First fall weather makes me dream of Seventeen Magazine’s 1983 Back to School Issue

Tonight feels like fall, and when I was a teenager – between the ages of about 13 and 17 – that first hint of fall weather meant only one thing: the arrival of the much-anticipated Seventeen Magazine Back to School Issue. The magazine, which would land in our rural Tennessee mailbox each September, was a wondrous thing that represented all the yet-to-be-revealed, but undoubtedly exciting possibilities for my life ahead.


This particular issue of that magazine during the 1980s was as ponderously and gloriously heavy as a giant, glossy phonebook. Its heft came from the enormous ad revenue that packed its pages, an abundance of riches that the downsized print media industry can only dream of today. But those were the glory days of magazine advertising, with Guess, Fiorucci, Esprit & Bennetton all vying for my adolescent attention.

My sister and I would linger longingly over every square inch of every page of the magazine as soon as it arrived, savoring each fashion-forward image. We generally spent the most time with the full-page Ralph Lauren ads, with their P.G.-Wodehouse-meets-Bret-Easton-Ellis tableaux of bored-looking 20-somethings (so 80s fabulous). Some of these Lauren ads ended up adorning my bedroom walls.

The Laura Ashley ad pages somehow smelled exactly like the actual Laura Ashley Shoppe -surely it had an extra “e” on the end? – in Nashville. I’d love to figure out what marketing magic Laura Ashley’s American advertising agency employed in the 80s. It was some kind of masterfully persuasive sleight of hand (subliminal, maybe?) that somehow managed to convince an entire generation of 15 year old girls that they really did want to dress exactly like explosively floral tea cozies or alternatively, just like Victorian toddlers removed temporarily from the nursery to enjoy a gentle stroll around the garden with Nanny.

I loved, loved, loved my bright red cotton, Laura Ashley dropwaist middie sailor dress, which I honest-to-God wore in public with a straw boater hat, complete with grosgrain ribbon flapping behind. All I needed to complete the look would have been an absurdly oversized lollipop (and had the Laura Ashley advertisement in the pages of Seventeen Magazine suggested that such a thing would be the perfect complement to my boldly ambitious attempt at Sloane Ranger chic, I would have happily carried giant candy on a stick wherever I went.)


Today, fall means something else to me: cold weather coming soon (hate it), Christmas shopping to plan (and afford), less daylight to get things done… But I do sometimes enjoy remembering back to a time when that first cool day was all it took to open me up to the gorgeously photographed possibility that corduroy knickers – perhaps paired with argyle socks and suede oxford saddle shoes from Bass – could make all my dreams come true.