Nerdy-thirty years of fashion | By Sally Deskins
I’m turning thirty-one this month, so I thought I’d reflect on a few nerdy fashion moments in the three decades of my life so far (a few of the many), as we are calling for writing about “Fashion in Literature” for the next Lit Undressed in October with (downtown) omaha lit fest (details below).
When I was ten in the fourth grade, I was the new kid. Already a shy girl, I was nervous most of the time and did my best to wear “cool clothes.” I wore my black stretch pants constantly with stretch-socks over them, and black high-top Keds every day during the winter. Summer months were clad with bright soccer shorts and extra-large t-shirts, tied at the corner, of course. Neon scrunchies and slap-bracelets abound, my favorite summer shoes were jellies.
But my most memorable fashion moment from fourth grade doesn’t come from what I wore to school, but what I wore to bed. I had this t-shirt of my mother’s that she wore in college. It had a Cathy cartoon with a tennis racket and some saying about the sport (I didn’t know Cathy from Sally Forth, I think I just liked wearing something my mom wore when she was “cool”). With blue three-quarter-length sleeves, it was old (to me, from the 1970s), comfy, and I had worn it to bed since I was five, when it fit me like a nightgown, down to my knees.
By the time I was ten, of course, it was approaching t-shirt fit, but I still wore it just the same. Mistakenly, I took it to a slumber party at Erin’s house, the popular girl, the girl who wore Gap clothes and talked loud and was never nervous. The slumber-party was tolerable, I remember not sleeping much, as the girls froze one of the other girl’s underwear, of course, and tried to coax another to wet her sleeping bag with a bowl of water on her hand while she was asleep. It was a success for me, I laughed when I was supposed to, and stayed out of the mean conversations. The next day I realized I forgot my prized nightie at Erin’s house; I called her, she said she’d bring it to school Monday, no problem.
When I walked down the hall Monday morning to Ms. Dinslage’s classroom, all the kids were laughing, hovered around Erin’s cubby. When I approached, Erin ducked out, lifted my Cathy shirt up, and said, “here’s your pajamas, Sally! Hahaha!” I am not kidding, she had a loud, mean laugh. Though I realize if I were less nervous I could have not cared and snapped right back at her something smart. But to this day, I never think of smart comebacks until at least twenty-four hours after situations. I stood there, staring, shaking. I grabbed it, stuffed it in my bag. All the kids but my crush, Peter, went into the classroom. “Will you wear that for me? Its cute!” Peter said, smirking. Cringing with embarrassment and anger, I said nervously, “Never!” and stormed around him into the classroom, sinking in my seat, hoping people had forgotten. I started wearing shorts with the shirt to bed after that.
Ten years later, I was none the cooler. Twenty was my sophomore year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as an art major. Admittedly, however, and thankfully, I had gained confidence, and focused more on comfort for class, and kitschy for evenings out. I prided myself on my Goodwill finds, 1970s pale yellows and pinks, low-rise bell-bottom jeans and overalls. The year was filled with changes; my parents adopted my two younger brothers from Cambodia, and my older brother got married in Texas. I moved to the hills of Pennsylvania to be a camp counselor-jewelry teacher that summer. I didn’t know anything about jewelry making except for making a few friendship bracelets, and I had only babysat once in my life—but, what I lacked in experience, I made up for with gusto. I got the job, packed up what I thought were appropriate camp clothes—cut-off shorts, old t-shirts, definitely no accessories. I was stoked for the new adventure.
When I showed up, it was nothing like the camp I remembered attending (and hating) in rural Nebraska when I was younger. Limos, Rolls Royce’s, BMWs filled the parking lot with blingy luggage, and a few private airplanes landed to let some families off in the clearing. The young girls were clad in Dolce and Gabana, Armani, and other name brands I had never thought possible someone young to even touch; gold earrings and diamond necklaces galore, I was stunned. My cabin assignment was sixteen-year-olds, the eldest of the campers, the most challenging.
Each night the girls would blow-dry their hair, pile on the make-up, for dinner to meet the boys. They stayed up all hours of the night talking boys, sex, gossip and clothes. They asked me questions but I feigned sleep to avoid the talk. Admittedly I was not a good camp counselor; I was out of my realm. Though I wasn’t poor in the least, and was definitely spoiled by comparison to most of the world, and admittedly, my high school was nick-named “Hollywood High” for a reason, this was still unlike anything I had experienced. I remember them making fun of me for bringing one pair of ratty old brown sheets, when they brought two or three varieties of bed sets. Unbelievable. This was camp!
My nerdy-fashion moment of the summer was two-fold; one, when I was going out on my one-night out to a bar down the road in New Jersey, getting “dressed up,” I put on my hand-made jean skirt I crafted out of a pair of my old jeans, with a belt I had made out of a rope and a wooden button from the jewelry room, and of course a t-shirt I tried to cut-up to be cute. I thought myself quite creative and looking cool, when I received giggles and whispers from the girls. “Do you want to borrow my clothes?” They asked, for they were sixteen but definitely developed, a few of them. I didn’t, of course, but I slunk out of their make-up madness and out into the world outside of camp, thankful for each moment without those kids. Great birth control, it was, being with them all day and night, waking them up in the morning. I decided not to have kids. I came home in my grubbiest that last day of camp, took pictures with the campers, was pretty sure they’d remember me as the poor hick from the Midwest. When I got home I cried from relief, and got my hair braided, just to remind myself, probably, that it is most fun (for me personally) not to be a high fashion queen.
My thirtieth year and I have two kids, and all the nerdier. My nerdy fashion moments from the year lie in lack of fashion, ironically, as I somehow found myself on the other end of art-making, as an art model. The first gig I had last summer for an art class, I foolishly walked around the gallery during breaks and afterward sans robe, only to be told afterwards that is a definite faux-paus. The rest of the year has been filled with robe-running—that is, me in a robe, running errands around the city. I frequently forget my shoes, and, usually don’t care enough to go back and fetch them, so many a dates I’m happy and shoe-less. My nerdness has expanded and my fashion has declined.
As I turn thirty-one, I’m embracing my fashion-nerdiness, embracing the fact that truly, I cannot pull off extravagant clothes. I look at mannequins and storefronts and magazines and wonder, I love that! But, would I could I pull that off? No, most undoubtably, I’d look like I was trying too hard. Although I love roaming Goodwills, my children hiding in the racks and picking up old hats and shoes prevent me from finding the coolest stuff. I remember thinking when I was young, “all my mom’s clothes are from the 1970s or 1980s!” (depending on the year). Now I’m pretty sure my daughter will think, “gosh, all my mom’s clothes are from the 1990s or 2000s!” No matter, I wear my old sundresses and corduroys with pleasure.
About Sally Deskins
Sally Deskins is a mother, wife, writer and producer of events such as Lit Undressed. Lit Undressed, in conjunction with (downtown) Omaha lit fest, is calling for poetry and short-short fiction with the theme of Fashion in Literature for the event in October. See omahalitfest.com and facebook.com/litundressed for more information.
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