Plaid Pants

by Janna Qualman

In everyone’s past there is a story of disappointment. Or sadness. Sometimes there is tale of loss, or upset. In extreme circumstances, abuse or neglect.

My story is one of embarrassment. Embarrassment so full and strong that it has stuck with me, like a wart no treatment will cure, these many years later.

Two words, friends. Plaid pants.

Oh, yes. It was 1983, and I was five. Adorable as anything. Sweet and spunky, thoughtful and creative. (Not much has changed, really.) Polyester was fabulous then. Poop brown and puke green—together!—were all the rage in fashion. (Or else my mom’s taste was a carryover from the 70’s, in which case it’s even worse than I remembered…)

We were to run errands that day, my mom, my dad and I. (I don’t recall where my big sister was. This was so traumatic for me, see, my memory has blocked certain extraneous details.)

Mom said, “Here, Janna. Wear this cute outfit!”

I said, “No.” I did not like polyester.

She said, “This is so cute, you’re going to wear it today!”

As she helped me into it, I said, “No.” I did not like brown and green, together.

My dad said, “It’s cute. There’s no reason not to wear it. Do what your mama says.”

As I wore it, my whole being rebelled. “It’s the most atrocious combination of fabric and color I’ve ever laid eyes upon!” I said. “The general public will not see me in this ensemble!”  
As we drove to the store, I sunk low in the back seat. “I am not going inside. Everyone will laugh at me. I look like a freak.”

And so my parents left me in the car as they shopped. (Things were different then, we all know.) I waited and waited for, like, HOURS. Until I started to miss them. Until I started to think about how much fun they were having without me. I liked to shop. (Not much has changed, really.)

I had to swallow my pride and think past the pants. I had to sprint from the car into the store, so passersby wouldn’t spot me. I had to speed by the gawking employees, who pointed at me with their devilishly long fingers. I had to hear their laughter, which burrowed deep into my soul.

It wounded me, friends. I am scarred. To this day, plaid patterns make my heart race. My cheeks pinken. I am embarrassed all over again…

With hopes of a therapeutic cleansing, I recently sat down with my mom to talk about that day from my childhood. Did she remember it as clearly as I did? Was there a chance I could let go the old hurt?

Janna: Do you remember the plaid pants?
Janna’s Mom: It was an adorable plaid pantsuit, green and rust, if I remember correctly, acquired from an older cousin.
Janna: Rust? Right. That’s a fond recollection. Too fond, if you ask me. What were you thinking?
Janna’s Mom: I loved it. You hated it but I was sure if you just wore it you'd change your mind.
Janna: You must have felt so much guilt when you learned you were wrong. What else?
Janna’s Mom: I learned that you could be stubborn. You refused to leave the car when we ran those errands.
Janna: Well, you’ve got that second part right, anyway. Would you do it the same way today?
Janna’s Mom: I might do it again.
Janna: Right, except that I’m 32 now, I can dress myself. Also, I feel it fair to point out, you’re well on your way to old age. One of these days it’ll be my turn to dress you…

Janna Qualman is a writer who appreciates her mom’s good nature through the writing and publication of this humor essay. You can visit Janna (and learn about things which are less embarrassing) at her blog, Something She Wrote.

Image credit: rustyzipper.com


  1. I recall a few interesting outfits my Mom made me wear...she had the best intentions, I'm thinking. :P Glad you lived through this fashion calamity, Janna! Thanks for sharing it with us. I'll make a note not to ever send you anything plaid for your birthday. :)

  2. This was the opposite for me. I had an outfit I loved! To this day - those pics are referred to as my "orphan pics". :)

  3. Ha! I should remind my mom that I'll too get even with her one day. :-) I remember one day dressing in purple cords and a red turtle-neck. my mom didn't realize what I was wearing until we were in the doctor's office waiting room and I removed my coat. She had a fit. Till this day I point out all the red and purple combos. There are a lot! Great story.

  4. I think I had a pair of those plaid pants too! When I look back at pictures from me in those days, I wince sometimes :) Funny story Janna. Well done :)

  5. So tell me...was your mom a big fan of the bagpipes, Arnold Palmer...or Jan Brady?
    I had to smile at the end...revenge will be sweet. Think polka dots!

  6. Janna, this post is perfect! So funny and entertaining. I hope you sub this piece somewhere. It's very, very good. :-)

  7. Now THOSE sound like some pretty special pants! Glad you survived :) There are equal dangers, though, when you're young and allowed to pick your own outfit. I've got a third grade picture that memorializes my terrible selection of a turtleneck under a short sleeved dress and some socks pulled way up.

  8. OMG you've awakened my nightmares of my own plaid plants back in the 70's when I was a kid-I swear my parents took an old couch and turned it into pants! they looked like a 70's plaid couch and felt like it too! Glad you survived...I may need help now that the memories have resurfaced!

  9. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who's had to wear ugly stuff! ;)

    Thanks for commiserating--and laughing--gang.

  10. Ah, if mothers could see the future they may be more careful in feeding and clothing their children in anything rusty or dirty green. I want to eat nor wear either color when I am old :).

  11. I remember a haircut I let my daughter get, well, we gave her, Her thick hair stood out from the sides and I felt so bad!!We don't always know what we are doing as moms, do we?

  12. I am so sorry this happened to you. Can we help it that we inflict pain on our offspring unknowingly? But I love the ending! I think you should shop for fabric and have a seamstress make your mom a green and brown plaid outfit for Christmas,or her bd. You know, as an "adorable outfit" surprise. See how well she loves it!

  13. "like a wart, no treatment will cure." That was a total laugh out loud moment for me, Janna! Too funny. Great story!

  14. Ha! so cute!! I can definitely relate to my mom making me wear some really awful outfits too.
    I sometimes wonder if I'm accidentally doing the same thing to my little one! :)


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