Jewish World Review August 5, 2005/ 29 Tammuz, 5765

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

Back to Class? | "Back to Class" read the headline on a full page Macy's ad for "back to school" clothes in the L.A. Times. Accompanying the headline was a photo of a couple of eleven or twelve year-old kids dressed like, well, a couple of eleven or twelve year old kids. The boy was in baggy jeans, sneakers, and short sleeve untucked shirt; the girl wore a gypsy-like wrinkled skirt, boots, and white clingy top. Perhaps these two were dressed a tad better than the usual "hanging out at the mall" group, since they weren't in the standard shorts and flip flops — but not too much better. They managed quite nicely to maintain suitable de rigueur sloppiness in their "new" clothes.

It's that time of year again folks, and the newspapers are chocked full of ads announcing all the sales for "back to school" clothing and supplies. I vividly remember what this time of summer felt like when I was going to school — I hated it. As soon as the "back to school" advertising started running on TV and newspapers, my stomach started turning. Those ads signaled that summer was ending and that hell was going to begin again really soon.

Even now, at my advanced age, I can still hear the cheerful jingles from the commercials that the clothing stores ran forty-five or so years ago. The lyrics are as clear as a bell in my head. "Parents know and children go, it's back to Robert Hall again " Gad, how I hated that jingle, but it has built a permanent home in the recesses of my brain. Thanks a lot, Madison Avenue. Every shoe store, clothing store and department store had their own cute little tunes on radio and TV welcoming in the happy arrival of another new school year. Why that gut-wrenching event was cause for celebration was beyond me. You might as well write happy little ditties to accompany tornados, hurricanes, automobile accidents and other disasters.

Even though I despised the thought of going back to school, I have to admit there was a small part of "back to school" shopping that I kind of liked. Getting new clothes was something I didn't get at any other time of the year. My parents didn't, or possibly couldn't, make that sort of monetary outlay for clothing for us kids except for that one time in early September. So going shopping for new duds was a special thing. A new coat, a couple of pairs of new pants, a few new shirts, socks, and new shoes made me feel rich. A new pen and pencil case, new loose-leaf binder, a pink pearl eraser, and a shiny new pen were all things I enjoyed shopping for. If I could have just shopped for the new school stuff without actually having to go to school, it would have been perfect.

Judging by the ads I saw in the Sunday papers this past week, "back to school" clothes and other supplies are as different from what I used to get, as urban rap music is to fifties rock and roll. First of all, a lot of the "new" clothes kind of look like the "old" clothes we schlepped around in BEFORE we went shopping for new clothes. T-shirts, worn jeans, and sneakers were the articles of clothing we wore to climb trees, ride our bikes, and play in the dirt, not to go back to school in.

A flyer for one store devoted an entire page to "back to school" baseball hats. Are kids allowed to wear hats in class now? Maybe asking a child to remove his or her hat is a violation of their civil rights, I don't know. Another big thing in all the ads is the sneakers. To me, they all look alike — big, ugly, white gumboots adorned with various manufacturer's logos. No more Red Goose or Buster Brown dress shoes for school, it's whatever cool new sneaker the cool new sports star is being paid millions to hawk these days.

By far the biggest one item in back to school accessories is the backpack. Backpacks in every conceivable size and color are on sale in just about every price range. Now there are even wheeled backpacks — backpacks that have become so large that they can no longer be carried on the back, they need to have wheels on them like the wheeled suitcases and garment bags. How in the world was my generation able to function at school with only our little pencil cases and binders? Boy, were we deprived!

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Once upon a time backpacks were only seen on hikers or boy scouts, now everybody walks around with one. You see them in Midtown Manhattan just as frequently as you do in the High Sierras and on every age group from babies to seniors. The backpack has become a worldwide staple of everyman. The ultimate egalitarian fashion accessory. What the heck is everybody carrying around in those things anyway? I have a pretty good idea what an Islamic fundamentalist boarding the London Underground may have in his backpack, but what is a ten year old kid wheeling around in his Sponge Bob satchel?

Among some other back to school necessities I saw advertised in the Sunday papers were "back to school make-up and cosmetics." I'm not kidding. Could "back to school condoms" be far behind? Why not "back to school tattoos?" "Back to school body piercing sales" might be a great new way to promote business each fall. I did not see "back to school flip-flops" advertised, although I am fairly certain it must exist someplace.

The "Back to school" sense of dress has sadly gone the way of all dressing up in today's casual world. After all, when adult people come to church in tank tops and shorts, when grownups don't feel the need to dress a little nicer when going out to dinner, or attending any sort of social function, it's no wonder that the younger generation will follow suit (no pun intended). Going to the beach, going to the store, going to court, going to dinner, going to the doctor's office, going to the park, going to school — people dress the same way. Sloppy and ugly.

If only the Macy's headline, "Back to Class" were really true.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2005 Greg Crosby