This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?" Mistakenly believing she was referring to school supply shopping, one of my favorite consumer events of the year, I excitedly told her we could stop by the office supply store right after we picked up some much-needed milk and cereal.
But I soon found that three-ring binders, glue sticks and colored pencils were not the purchases my 12-year-old was looking forward to making. Instead, she told me, "No, Mom. I'm talking about the kind of back-to-school shopping where we go to the mall and buy new clothes and stuff like that before the first day of school."
Now, it's not that I am not happy to buy my daughter new clothes when she needs them, and even occasionally when she doesn't. What I'm not "buying," though, is the media-driven idea that my kid somehow has to acquire a new wardrobe in order to enter the seventh grade.
I don't care how many brats she eats at our Labor Day cookout, it's not likely she will be a substantially different size come September 2, the first day of school. And all those t-shirts and shorts she wore all summer long will probably still come in pretty handy during the early weeks of class, which historically have been scorchers. So I had to break the news to her, we are not the Madtown Kardashians. So she might as well get used to the indignity of being seen in the same clothes she wore last year as a sixth-grader.
This back-to-school shopping mania doesn't seem to be just a K-12 phenomenon. It's taken hold of the college crowd, too, where instead of clothes, it's household items that must be conspicuously consumed. Just this past week, I made the fated mistake of heading to Target the same day as UW student move-in. I couldn't believe some of the things these kids and their parents were buying for college apartments: framed "art," cafe curtains and string lights. When I went to school it was one set of XL twin sheets and maybe a shower caddy.
But I couldn't take my eyes, or ears, off the spectacle. Trust me, there is very little more entertaining than listening to a father argue with his 20-year-old son over the merits of a purchasing a contemporary vs. faux Oriental rug.
Of course, I realize it's the retailers that are fueling the frenzy. This year, Walmart increased the number of back-to-school products sold on its website by 30 % to 75,000. And Target inexplicably features both swim suits and pajamas, neither which are regularly worn to school last I checked, under the back-to-school banner on its website.
In the end, though, I ended up caving in, just a little bit, to the consumer pressure. My daughter will be wearing a new outfit on the first day of school. And come to think of it I probably have to buy her some new sneakers, too. But it won't be because she's convinced me of the merits of the back-to-school marketing push. It will just be because she can no longer slip her heels into the backs of her old ones.