In grade six I started attending a private day school. Since navy jumpers were the dress code for the lower school, accessories played a more pronounced role in our restricted wardrobes. For footwear, saddle oxfords were required, but as long as they were black and white, there was a bit of room for interpretation. Most of the girls had shoes from Capezio, Kinney or Buster Brown. I remember one particularly tall and athletic fifth-grader managed to score some Nike versions.
During my first semester my mom and I decided on a pair of the Capezios. There were two options for the black section of the oxford, either plain leather or simulated snake skin. I went with the former, but soon regretted getting the Capezios in the first place. When I started school, I realized that most of the girls bought their shoes from Kinney. They were sharper and cuter. Despite being my size, the Capezio versions looked like I was wearing a pair of yachts on my feet. By the spring semester, I made my way over to Kinney after convincing my mother that the Capezios weren’t working out size-wise.
By this time I was also fully aware of how girls throughout the school placed a special emphasis on bags, shoes, scrunchies, jewelry and colored rubber bands for braces as the sole means of identity construction. Since I’d received some birthday money I decided to use it towards my next accessory purchase: a Liz Claiborne bag with the multiple triangles. Since the brand was a formidable component for the working woman from the 70s through the early 90s, the accessories inevitable trickled down to her daughter.
Fortunately, I had a cousin who worked at the Jordan Marsh in the Palm Beach Mall and he was able to get the bag down to $65 with his discount. The next day I wore my purse so proudly, with its long strap, pink canvas and ecru triangles, my head nearly popped off my neck from an enlarged ego. But I needed to drive home the point further. The bag needed to be distinguished from the others. I’d conspicuously left the hang tags on the bag to showcase its newness. Before I even made it to homeroom, a classmate advised me to remove them because they looked ridiculous.
Although embarrassed, this minor infraction didn’t keep me down for too long. In fact, before class even started I designated myself the counterfeit police. At the time there were several knockoff versions of the ubiquitous bags. Instead of the triangles, the step and repeat pattern was an angled square that looked like a modified diamond. I proceeded to tell my classmates who owned this bag (which was just as popular as the Liz Claiborne version at a quarter of the price) that they were wearing fakes. My BFF Mary dismissively said she didn’t care. I had conveniently forgotten that my official purse for the third grade was a child-size Gucci knockoff littered with the letter “S” as opposed to the letter “G.
In The Substance of Style, Virginia Postrel writes that “often the identities we express with our aesthetic choices are not those we have but those we desire.” In my quest to acclimate, I was gauche (hang tags), rude (sorry Mary!), and hypocritical (Succi anyone?). By the start of grade seven, my pink had succumbed to wear and tear and was looking rather ratchet. I eventually moved on to an Esprit bucket bag the size of John Goodman, then a canvas Esprit tote, then a multi-color pleather backpack, and finally ending my secondary school career with a non-descript black JanSport knapsack that I bought from a street vendor in Washington Heights while visiting family during the summer. In retrospect, I unknowingly purchased a knockoff. Bag karma.