It’s amazing the things that stick in your head sometimes, isn’t it? I mean, 1995 was 24 years ago and I can still remember certain days from it clear as day. I can’t even remember last week that well, but some things always stick with you… like Starter jackets. Remember those? Big, puffy, in bright colors with the half zipper that meant you had to slide them on over your head and mess up your hair because you were, like, the only boy in fifth grade whose hair wasn’t straight and never looked cool and… well, maybe that was just me. Anyway, I remember being desperate for one of those jackets, combing through the Eastbay magazine every time it came in the mail for my older sister, a heck of a left-handed softball catcher, seeing what unique styles and teams they had in those jackets.
Oh, man… now here come all the Eastbay memories!
Alas, I knew my place. I was one of five kids in what was in the mid-’90s considered a lower-middle class family. Nowadays, with the way things like food have gotten more expensive while wages are frankly still insultingly low, I’m pretty sure we would have been called flat-out poor. Things like Disney vacations, the newest video games and, yes, Starter jackets were simply out of the question. I do remember, a little later, getting a Pro Player branded jacket (which was sort of like the RC to Starter’s Coke, and after a quick search I see that they’re still in business, look at that) for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a joint venture between the National Hockey League and Disney. It was a garish, teal-and-purple mid-’90s mess… but it was MY mess, and I loved it. There exists somewhere a photo of little round-faced Eric, grinning like he’s high on catnip in that jacket with a yellow-and-gold striped hoodie sticking out from beneath the poofy hem of the coat (because I was just fashion forward like that) all topped off with a Chicago Bears stocking cap.
I was… an odd child.
But why all this talk of winter coats as the temperature climbs into the ‘90s? Well, because there’s an incident involving Starter jackets that I can still remember clear as crystal to this day. It all starts with Jake. Jake was an all right guy, not a bully, not a jock, not a nerd, just sort of… middle of the road. That’s why I found it so surprising when he came back from Christmas break with a brand-new, you guessed it, Starter jacket. It was the black Green Bay Packers one, of course, growing up in central Wisconsin you’d have to want to start a fight if you wore anything but the green and gold. But what stuck in my craw most of all was that Jake had just had a new Starter jacket when school had started a few months ago. It was fine, it wasn’t broken, I think it may have been a bit more brightly colored, but here he was with a brand new one… and I was absolutely flummoxed.
I remember going to my mom that night in the kitchen of that old pressboard house and relating the story to her. Imagine, someone trading in a perfectly good jacket when the old one wasn’t even worn thin. The very idea, right? Then I remember, as surely as the words are coming out of my mouth right now, saying the following: “Mom, it’s like they’re just throwing clothes out the window!”
And my dear sweet mother, she didn’t even look up from what she was making for dinner, but said back immediately, “Then you’d better stand out there and catch.”
This was my first lesson in trickle-down economics. Whenever someone with enough money thinks something isn’t good enough, they just toss it out and we beneath them should be glad to have their leftovers. Oddly enough, I finally did get some Starter shoes back in 2012 or so as a $9 Walmart special because Starter was no longer a hot brand. I guess it just goes to show that any sort of status symbol becomes worthless eventually, especially as long as people keep chucking them out of windows.