The Back-to School Outfit

The Back-to School Outfits We Will Never Forget

Phyllis Lifestyle 40 Comments

This week, our city is in full back-to school mode. All I can say is I am thrilled I am not going back to school. I really don’t understand this middle of August routine they have created, as we used to go back to school the Tuesday after Labor Day. My grandchildren are going back this week and I know it is less-than-fun to put on school clothes and go back.

Mom made beautiful dresses for my sister and me. You couldn’t wear pants back then in the dark ages. Nope, you had to wear skirts or dresses. Mom started sewing our back to school clothes in August so that we would have the requisite dark cottons to mark the season.

Playground was my favorite time…to be out of the room and in the fresh air was delightful. A game of kick ball or climbing the monkey bars was always fun. I can’t exactly remember the school year, but I know it was in elementary school, when I had on one of my beautiful creations and I stepped on the hem and tore it out. Fortunately, I didn’t tear the skirt off, but the large double-folded hem was hanging down 6 inches.

Necessity is the mother of invention, or so they say, so I decided the intelligent thing to do would be to staple the hem back in—all the way around. When Mom saw my inventive solution she did a double-take. I knew, perhaps, that my idea wasn’t genius after all. She explained that everywhere the staple went in through all layers, I created 6 holes in the skirt. She painstakingly fixed the mess I created and the dress was ready to go again.

Finally, many years later, someone smart said it was OK for girls to wear slacks. I salute whoever made that daring call in the 70s. Mom made my first pantsuit (matching top and slacks) of blue velour…I had arrived. No jeans, but comfy slacks.

What was your favorite back to school outfit?

Comments 40

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  2. Oh, I love reading all these wonderful memories. My Mother also made most of my dresses and skirts for school. I loved helping her choose the fabrics. She also made my slips and crinolines to go under our dresses and skirts, they made your skirts and dresses poof out more. I think some people called them stand-out petticoats. Ha! I too had Buster Brown saddle oxfords and Mary Janes, with cotton ankle socks. We also wore little cotton or cashmere cardigans with our dresses. Hair barrettes in our hair, and we always had to have a new leather book satchel. My grandchildren laugh when I ask if they got a new book satchel for school this year, they call them back packs or book bags now. Nana what is a book satchel, they ask. They laugh at all my stories about school and they way we did things when I was a little girl. You had to have a new pack of crayola crayons at the start of school, as many colors as you could find in a box. My Mother also made my winter coat most of the time too, my favorite color was red, so one year she made me a red wool coat with brass buttons, and black velvet collar. I loved that coat so much. I love these memories, thanks Phyllis for reminding us of the good old days. Peggy

  3. What wonderful memories of early school year just flooded my mind!! I was fortunate to have 2 grandmothers who sewed beautifully. One was the manager of the pattern department at Burger Phillips Department Store (Birmingham Al) and the other worked in alterations . I had the best of both worlds. The one who worked in the pattern department sewed for me all the time….a new pattern was an excuse for her to buy a new piece of fabric! Im sure my outfits were on display in the store before I ever got to wear them. When I was in probably 3rd or 4th grade our neighbor wanted to try and make broom skirts…..remember those? She also taught us…( she had 2 girls) how to cross stitch on gingham. After we made our gathered skirts we cross stitched a border on the checks at the bottom of the skirts. We all wore them the first day of school. Thanks for the school memories Phyllis….wonderful times in my life, with family that taught me the love and gift of sewing!

  4. How the memories came flooding back to mind! We, my two sisters and I, wore uniforms to school and my mother would purchase the fabric and make our jumpers and skirts. However, she would make the most beautiful dresses for us and admirers would always ask where our dresses (and coats were purchased!) It was always a treat to go shopping for new school shoes (Buster Brown – which we hated, but it was the uniform) and all the other school supplies. I was surprised to note on the reply for this post how many mothers and grandmothers used to sew!

  5. The mention of the crocheted vest fad made me think of my own grandmother who made all of us granddaughters (ten in all) vests of “granny squares” — later followed by granny square purses with long crocheted shoulder straps. Grandma was a huge Chicago Cubs fan and never watched or listened to a game without some kind of handwork in her lap, her fingers flying!

  6. Too bad you feel those were dark days before pants as I prefer to think of them as the time when life was simple and had a pattern of right and wrong and each season was enjoyed as it came.
    Women were respected as wives and mothers and men as protectors and providers and home and hearth were a true haven whether rich or poor and one respected and cared for each other.

    If that be dark ages than give me skirts and dresses. I played basketball, roller skated on old skates. Helped my brother do papers and yes children enjoyed going back to school in the fall and no special holidays were made a big deal except Christmas and Easter.

    It was war time or post wartime, WWII and I will take the simple life anytime over marching for this privilege or that. Right was right and wrong was wrong and no one questioned the Ten Commandments.

  7. My mother and grandmother made all my dresses and play clothes.Mother thought I should have a new dress every Friday. A trip to the dry goods store always included fabric and trim.How I miss the rural south that I grew up in.I am so glad I had that simple childhood

  8. My mother had been taught to sew by her mother, who was a well know dressmaker in their town. It wasn’t until I started middle school, or junior high, as we called it back then, that my mother started to make my clothes. We had always been able to find things in the little girl departments in grammar school, but I was still so tiny that little girl clothes just didn’t suit in 7th grade and this was just before petite sizes came out.

    I was blessed that she sewed for me all the way through college! When I did my practice teaching in the spring of my senior year, I was delighted to receive “care” packages with chocolate chip cookies and her great sandies, but also beautiful dresses and skirts perfectly made for me because she had my measurements to a tee! The real fun was finding the pin she always seemed to leave in! One day, as I sat down in the rocking chair as my sweet little first graders gathered around the floor to hear me read them a story, I came right back up out of the chair having found the pin left behind, in the area of my behind!

  9. What happy memories! My mother made my school clothes, and there was also always at least one dress that was a gift from my aunt, who was the buyer for the children’s department for a department store. The dresses were always dark cotton plaid with a sash and a white collar and cuffs. I remember them so fondly! I wore saddle oxford shoes, which my mother polished every night, and white socks trimmed with lace.

    My mother made me beautiful Easter dresses – pastel polished cotton with full skirts and pouffy petticoats, and she usually trimmed a sweater or headband to match. I wore black patent Mary Janes with them.

    I just lost my mom last month at age 98, and I know my beautiful clothes were an expression of her love for me.

  10. My Auntie May sewed special dresses for my sister and me to go back to school. At Easter she sewed dresses for us that were just a little bit dressier. They had a great big bow in the back. She would show our Mom how to tie the bow so that both sides were right side out. Thanks for always making us think of better times.

  11. When my twin sister and I were in the lower grades in elementary school, we always bought our back to school clothes at a neighborhood store. We always wore the same dress. There was a certain sales lady that always wanted to wait on us,because we were twins. She later had a set of twins. The dresses were mostly Kate Greenaway with the hidden pockets.

  12. I was so blessed to have a wonderful neighbor named Stella and she could make such pretty outfits … and sewed for my two sisters and myself. When I began high school and became a majorette, my mother-in-law- to-be was the seamstress for our competition suits … oh my, how beautifully she pieced them together and were so perfectly seamed that we could have worn them wrong-side out. When my fiancé and I set a wedding date, his mother, Lovell Emily, created my wedding gown of lace with nearly 50 buttons which she also created from the lace. Fifty-two years have passed and the memories of such sweet experiences are shared with my husband, Freddie.

  13. Every fall at our home was pattern, dress and coat material shopping. I had a coat with a velvet collar. I can still remember how soft the velvet and how special I felt wearing it. Mom always sewed an extra button inside incase one got lost. Church dresses and school clothes always came from the sewing machine, never stores back in the 50’s. Black patent leather shoes, white socks and Buster Brown school shoes and colored cotton socks. Sometimes when I think back I can still “hear” that sewing machine humming at 2:00 AM, when the house was quiet.

  14. Beginning school in 1960 meant navy wool school uniform jumpers and white blouses. But because of the warm weather in the South we were allowed to wear dresses for the first month or so and again in the spring. My mother sewed all my dresses and choosing the fabric and the pattern was always a grand event. One of my most memorable was a solid pink drop-waisted dress with a slightly full skirt and a droopy bow at the band on the left side. One day my pen leaked and dribbled ink on several places on my dress just above the waist band. I was so sad that I had ruined my dress but my mother was not only a wonderful seamstress but an even better embroiderer. She drew daisies, some with drooping heads, long stems and a few leaves and satin stitched over the ink. They were bright pink and turquoise with yellow centers and spring green stems–they were beautiful and made the dress even more special to me!

  15. Me either! My mother had a dress shop from 1960-1990 and always said that the end of August was time to get out the dark cottons!

  16. My mother used to scour the JC Penney catalog to see what was the latest for little girls. She created her own patterns. I thought she could sew anything. Most of my clothes were handmade in those days. I remember the excitement of each of my mom’s creations. When I got a job at sixteen, I always shopped for material after each payday. I was so proud that I had a mother who was an excellent seamstress and very creative. Though she did not make my wedding gown, she made my little sister’s flower girl dress, the ring bearer’s suit, and my young brothers’ suits. Today, my mother is 87. She sticks to mending rather than sewing complete outfits, but when a grandchild begs for a super man cape, she is quick to oblige with the humming of her sewing machine. Our family is truly blessed.

  17. I have tears in my eyes as I read about the memories of all of you. I have the same ones, as my mother sewed most of my clothes when I was in elementary school, and many as I got older. With 4 girls Mother spent a lot of time at the sewing machine or with a needle in her hand. Many of our Easter outfits were identical down to the organza gloves to match. Living in a small town there weren’t many choices for formals, so we would drive to Montgomery, find the perfect dress, and purchase the fabric for mother to make an identical one for me. I followed in my mother’s footsteps in staying up late to sew dresses for a daughter/granddaughters. There is no greater love than that of a Mom giving up her rest to do something for her children. Thank you, Phyllis, for bringing back these good memories.

  18. I haven’t seen the term “dark cottons” in years; but, they were required back in the day. Thanks for the memories!

  19. My memories are a bit more vintage than most that have been posted for my school days were in the ’40’s and 50’s. I remember Pendelton, pleated, plaid skirts and soft cashmere hand me down sweaters from my older sister with shiny black Buster Brown oxford shoes or white bucks and knee sox. Sometimes the weather was still a bit too warm for such attire but we started out in the early morning to walk the mile to school when the Fall temperatures were cool. I always enjoyed outfitting my own children and grandchildren with the latest picks from Penney’s and Sears’ catalogs. Even the anticipation of new school supplies was exciting!

  20. Hi Phyllis
    Thank you for sharing that memory and photo! My mother also made my clothes and some clothes for my daughter which I still have, hoping she has a daughter also!
    You were so lucky that your mother taught you how to saw its a wonderful gift!

  21. I began to take an interest in back to school clothes when I was entering fourth grade, around the time the movie “Pollyanna” came out. Before that, mine must have been secondhand! It was always fun to go back-to-school shopping for clothes and of course a new purse. I work at a university and still enjoy starting the school year with something new. I also get a kick out of seeing the girls in this year’s latest fads.

  22. My mother sewed all of my clothes including pretty petticoats with tucks and lace. I didn’t want those. Instead I wanted ones with little straps that slid down your arms like my friends. Now I marvel at just how beautiful mine were versus the ones bought. My sister and I were made to work for farmers in the tobacco fields and curing the tobacco. I made $4 a day, got up at 6am and worked until 6 pm or when finished with that’s days filling of the barn. That money went to my mother to save until Fall when we would need shoes, coats, boots and school supplies. One year she let me pick out a dress, I was overcome with happiness! I remember it was a brown dress with a very full skirt. I now know that it was impossible to fit me with store bought clothes because even at age 18 I had an 18 inches waist. No such luck now . Today I am not fond of brown dresses and would never chose that dress again. Memories!!!!

  23. What a fun post! I have some fond memories of back to school dresses. I can still see many of my dresses in my mind. Looking through the Sears catalog and showing my mom what I wanted is one of my favorite memories. I also remember a dress that I wanted so badly, but, we weren’t able to purchase it. I might have been in second grade and I can still see the dress. It was a black and white polka dot dress with a small white collar and a large pink bow under the collar. I’m often temped to make one just for the satisfaction. That must have been in the year of ’66 and I can still see it hanging on the rack as we walked away.

  24. Back in the 1970s, crochet vests were all the rage for grade school girls in my New England hometown. I wanted one sooo bad, but my mother would usually not buy “fad” clothing that would go out of style in mere months. My grandmother (Yiayia), lived with my family, and was a crackerjack seamstress and knitter, as well as knowing how to crochet. She knew how much I wanted to have a “mod” vest, so one morning before school, she took some newspapers and kind of fitted them like a pattern against my upper body. When I cam home from school that day, she had completed a gorgeous blue crocheted vest! In the following weeks, she knitted several more for me. I always remember how much she loved me, and I cherish the years we spent together! Love you and miss you, Yiayia!

    1. My grandmother crocheted by looking at something. I am not sure she eve read a pattern.. I love your story. Thank you for sharing. You have beautiful memories.

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