Clothes of Christmas Past

The rituals and traditions of the holiday season annually inspire nostalgia for times past. Perhaps because we are photographed with friends and family at this time of year, I can recall in great detail what I wore for Christmas, and in many cases what gifts given and received brought temporary or more lasting delight.

My illustrated Christmas list, 1990

While having a deep rummage through old papers and mementos long stored in my parent’s house, I came across a folder of artworks, school report cards, and greeting cards from my early years.  Among these paper memories was an illustrated Christmas wish list I made in 1990, probably the last time I made such an effort to inform my parents of exactly what it was I was dreaming of.

Skidz were lightweight cotton printed drawstring pants. Cuffing them tight at the ankle and tucking them into socks was the way to wear 'em.

Champion sweatshirts were seriously oversized and made of heavyweight fleece - sure to drown the frame of petite 12 year olds such as myself. When worn with Skidz, a walking pile of clothes look was achieved.

At this time; junior high school, and place; Staten Island, New York,  sending the “correct” sartorial messages through a regimented but not necessarily aesthetically pleasing array of popular fashion labels and trends was tantamount to my survival.  This need to fit in, coupled with a burgeoning consciousness of the economic significance of labels and brands, was a source of anxiety.Christmas was the time when the balance between desire and acquisition could be redressed, so to speak.

Au Coton and Benetton are Canadian and Italian labels respectively, but back in junior high we though they were French. Au Coton ad scan from

As evidenced by my detail-oriented wish list, the brands, sizes, and colors of the clothes that were “in” mattered.  These clothes were only part of constructing an ideal self-image – music was key.

Along with all the other sporty wear on my list these don't seem to fit in - but preppier looks were on the horizon for me in grade 8, so at least I was looking ahead.

Life before iTunes: the games and tapes that made the season bright. Jeopardy! image courtesy of

Although I now see both my musical and fashion tastes of winter 1990 as lacking in both foresight and originality, as a dress historian I am pleased that this document survives. Perhaps it can aid interested researchers in the rediscovery of some mainstream suburban fashion trends, and also act as a reminder of one’s less enlightened fashion choices and the cringeworthy soundtrack to which those clothes were worn.

Hope you all are having a happy holiday season, and that your fashion gifts, New Year’s Eve Dresses, and festive playlists will stand the test of time – or at least serve as amusing reminders of our selves circa 2010.

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  • Ellen December 30, 2010 11.44 am

    That is MOST excellent! Love your post! Thanks for sharing.

  • Tove Hermanson December 30, 2010 04.33 pm

    I had a similar Christmas list! And I distinctly remember my very first “major” clothes purchase with my own hard-earned money went to buy a pair of tapered cobalt blue-and-black plaid pants not unlike Skidz! Oh, the glorious folly!


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