Friday, July 06, 2012

Confidence is better to wear than brand names

From today's Briefing:

So far, and I realize it’s relatively early in my parenting career, my children aren’t brand conscious.
They’ve never asked for a particular brand of running shoe or blue jeans or T-shirt. Cooper has never stepped foot in Hollister or Abercrombie. Katie likes to browse at the front of Justice only because that’s where the flashy toys are.
As long as their closets are filled with comfortable clothes, they don’t complain.
My own closet is filled with too many clothes — comfortable and otherwise — and I’m in the process of weeding out and giving away.
Hanging in the middle of my short-sleeve section is one very soft, well-loved shirt that I haven’t worn in years but don’t plan on parting with.
There’s a story behind that shirt.
When I was Cooper’s age, I was brand conscious, mostly because I owned nothing with any recognizable logo. My thin wardrobe came from places like TG&Y and Weiner’s while all around me were girls clothed in Gloria Vanderbilt and Izod.
My mom worked as a housekeeper, and sometimes the women she cleaned for would send home a bag of hand-me-downs for me and my sister.
I didn’t look forward to these worn-out gifts and don’t remember actually wearing any of them — until the day Mom came home with a soft, peach-colored Polo shirt with an aqua-colored Ralph Lauren polo player stitched onto the chest.
This was the most expensive, peer-approved brand I knew of in sixth grade.
I didn’t even know where to buy such a shirt, and here it was, in our home, ready for me to wear.
I didn’t even care that there was a tiny hole on the belly. I assumed that’s why it was given away — nothing so nice had ever been in the discard bag before — and I was thankful for that blemish.
The very next day I wore that peach Polo with my no-name blue jeans. I stood at the nearby cluster of mailboxes with other trailer park kids to wait for the school bus to take us into town.
I exhibited excellent posture that morning — until the snobbiest girl in the history of trailer parks joined our group.
She sauntered from her family’s tiny trailer house to our cluster gathered on the edge of the gravel road, wearing her usual mix of brand names (a dichotomy I still don’t understand).
She studied me from head to foot back to my chest and said with a snarl, “That’s not your shirt.”
I reflexively covered the telltale hole with my arm, turned bright red, slouched my shoulders, averted my eyes to the rough ground and waited in silence for the bus.
Despite my neighbor’s disdain toward the hand-me-down shirt, I kept on wearing it. I wore it as long as it would cover the length of my belly. I had to retire my one and only real Polo shirt sometime in seventh grade.
The summer after I graduated college, I was browsing in a department store just a few miles from that trailer park. In the women’s department was a rainbow of Polo shirts. Included in the selection: one soft, peach-colored shirt with an aqua-colored polo player stitched on the chest.
There was no hole in the belly.
I lifted my shoulders up and back, walked to the register and wrote a check for the full price of that shirt. I wore it for years, every time remembering that rude girl and how quickly she’d deflated my confidence.
The shirt’s a little dated now — the sleeves are puffier than today’s sleeker models — and I’m content to let it take up a sliver of space in my closet.
And while I have my share of overpriced items based partly on the name attached, I’m also content to wear no-name T-shirts and blue jeans — with confidence.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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