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August 31, 2005

  • High (School) Fashion in Vinyl
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    I've got a blue-and-red Adidas bag and a humongous binder
    I'm trying my best not to look like a minor niner
    I went out for the football team to prove that I'm a man
    I guess I shouldn't tell them that I like Duran Duran

    This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine
    This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine

    - Barenaked Ladies, "Grade Nine"

    Whatever happened to Adidas bags?

    Back in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, extraterrestrial visitors might have been fooled into thinking that a bright vinyl appendage came forth from the skins of adolescents and were carried like a birth caul. The Adidas bag. A two foot bag that was rectangular at the bottom (it maintained its shape with a plastic covered piece of cardboard) that curved at the top where it zippered. It was decorated with two swooping stripes that were the same colour as the handles.  They were made of PVC or vinyl (something synthetic anyway) often in a sort of textured pattern. They came with two complementary colours, a main one for the bag, and another, which often tended toward the day-glo end of the spectrum, for the stripes and the handles. Made by the Adidas Corporation, it was designed, presumably, to act as a gym bag. But it caught on with the general populace and people tended them to use as an all-purpose school bag.

    Back then everyone owned an Adidas bag. Everyone.

    Nowadays, kids go to junior and senior high school with a variety of fabric containers for their books, smokes, lunch and iPods—backpacks, shoulder bags, gym bags. Twenty years ago, this was Not The Done Thing. Standard issue was an Adidas bag. I should know, in grade 11 I started using a backpack and my friends looked at me like I was from Mars. Admittedly, they did that with me most of the time, but this time it was because not using an Adidas bag was weird.

    My rebellion was pragmatic. I had owned Adidas bags for years and I had found them, quite simply, impractical. Carrying hundreds of pounds of textbooks was a nuisance if you didn't want to carry it by hand. There was no shoulder strap. You could put the handles on your back like a backpack, but it was hardly comfortable—the handles dug into your shoulders—and it likely contributed to a rash of lower back injuries that have affected my generation. Plus, the handles tended to break off their rivets. And the thing tended to smell a little in hot weather.

    And yet, in spite of these design problems, they were well loved. In fact, I think Adidas bags fell out of favour the minute Adidas attempted to correct them and redesigned them to be more practical.

    Let's face it. They were cool.

    I'll never forget the first time I bought an Adidas bag. I was going into Junior High and even in Grade 6 I remember talking to my classmates about getting an Adidas bag next year. We had visited our Junior High and we had seen the Promised Land. No more taking school stuff in shopping bags. No, this was the big time. People had cool looking bags to do that.

    In early August, my Dad took me to a Foot Locker (at least I think it was Foot Locker—it sold athletic shoes and equipment) and I picked out a blue and yellow Adidas bag. (The yellow was a little day-glo-ish). For the next month I took that bag out of my closet and stared at it in awe. I was going to Junior High. I had an Adidas bag. I would be walking among the cool.

    If only the bag had actually helped.

    The thing about carrying a bag that everyone else carried was that there was nothing remarkable about owning such a thing. And since I was a bespectacled geek I pretty much found my place on the low end of the food chain fairly quickly.

    I also discovered early on the primary design flaw of an Adidas bag, at least for someone as disorganized as myself: they weren't really designed to be exclusively a book bag. Books and binders and one's lunch had a tendency to move around a lot in there. I opened my first can of pop in Junior High—the first time I had a regular lunch period at school, lucky as I was to grow up in an era when your mother was home to make you lunch in elementary school—to have it explode in my face from the two minute walk from my locker to outside. Many were the school assignments that got crumpled in my bag.

    But woes betide me if I forgot my Adidas bag and had to bring stuff to and from school in a shopping bag. Plastic bags from the local Dominion may have been good enough for Grade 6, but not for Junior High.

    My Dad bought me my first book-sized backpack in Grade 9, hoping I'd see the light and choose something better. That rust-coloured pack stayed in my room (except for small camping expeditions) for another three years. There was no way I was going to High School without an Adidas bag. He should have known better; the previous year, he tried to get my sister and I to accept knock-off Adidas bags (same shape, just made of a stiffer, more plastic-y product and missing the tell-tale Adidas brand name on the bottom). In case there was any doubt, he failed.

    By that point I was the owner of a silver and blue Adidas bag and it probably lasted the longest of any of my bags (I believe I owned three during a seven year period). It lasted well beyond the point where I accepted my father's wisdom and started wearing a backpack, which I continue to do today. The silver and blue Adidas bag probably occupies the lonely places of my parents' basement, filled with quilts or fabrics from one of their household moves.

    It's back-to-school time now. The media likes to portray this as a sad time for kids, but I always remember looking forward to the new school year, to the new teacher and the new class. And looking forward to buying new fall clothes, and getting an organizer binder from Coles (which usually fell apart by November) and buying a Campus Kit from Shopper's Drug Mart (which had sample sized Agree shampoo and conditioner and Paper Mate pens and other essentials). And I remember buying a new Adidas bag, and each time thinking that these bags were the coolest thing ever...and I would be too when I was seen carrying mine in September.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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