Though school calendars are different from district to district, where I come from it has been pretty traditional that the first day of school falls the day after Labor Day. The dust barely settling from the State Fair whose Grand Finale of fireworks follows the Labor Day concert. This year it’s Journey and Joan Jett that wraps up the Great Minnesota Get Together.
I loved going back to school in the fall, from kindergarten through college I measured my years not by the Gregorian calendar but by the school year. For twenty five of the years since graduating from college I either worked on a university campus or taught at a preschool. 1991 was the exception but even then I worked retail at a department store and the excitement of back to school was evident in August as clothing for children and bedding and towels for college students filled the bags of shoppers preparing for the impending days ahead.
The hallway of my home has first day of school pictures of my children. Posed together by the front door or trellis by the side of the house. The final two years of my son alone were taken but never hung. I loved watching their growth, their changing hairstyles and “fashion sense”. I have no first day of school pictures from my childhood but typically my outfit of choice for the first day was commemorated in the annual school picture taken a few weeks later. The one exception being the shot of me in third grade wearing a pink and white sweater dress from Young & Quinlans. I had been sick on both the picture day and retake that year (during the era where tonsil removal was not in vogue, even when necessary) so I had my pictures taken at the Montgomery Wards “studio” where I had a variety of poses and felt awkward when the photographer told me I had a “sexy smile”, which I assumed was due to my twice daily ritual of brushing with Crest. I was eight.
School pictures and first day of school outfits really capture the essence of the times. In the fall of 1968 my dress was covered in daisies, the era of flower power. In an early feminist move I sported a pant suit, something that some of the younger school teachers had began wearing, while the older and more traditional teachers continued to wear their dresses. For several years in the late seventies I wore a blouse with a sweater, with my hairstyle being the more distinguishing attribute; pig tails, a home perm, long with a center part, feathered with the use of a curling iron, some strange bangs.
One of my favorite questions used when working on staff development with college students over the years was “Tell us about an outfit or clothing item that you thought was so awesome at the time but looking back you realize was regrettable.” People almost go into a trance, time traveling back to another place with specific recollection. My favorite ever being a fashionable guy who admitted “My grandma sewed me an MC Hammer styled suit in fifth grade that I loved!”.
I recall that the weather was always too hot for whatever outfit I wanted to wear and most of us sat sweating in our best new clothing on that first day each year. I say to those preparing for their first day 2014, choose wisely. In thirty years you will likely remember nothing of what you learn in school on that first day, the odds are greater that you will recall what you wore!