My sisters and I used to call it the holiday harangue. With only slight variations over the years, it went something like this:
"But Mom, everyone is wearing them."
"I don't care if every kid on the planet wears them."
"But Mom, it's for Christmas."
Long pause. "Well, we'll see."
Whether or not our requested clothing item showed up under the tree usually depended on three factors: Was it outrageously expensive? Was it practical? Did it have any redeeming aesthetic value?
My own kids are still young enough that they only want toys. And mercifully, they're still gullible enough to believe that any omission from their Christmas list is due to Santa's fiscal problems.
But I wondered what kind of clothing items other kids across the county were asking for this year--and whether Santa was going to come through.
My niece, a ninth-grader at Sinaloa Junior High in Simi Valley, told me she wasn't exactly expecting a Christmas miracle. Just a pair of "black, clunky boots" from England and maybe some designer jeans.
And what did Santa think of the requests? "Those boots have got to be the ugliest things I've ever seen," her mother said. "There's no way I'm going to spend $90 on something even Frankenstein wouldn't wear."
The jeans have a similarly slim chance of making it into a wrapped box. "I'm sorry, but I won't spend money on ripped jeans. I have a dog that can do that for free."
Cori Smith, co-manager of Contempo Casuals in Simi Valley, is a seasoned veteran of the holiday harangue. Mothers and daughters often come into the store to shop for Christmas clothing. Their differing opinions, she said, frequently provide entertainment for the staff.
"We have some tops that, for all intents and purposes, are sheer, and when the mothers see that they look like negligees, they refuse to buy them," Smith said. "But they usually cave in at the end. Their kids plead with them so much."
Several store owners said that clothing items that encounter less parental resistance include currently popular fleece jackets, jeans with leather sewn onto them to resemble riding chaps, and oversize blazers.
"From the top up, the girls look really nice with these tailored jackets, and from the waist down, it's the gym look, with mid-calf leggings and tennis shoes, " said Karen Abel, owner of Wear It Again Sam, a resale clothing store across the street from Ventura High School.
Over at the Gap in Thousand Oaks, sales associate Eddie Brown said parents are coming in with their kids' lists and shopping for more conservative looks. "A lot of kids have asked for overalls. Leggings and oversize shirts are still a hot look," he said. "Still, most times if it's for a gift, the parents ask if it's returnable."
And what about boys? As expected, store owners said many clothing requests are sports-related. But even a simple T-shirt or pair of shorts--especially if they're made by such pricey designers as Quiksilver, Billabong, Stussy or Jimmy'Z--can turn some Santas into grinches.
"Some T-shirts with a mock turtleneck can be $29, and denim shorts can cost $44," said Shar Caudill, assistant manager of Surfin' West in Simi Valley. "Sometimes a parent will say, 'I'm sorry, but I just don't have that much.' Other times they'll break down and say, 'Oh, OK, it's Christmas.' "
And then there is the rare teen-ager like Ventura High School senior Jessica Berryhill, who changes the entire holiday shopping equation.
Berryhill, dressed on a recent afternoon in a green polyester-knit sweater from the 1960s and carrying a small child's lunch pail as a purse, said she steers clear of department stores. Berryhill prefers thrift stores, where she's more likely to find the "hippie or beatnik" styles she likes.
How does her mother feel about buying her used clothes for Christmas?
Berryhill smiled. "I think she'd rather not," she said. "I think she'd prefer that I wore clothes from places like The Broadway."
Ventura County is teeming with the fashionable and not so fashionable. There are trend-makers and trend-breakers. There are those with style-personal and off the rack-and those making fashion statements better left unsaid. Twice a month, we'll be taking a look at fashion in Ventura County-trends, styles and ideas-and asking you what you think. If you have a fashion problem, sighting or suggestion; if you know a fashion success or a fashion victim, let us know. We want to hear from you.