High School Was About Camel Lights, Zima and This Fleece
My high school didn’t have a uniform, except that it did. By that I mean there were no unflattering kilts, no scratchy cardigans, no ill-fitting button downs. Instead, there was this: Rag-wool socks worn with Birkenstocks (Arizonas or Bostons), flared jeans (the older, the better—I wore my dad’s Geoffrey Beene bellbottoms from the ‘70s until the seat was worn beyond repair), a thermal shirt layered under a ringer tee, and a flannel tied around the waist. We all wore it. And I mean all: it was unisex, although some guys swapped the sandals for a pair of Nike Air Icarus.
The uniform came with one more piece, and that’s where my haystack story comes in. To top off the look, you needed a Patagonia Snap-T fleece pullover. You really really needed one. As in, please don’t show up in an L.L. Bean fleece, and don’t embarrass yourself in one from Land’s End. Ok, it might not have been that dire, but in my memory it was Patagonia or banishment from our student lounge. I’d like to think there was some good reason for it, that we recognized the perfection of the uniform and would accept no substitutes, but really it’s just because teenagers can be assholes. It was perfect though—or at least a perfect representation of the mid ‘90s and of New England prep schools, and of the kind of casual wealth I knew even then that I would never achieve. Lots of kids in my high school probably went home to a closet full of Patagonia fleeces. I had one. I remember begging my mom for it, and the deal was that I could get one, but it had to be on sale. Perhaps for that very reason, the Patagonia I ended up with was a strange color—a sort of pale periwinkle, with a pocket and trim in darker purple. I wasn’t then (and am not now, for that matter) someone who wears purple. And yet, this particular shade, this muppety hue you’d find streaked through a unicorn’s mane on a Lisa Frank notebook, worked with everything. It complemented the neutrality of my favorite purposely threadbare khaki corduroys, it made my heathered gray crewneck seem somehow even cozier when peeking out from underneath it, it stood out (just enough—remember what I said about fitting in) in the sea of collegiate crimson, navy and forest green versions my friends were wearing.
Patagonia still makes the Snap-T. In fact, they celebrated 30 years of the fleecy favorite not too long ago. The brand debuted the style in 1985 after developing their signature Synchilla polyester fabric, which was created as an alternative to wool that would be lighter and quicker to dry, but just as warm. A breast pocket was added in 1989 and prints joined the party in 1991. Further tweaks have been made over the years, and today you can get one with a kangaroo pocket and a hood, and there was even an iteration made of soft waffled cashmere that came out a couple of years ago. But that palest purple version hasn’t made a comeback. And as for mine, I held onto it through college, but the slightly nomadic lifestyle that so many young New Yorkers end up living claimed it, and it went missing after a move years ago. I still search for it when I go through the semiannual ritual of swapping my winter clothes for my summer ones and vice versa, hoping to catch a glance of that funny, lovely color amid my storage bins. I haven’t found it yet, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop looking. And I’ll know just what to wear it with when I do.
Illustration by Marisa Balmori