Wednesday, January 5, 2011

In which my orange polyester doubleknit pants split in the back while I am at the blackboard

You may remember my stunning seventh-grade wardrobe. No jeans for me. No sir. Not windowpane jeans or the kind with the seam going up the back of the leg and hugging the butt and then going back down the other leg. No gauchos. No wrap-around sweaters. No tube tops.

I wore clothes I made myself.

It wasn't that my mother didn't try to take me shopping. She did. But I refused to go. So she sewed some of my clothes and I sewed the rest.

For my first day of seventh grade, I wore a doubleknit polyester pantsuit with a halter top. My shoulders were modestly covered by the jacket, of course. We did have a dress code at our school. This was Texas, not some heathen godforsaken place where boys and girls exposed their hormone-throbbing junior high midriffs and shoulders to one another. [Have things changed that much since then or are the writers of Friday Night Lights completely out of touch? I promise that when I was in high school in Texas, nobody was allowed to dress like that.]

The elastic-waisted pants were a green and white floral pattern. The green short-sleeved jacket had white piping and white buttons. The halter top was the reverse pattern of the pants. The pants and jacket could also be worn with a white blouse and I have a photo of myself in that very outfit, long white sleeves emerging from under the short sleeves of the jacket for indeed that was the fashion of the day.

Shut up. It was adorable. My mother made it for me. My mother is a heck of a seamstress. She can make bound buttonholes and make a tailored jacket. She doesn't do it anymore because she (and I) have discovered the beauty of consignment shopping and why not just live off the fat of the land instead of spending all those hours sewing? Now you can get a nice outfit, halfway well made, for less than the cost of the fabric to make something.

My mom couldn't hold a candle to our modista in Spain, though. That woman was amazing. She would come to our house to sew. [I know! My dad was a captain in the air force and we had our own seamstress? And a maid? It was like we were rich or something! The something = Spain was extremely poor in the early 70s and a dollar went a long way.] It wasn't just that she could sew well. It was that we could show her a photo - a mere photo - of what we wanted and she would nod, throw back her shoulders, cut and tear fabric, sew, sew, sew and voila! a reproduction of the desired outfit, only live and in person. She did not need a pattern. She was incredible.

She made my favorite dress in third grade - a maxi dress with ruffles around the bodice and the hem. I loved that dress. Loved it. The only person I've found since with close to that talent was a young seamstress I met in Chile who did some alterations (turned the collar of the jeans jacket my college boyfriend had given to me when the collar wore through - they can do that if you wear them all the time for 10 years, you know) and a little bit of sewing for me. She did not need a pattern, either. Just a photo. She was in college, studying to be a civil engineer. She had the right intuitive sense for it, I think.

Back to my seventh-grade wardrobe. No jeans. Lots of polyester. Funny-looking glasses. I was a fashion icon, all right.

My pants were all variations on a theme: elastic-waisted, doubleknit polyester. In many colors. The pants of many colors that my mother made for me. She had stumbled across a huge remnant sale at Hancock Fabrics or TG&Y or whoever was the reigning fabric store in Lubbock at the time. Bunches and bunches of remnants, almost all polyester, for it was the 70s and that was how we rolled back then - the fabric that didn't need to be ironed! - for a quarter apiece.

For a thrifty household manager who knew how to sew, this was a sign. A sign to sew her children's clothes from these remnants. At least, her child who was not in Catholic school and who did not wear a uniform to school.

Fine by me. I didn't like shopping. Still don't. Hate to look at myself in a mirror. If I owned a women's clothing store, the first thing I would do is install soft lighting and skinny mirrors in the dressing room. Why would anyone want to buy clothes after seeing herself in florescent light?

I had a dozen pairs of polyester doubleknit pants with an elastic waistband. With the pants, I wore either bought shirts or t-shirts I had made, for I, too, had mad sewing skills.

My favorite t-shirt had black trains running across a white background. Set-in sleeves. I was more advanced than raglan sleeves by this point.

I wore that shirt with the pants of many colors that my mother made for me, because black and white go with anything, including neon orange or lime green, right?

One fine day, I was wearing my orange doubleknit polyester pants with the elastic waistband and the black and white train t-shirt. I had been called to the board to do a math problem. I dropped the chalk, bent over to pick it up and felt a rip.

My pants had split. The seam in the back of my pants had split. As in, everyone could see my waist-high flowered underpants.*

Seventh graders are not kind. Lord of the Flies and all that, remember? Seventh graders are also very happy when the focus is on someone else's misfortune because when the focus is on someone else's misfortune, it's not on them. This time, I was the misfortune. Even if everyone else had felt sorry for me and empathetic, they would still have had to laugh, for it is funny to see someone's pants split. No matter how mean it is to laugh, it is funny.

It's just not so funny when you're the person with the split doubleknit polyester pants with the elastic waistband.

The blood drained from my face. I was already so many strikes behind cool there was no way ever to catch up - I played the violin, I rode my bike to school, I was smart, I wore glasses, I wore funny clothes, I didn't go to church on Wednesday, I was new - but split doubleknit polyester pants with an elastic waistband pushed me permanently to the loser side.

The teacher rushed me out of the room, gave me a pass, and sent me to the principal's office, where the school secretary called my mother to bring me another pair of doubleknit polyester pants with an elastic waistband. She arrived forthwith with the brown doubleknit polyester pants with an elastic waistband. I changed, slunk back to class, and prayed for disaster to befall someone else so my little event would be forgotten.

It took me years to overcome my revulsion against polyester after seventh grade. I am only now slowly coming around to accept that polyester has changed since the 70s and that my underwear will not show and my pants will not split.

* I discovered later that they could see them anyhow as the orange doubleknit polyester elastic waisted pants had a translucent quality to them that revealed the flowers on my underpants to anyone who might take more than a passing glance at my ass.


  1. My mother used to sew all of my clothes in 7th grade too. Most of my wardrobe revolved around sleeveless cropped tops (because I'm short-waisted and we lived in So. Calif. where it was warm) and full skirts (it was the late 50's, early 60's.) The kicker though was my mother's fascination with rick-rack. She put it on everything. We still joke about it.

    I did have quite a few items of clothing because of her efforts though, which brought the usual snarky comments from some of the girls I knew. "Oh, is this ANOTHER new outfit?" One of my friends made it a point to look for hidden straight pins my mother had forgotten to take out, since her mother sewed her clothes too. Kind of like an teenage version of "The Runway" I guess, but without Heidi Klum.

  2. Oh the rick rack! I forgot about that! My mom was not rick-rack obsessed, but she did like her piping.

  3. I hope it wasn't too embarrassing!

  4. Well, I still remember it 35 years later!

  5. Hilarious! I don't think I ever had a wardrobe malfunction, but my momma sewed everything I wore until I went to college in 1978. She outfitted me for a summer in Portugal in 1981 and I even took some of her craftiness with me when I moved to Washington DC for my first job in 1982!

    I found your blog because I saw a huge chunk of orange and white windowpane PDK at a thrift store on Friday and was wondering what I could fashion from it. So I googled Orange White windowpane double knit and the rest is high-larity!

    1. Anon, is PDK chic again? I can see orange pants - or a dress that you could wear only in cool, dry weather. But it would never wrinkle, so there is that!

      I'm glad you found me!