On Fitting In and Wearing Fancy Clothes


Something happened between sixth and seventh grade, between Topeka Drive Elementary and Nobel Jr High.  The rules changed.  We had an orientation day to explain that we had to go from class to class; that we had seven minutes to change for PE, green shorts, white T-shirt; and that we got lockers with combination dials that you had to spin left twice to 4 then right once to 16 and left once to 8.  I understood these rules well.  I helped other kids find their classes and open their lockers. 

But other rules changed, too, and there was no orientation for these changes.  I left Topeka Dr a cool kid, a great kickballer, one of the smarter kids, with thick bifocals that all the kids at the school were used to and accepted.

I entered Nobel the same kid who left Topeka, but soon learned that kickball and math skills meant nothing for social standing.  Big glasses and collared shirts, even nice looking red-striped collared shirts, made you nerdy. 


One of the many things I miss about the 80s was that you could (hypothetically) match the color of your shirt stripes to the color of your sock stripes.

Nobel Jr High based its social hierarchy on who your friends were, on whether you went to the dances, on which girls you liked, and, most importantly, which girls liked you.

The first few months were a hodgepodge of awkwardness and shyness as I learned my place and found and bonded with others like me.  I wasn’t happy with my social station, but I accepted it while I schemed for a way to move up.

And then it happened.  My last connection to cool, Robbie, my Topeka Dr friend who could talk to girls as if they were younger siblings, was turning 13.  And I got an invite to his Bar Mitzvah; where all the cool kids would be.

I thought and thought about just the right gift, one that would show all the Nobel kids that despite the untied shoes and cowlicky hair, I was right with them.  I’d never been to a Bar Mitzvah, but knew they were like birthday parties at Temple and being a cool kid from my elementary days, I had been to plenty of birthday parties.  In fact, I had been to plenty of Robbie’s birthday parties, including the first one he threw, as an eight-year old at Matador Bowl where Robbie won every game, but was impressed that I got two spares in one game and almost beat him.

That was it.  A bowling ball would be the perfect gift.  I went to the store and picked out a yellow, yet masculine bowling ball, and I couldn’t wait until the day of the party.

The morning of the Bar Mitzvah came and I dressed in my corduroys and red-striped collared shirt.  Mom told me that Bar Mitzvahs were fancy and to change.  I went back and put on my sixth grade graduation outfit:  gray slacks that barely reached my ankles and a long sleeved shirt that was too tight at the neck and too short on my wrists.  Dad helped me with the tie.

I grabbed his present and went to Temple.  I saw the cool kids hanging out.  I rested Robbie’s present up on my hip and walked up, now part of the group.  One girl saw me and smirked.  “Yeah,” I said, “my mom doesn’t realize how much I’ve grown.  She bought me clothes that were three sizes too small.”  The kids all laughed, impressed with my coolness.

This was the exact outfit I wore to Robbie's Bar Mitzvah. In the picture, I'm dancing with mom at my 6th grade graduation. Robbie's Bar Mitzvah was nine months later when I was three inches taller.

Robbie’s mom walked up.  “Hello,” I said, “where should I put Robbie’s present.”  She looked at me and smiled.  “The gift table is right there,” she said, pointing. 

I walked over to the table with my present.  I heard the kids laughing as I walked away.  I reached the table and heaved my 12 pound gift up on it. 

I stepped back to look at the table.  There were probably 150 or so gifts there.  149 cards with money and one bowling ball.

I still heard the kids behind me, laughing.  I wished I was wearing my corduroys.

I got an invitation to go to a banquet last month.  I jumped at it, eager to show my coworkers how cool I am. 

Check out Zach's striped shirt.


About Jimmy

The stories herein are about a sentimental 80s child who cried at every showing of ET (the sad part where he was lying in the wash) and his families, then and now. His wife, son, parents, and siblings play their parts well. They have their exits and their entrances. Sometimes their exits are sad, but not as sad as ET.
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15 Responses to On Fitting In and Wearing Fancy Clothes

  1. inkline says:

    Did you notice that there were at least two other guys with the same outfit on as you?

    At least at Air Force parties it’s only the spouses (non-military) that have to worry about what to wear.
    I like going to parties with you. You share your cake – when it’s your third piece.

  2. Kerry Wester says:

    And I bet at this party there wasn’t a guy there with a more beautiful girl by his side. Inside and out.

  3. societyred says:

    Great story! Funny to the laugh at now, right?
    You ARE the cool guy!
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Jimmy says:

      Oh, I’m still a long I’m way from cool. Now, though, I’m comfortable in my skin. It’s enough for me that my wife thinks I’m (sort of) cool.

  4. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    Wonderful story! Yours was the memorable gift. That’s what matters to me.

  5. It’s easy to give cash — it takes (bowling)”balls” to give a more thoughtful gift. I like your style!

  6. marjulo says:

    Believe it or not, but girls have the same problems when they go to 7th grade. Yep, I’ve been there too! I love your story and your style!

  7. Dianna says:

    Love this post – and I enoyed reading the comments others have written. Kids go through many transitions, so many of them awkward. But somehow, most of us come through it and become fairly well adjusted adults….somehow!

  8. Wow Jimmy you take me back to…ET…Star Wars…stripes and color coordinated socks with tee shirts:) Thank you for dropping in on my blog:)

  9. Mom says:

    You forgot to mention that I tried to take you shopping for Bar Mitzvah clothes the week before the event. “No”, you said, “the clothes I have will be just fine.” I’m not sure why I didn’t have you change into your corduroys that day, but I remember it well. Do you send your blog to Robbie?

    • Jimmy says:

      I very much remember you trying to get me to go shopping. I refused, and I still used you as an excuse.

      It was probably the first time I was self-aware enough to realize I looked a bit out of place. One would’ve thought that the heavy glasses and eye-patch would’ve made me more socially aware at age five. Fortunately, I’m a slow learner.

  10. I get such a kick out of your posts. You keep me updated on what I missed in the 80’s when I was having and raising children. Nominated you today for the Sunshine Award – http://mamasemptynest.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/walking-on-sunshine/

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