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