For me, back-to-school shopping was always accompanied by a frisson of anticipation and excitement. It was the only time of year I actually got to go on a shameless shopping spree – which required leaving town and adventuring an hour or two north to find a wider selection of department stores. I didn’t care about clothes much, so it wasn’t the clothes I really cared about, but what they represented: the possibility that if I just hit on the right costume, the right ensemble of luscious jewel-toned sweaters and tights and matching socks (this being the 80s and 90s), I’d suddenly enter into a new existence as a stylish, composed, self-confident creature, perfectly balancing originality and convention.

Yeah, right.

In fact, I had basically no fashion sense, and was inclined to make horrible mistakes in my choice of clothing (the “sweatpants phase” was especially mortifying). But I did manage to excel in one area: the schoolbag. One year I managed to find a canvas tote festooned with pockets and zippers and little leather tab pulls – faux-military faux-Continental style from Guess or some other mainstream company, but darn, it was a great bag. It even impressed my best friend, who in her own infinite coolness shopped by mail from J. Crew and listened to R.E.M. (Yes, the traits which mark an innovative outsider vary greatly among socioeconomic brackets and geographic areas).

I always imagined that if I could just find the right schoolbag, it would somehow erase all the failings of my clothes. Perhaps adult women feel the same way about their handbags, but as soon as bags ceased to be zippered and pocketed and tricked out with expandable compartments, I completely lost interest in them. That’s why I am so charmed by thisFrench surplus knapsack from blogger and antiquarian Hollister Hovey‘s 2009 Back to School Guide (“Look Like Heaven While You Walk the Halls of Hell”):


Now THAT (paired with a soft, oversized ruby sweater, brown leggings and some scuffed leather buckle boots) is exactly what I always wanted my back-to-school ensemble to resemble. Thank you, Hollister.


  1. #1 Connie
    August 19, 2009

    Don’t forget a beautiful and efficient bike…

  2. #2 mdvlist
    August 20, 2009


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