Back To School Memories: Gant Shirts And An Air Force Parka

gant blue shirt

Previous contributor James Kraus herein shares some back-to-school memories from the late ’60s. If you came of age in the Ivy heyday or preppy ’80s and have sartorial and scholastic memories you’d like to share, please send them over using the contact button above.

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The earliest memory I have of any particular back-to-school attire was the ensemble I wore on the first day of seventh grade in the autumn of 1966. During the summer, I’d developed an awareness that clothing could do more than cover the body: it could help bestow that elusive aura of cool.

Seeing what slightly older, seemingly hip guys wore at the country club, the A&W Root Beer stand, and the Dairy Queen that season, I picked up some ideas. Among the back-to-school items, I recall three favorites: a popover nylon windbreaker with front kangaroo pocket, and two Gant “Batiste Hopsack” three-collar-button sport shirts, one in dark red and the other olive.

For some reason this was the first year that I actually looked forward to returning to school rather than lamenting the end of summer vacation. First day back to class I wore the olive batiste over a pair of white Levis. I felt like a real BMOC. The gals went crazy —at least I like to think that they did.

The following year was a tough one. My family had pulled up stakes and relocated to a town that seemed to lack any decent men’s shops. The best I could do for the big back-to-school day was what can probably be best described as a rather exuberant tiki-print shirt.

Fall of 1968 was much better and a return to form, of sorts. I was now enrolled in a private high school that had no uniform, but did have a dress code requiring ties with blazers or sportcoats. However, it was an open secret that the rules were quite flexible on day one.

The sartorial times were a-changin’ (along with everything else), and for the big day I donned my grooviest late-’60s ensemble. With a pair of glen plaid slacks, I sported a navy blue double-breasted blazer over a white turtleneck — topped off with a neck chain and pendant! Who loves ya, baby?

I wasn’t the only one: three classmates showed up similarly attired. Amazingly, no one turned up in a Nehru jacket, although a cousin of mine chose one for his wedding attire just a month prior, a dubious wardrobe decision immortalized in surviving wedding photos.

In 1972 it was off to college. I was prepped with a fresh wardrobe of buttondowns, mostly of the discreetly patterned print on poplin variety, chinos in tan and navy, and an N-3B Air Force parka for the cold days that lay ahead. Two things dawned on me fairly quickly. Compared to the student body at large, I was rather overdressed. By this time fraternities were dying off, and so was any semblance of a stylish campus wardrobe. Secondly, seemingly everyone wore an N-3B. Luckily most chose navy blue, whereas I had gone for Air Force green.

As time wore on and the days grew shorter, I came to the realization that dressing well in such an environment was in all probability a misuse of time and effort — particularly since it didn’t seem to assist in the task of attracting comely coeds. During Christmas break I decided to throw in the towel and adopt the uniform of Post-Ivy Joe Student.

I returned to the hallowed halls in January to henceforth wear nothing more to class than blue jeans, t-shirts, and my trusty N-3B parka. My shirts generally trumpeted notorious dive bars and sketchy musical acts.

These days I am back to dressing like it’s 1966, own no t-shirts, and only wear jeans — a pair of Levis bought in 1995 — about once a year. I still have the parka. — JAMES KRAUS

James Kraus runs the vintage car blog Auto Universum and the culinary site Jet Age Cooking.

8 Comments on "Back To School Memories: Gant Shirts And An Air Force Parka"

  1. “Glen Plaid slacks” sounded awful until I remembered seeing them on Thomas Moore:

    Then again, he even makes a highlighter yellow cardigan look good.

  2. Excellent. I thought I was the only guy that liked the pull over wind breaker with kangaroo pocket.

  3. I owned one without a hood in sixth grade, 1964. The cool kids wore them, but were like wearing a sandwich bag.

  4. A turtleneck on the first day of school? Anywhere in the US, with the possible exception of north-central Alaska, it’s definitely too hot to wear a turtleneck in early September.

    I’ve pretty much given up on turtlenecks in general. It’s like a scarf you can’t take off – not convenient.

  5. A Bridge Too Far | September 6, 2016 at 5:56 pm |

    I can understand the turtleneck in early September. When a teen, I loved a sweater I got for my birthday so much I would wear it in mid-September, but had to take it off mid-morning due to the warm weather. Wore lots of turtlenecks, too, and still do (but now, just in the winter). When the snow flies there is nothing like a turtleneck. We wear scarves, as well. Great write-up.

  6. I can remember quite a few high school clothes, as we were pretty brand/fashion conscious even in my small town school…within Southern pre-frat limits, that is.

    But I really can’t recall much of what I wore in college and law school, 1968-75, except for the “Wheat jeans” period of 70-71. Never got much into “authentic peasant” or counter-culture stuff, I know that, but what I DID wear just sort of evaporated from memory.

  7. Nice story. Christian, whatever happened to the related articles links that used to appear before the comments? They were a treasure trove of additional reading and I hope they return.

  8. Good catch. We had that comments problem last week and it looks like when it got fixed that Related Posts section disappeared.

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