I did not have “the look.” But I knew I wanted it.
The particular look in question was not explicitly spelled out in the early 1980s Jordache jeans commercial that started my frenzy of confusing “want” with “need.” Let’s just say it involved multiple women in some odd tube-top outfits carrying what looked like the old Candies heeled sandals.
As they provocatively did leg lunges on sports cars and looked soulfully into searchlights, emerged from pools fully dressed but soaking wet and walked beaches alone at night (again, with said searchlights blazing), I realized whatever the look was it was something I was not.
And I wanted to change that.
I was all of about 13 years old, struggling with the typical junior-high angst of a smart girl who had only recently gotten contacts and her period. I was still bony in all the wrong places. Still in love with boys who didn’t know what to do with the girl who bested them on every test but wouldn’t dumb it down in response to their putdowns. I received either grudging respect or taunts.
I liked neither.
But these girls in the Jordache jeans commercial—now I just knew that they would turn heads. These were girls who oozed something my eighth-grade male cohorts desired.
I became convinced that if I just had the Jordache jeans, this mystique would magically be mine. (I said I was a smart girl, not a genius, people.)
And so began my campaign around the holidays for designer jeans at a time the concept was just being birthed by Madison Avenue.
I begged my mother, the keeper of all clothing purse strings in our house. She, thank God, hadn’t seen the commercials or I would have been locked in a nunnery immediately. I pleaded. I cajoled. I flattered. I began a one-girl campaign that lasted at least three months.
And, in the end, my mother gave in. For Christmas, Jordache jeans appeared under the tree.
I was elated. Before the first post-holiday roller skating party, I put my Goody comb in my back pocket, carefully applied makeup and hair-sprayed copiously.
Boys of St. Angela school, look out.
Or so I thought.
But when the time came for the snowball skate, no magic happened. As the girls lined up on one side of the rink and the boys on the other, we waited to see if our favorite guy would skate by and ask us to join him. This was as far as my Jordache fantasy had taken me. I wanted Robbie Fisher or Jeff Hartzell to stop in front of me for once. Not Katie Groth. Not Kathleen Sullivan. Me. I wanted them to see beyond my test scores. To think I was cute enough to take one whirl around the rink with them, holding hands.
As they skated on by me and my Jordache jeans, I was perplexed beyond measure.
Did they not see my new Jordache womanliness?
The answer, dear reader, which you already know is—no, they did not.
Because Jordache jeans were just that—blue jeans. Nothing more.
It was my first experience with buyer’s remorse. I had turned a silly want into an absolute need. And the result was an emptiness my lowly little thirteen-year-old heart had never felt the likes of.
I think of this memory now, before the holidays, as my sons ask for an assortment of gifts. I think I’ve done a good job of trying to clarify “want” versus “need” but they are, after all, children. Children trying to learn a lesson I learned years ago.
Jordache jeans do not a woman make. Gaming computers do not endow elite status on their owners. iPhones and Hollister jackets don’t change you.
I’m betting you already know these facts. And I’m betting you learned them through experience. Painful experience.
As the remnant of my 13-year-old self empathizes with my sons’ perceived needs, my 46-year-old self smiles.
They think I don’t get it. That I was their age a million years ago. And perhaps I was.
But some lessons just don’t change. Madison Avenue never brings happiness.
And what’s under the tree is never as crucial as what is inside those opening the gifts.
I’m trying to mold the latter. Wish my womanly self, the one that emerged eventually with no help at all from Jordache, luck.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And she is wiser than Madison Avenue. Thank God.