently shrinkable. Like a cashmere sweater washed in hot water and thrown into a dryer shrinkable. For 501’s, the jeans weren’t pre-shrunk, the buyer was responsible for that part.
Just throw them into a washer on hot, and dry them until the desired size is reached, correct?
We were high schoolers, with a love of ritual and all things complex and convoluted. Arcane procedure is a bonding experience.
And the procedure to shrink these Levi’s?
You had to fill the bathtub with the hottest tolerable water, don the duds and get in. Then sit in the tub, wearing heavy, saturated pants. For an hour or so, long enough to dye both legs and tub indigo.
The purpose for this lunacy was for the jeans to draw up to perfectly fit one’s own body.
Of course, just like today’s so-called “miracle” life hacks on Facebook and the like, the hype is different than reality. The jeans shrunk to size, but were no better fitting than the 501s purchased in one’s own size today.
As for shoes, Kitty informed me there was only one very specific type that was acceptable among our classmates.
They had to be white Nikes, with a blue swoosh. And canvas—not leather. Evidently, the leather version automatically declared the wearer was a parvenue. Upperclassmen were allowed to own an additional type of shoe; Sperry (Lord help the child who wore no-name knock-offs) Topsiders, or as we called them, “boat shoes”.
For shirts, there were a plethora of options—as long as it was a 100% cotton, button-down, Oxford cloth shirt or a polo.
And the variety didn’t end there. The button-downs could be in a rainbow of white, blue, pink (both boys and girls), and yellow. Either solid or striped—the mind boggles.
As for the polos, a Lacoste pique cotton was the ideal. But that little alligator came at a steep price—usually more than thirty dollars. And most parents balked at paying the price, which was enough for a family to eat out, see a movie and buy some milk duds and popcorn. Most kids only had a few, highly treasured Lacoste’s.
So, there was a concession to the realities of the economy.
If there wasn’t enough bank for a reptile to decorate your chest, a tiny little tiger was acceptable. The Le Tigre shirt, which sold for about twelve bucks was, in every other respect, identical.
But regardless the animal on your shirt; collars popped, please. It didn’t become the move of the obnoxious rich kid until Tom Cruise did it in Risky Business. Add that pop to a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers and you had the rich, entitled villain of every single teen movie until 1990.
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