maybe I should have let them make me take Home Ec

Your high school guidance counselor is 
a person who has achieved his full potential.

For non-US residents, the high school guidance counselor is the person whose job is to suggest colleges or universities or courses of study, to set up class schedules, and to process transcripts and applications. They also told your parents that you were not living up to your full potential, seemed unmotivated, and risked not becoming a well-rounded and reliable citizen. In four years of high school and one year of junior high school, I never met anyone who was living up to his full potential. 

And so it came to pass that I arrived home one early spring afternoon with a list of the following year's courses, to be presented to a parent for signature. Naturally I had read it before I jumped into the car of the cute guy du jour, and so to everyone's surprise I demanded to be taken straight home. The strategy was obvious - I would wash off the eye makeup, bang out the chores and be found laboring over the trigonometry assignment when Mom got home from work. I thought about putting an opera record on, but refrained.

Mom wasn't fooled for a minute, although years of dealing with woe and wickedness and the puberty of others had blunted her x-Ray vision just a touch. So while she was relieved to know that I wasn't planning to stay out all night, skip school with a rare disease that required days of lab tests, address envelopes for a dubious political campaign, etc. etc., she wasn't thrilled to be reminded that it was schedule time again. Funny how time flies.

This was the nasty surprise on the schedule: instead of Advanced Placement Chemistry I had been assigned to Home Ec. Mom and I supposed this had happened either because of the GC's personal animosity or because he had noticed a vacancy and had filled it the easiest way possible - with an "elective."

Scene: the Guidance Office. I have been instructed not to "pipe up." Thus I listened very carefully, and the conversation is embedded in my brain. I'd actually like to get rid of it and make room for something else, but like cockroaches and corporations, some things have eternal life.

        Mom:            I'd like a few things explained before I sign off on this. This line, for starters.
        GC:               She is entering her Junior year. All Juniors are required to take an elective.
        Mom:            I don't understand, why is it elective if it's required?
        GC:               Because it's not optional. She has no choice, she has to choose an elective.

The spectacle continued until it lost its power to entertain. In the middle of a discussion about the benefits of Home Ec for someone who had learned to use a sewing machine in 6th grade (this shows you how desperate to entertain a Scout leader can be), and how could there be no openings remaining in AP Chemistry anyway, I produced a note from the chemistry teacher in which he requested that the 4th period class with double lab time be added to my schedule, since the class had 2 open slots.

It was customary to take that Chemistry course and Physics the same year, or if that couldn't be accommodated, very close together. This leads me to my current project, which is related to the time, space and matter continuum.

We leave for London, Paris, Lyon in about 2 weeks and I am determined to fit the necessary clothing into a carry-on, but equally determined not to spend more than half an hour or at most 45 minutes per day obsessing over packing, with occasional time extensions as needed to exhume some things that might fit from the last time I failed to get off the weight from the winter travels in time for the spring excursion. And no, well, minimal, shopping.

I wound up getting a new raincoat, because my very very good one is Extra Long. This is great for protecting the knees and legs in city winters, but even without the lining there's too much of it for the carry-on or the overhead.

I grabbed the J.Crew Bonded Zip Trench, a single-breasted number with a really neat collar, as an alternative. Length is adequate, and fit is fine, except the belt loops are located 1 inch too high.

This is where I start wondering whether there might have been some benefit in Home Ec after all. In keeping with my developing minimalist attitude, I sought a "free alteration." J.Crew's alteration/tailoring was not up to the task. A salesperson consulted with the tailor, and reported back that it was a very complicated and timeconsuming job requiring special equipment, and it would cost upwards of $75.

Removing the belt reveals the "complicated structure" of the belt holders - each consists of a little tab with a buttonhole sewn on the coat. The related buttons are on the belt.

Here are detailed schematic drawings showing (a) little tab with button, and (b) corresponding little tab with buttonhole. The "complicated" task is to snip thread holding tab to coat, pin tab back on to coat but one inch below previous location, and sew each little end onto coat.

I wonder if I had "elected" to take Home Ec, would I have stayed in touch with at least one of the girls who had really chosen the course? I would have been able to do a good deed and put some probably very needed work her way. ("needed" work because after 4 years of high school Home Ec back in the day and no prospects of further education, would she be employable in today's economy?)

Instead generations of my female ancestors are dropping their haloes and falling off clouds laughing at my efforts to locate a thimble without leaving the house. Cab fare to and from M & J Trimming (and if you come to New York, this place is a must and call me because I love to go there) is out of the question, because I am determined to prove that I can do the "alteration" for nothing.

Alternatively I can return the Bonded Zip Trench - sounds like equipment for an armed bootlegger - and try the Madewell Travel Trench, which looks like bootlegger wear but without the dangerous-sounding name.
This little number is shorter (good to pack, not so good to wear), less expensive (good) but web-only and final sale. Brilliantly, no measurements are published. If anyone out there has actually tried the thing on, please let me know your reactions.

Meanwhile, this link will bring you to a good collection of views of trench coats a-travelling. Look how cute the longer coats look.

I think something in my closet is whining.


  1. To be honest, I did three degrees and the only thing I remember of anything was my home ec invalids pudding and sewing an apron. My only regret was that I didn't take typing at high school (which would have been the best thing I ever did) and continue sewing. I would really like to sew now. My mother did the rest of my sewing homework and I cooked dinner for a couple of years when I was 13.
    Just read a long article in NY TImes? about bring back shop (metalwork etc.)

    LOve love love the look of that trench. How funny you should say about the belt loops, I always find waisty things way too high for me.
    I have a trench but find it too stiff, would look another softer look that I could just shrug on

    1. Hi, Jody, I have an old and tired Burberry which I've held on to in the hope that one day I will shrug it on and it - and I - will look dashing and worldly. So far neither Old B nor I have gotten past old and tired.

      I would have loved to take shop, but girls were not allowed.

  2. there has got to be something in NYC you can try on, it fits, and is a reasonable price. Ha! Good luck. Belt loops should be easy to fix...did you try an actual tailor?

    1. Hi, BB, I love "actual tailor" - it confirms my suspicion that there is no real JC tailor, no real alterations people, just another prison-like sweatshop northwest of Beijing where pants are hemmed by robots.

      Of course I could do the belt-loops myself. I just thought that if a free alteration by a professional was available, I should avail myself of it, in keeping with the freat plan to spend minimal time and money on getting ready for this trip. Well, so much for that!

      I've now located needle, thread and scissors, 10 days left to find my thimble.

  3. Everything at J. Crew is high waisted, period. My daughter only has home ec in 6th grade. I feel that's too bad as it is probably the most useful subject in school.

    1. Hi, Anita, yes, it's astounding that after years of markdowns and rejections, they still haven't learned where the waist is on most human females.

  4. $75 - highway robbery! Your story was so funny! I liked home ev, but was dismal at it, though I would like to try again!

    1. Hi, Wendy, I really think this was their way of asking me to please go away.

      So many things have changed on the "domestic science" front since the Dark Ages, I think it might be amusing to take a course in sewing now... although the course from which I'd really benefit would be Home Repairs for the Ham-Handed.

  5. Maybe there was something lost in translation or something bc that is ridiculous - i could get my trench dry cleaned 4 times with that amount! My favorite trench is from theory and it is a half sleeve which seemed odd but i just bought it anyway and now i love the half sleeve bc it is perfect for that April May - October weather where it can just turn.

    1. Hi, Naomi, I think they were just trying to discourage me. They succeeded. I'm gearing up to do the job myself.

      Theory is really doing interesting stuff, I love their palate of neutrals.

  6. I went to Catholic school where we didn't have a home economics course but learned instead to type on an Underwood typewriting under the watchful eyes of ancient Sisters. There is probably some sort of message there....although typing has been a very useful tool my husband thinks it's hilarious that he can sew a hem because of what he learned in Home Ec and I cannot.

    1. Hi, TeriLynn, I think it's terrific that your husband can hem! Real question: and does he use this skill? I ask because we went through a period where Himself thought his pant legs should come to the bottom of his heel. Unfortunately he was always stepping on them and tearing out the hem. I'm thinking that this would have been settled in one minute if he'd been the one who was tasked with stitching the hem back.

  7. It's not the thimble which is my most prized sewing tool, I now require a needle threader thingamajig. My grandmother and a lady in the neighborhood helped me but basically I taught myself to sew as a girl. Alterations, however, are never fun. I always think that I will make a trip to Mood and M & J Trimmings while in the city but have only made it to City Quilter for fabrics since I am in a flurry of making baby quilts currently. Oh and never get me started on packing. I tell myself I have gotten better but in reality it just seems that way since I frequently travel with people who actually overpack more than I do. Well the trench looks great and I am sure you will have a fabulous trip!

    1. Hi, Teacups, I hoard the little pre-threaded needles that sometimes come in hotel-room sewing kits. Otherwise, it's reading glasses and patience.

      I'm fine packing basics, it's when I get to the what-ifs -- what if it rains/snows, what if there's a heat wave, what if I spill something on me -- that I founder. All of the terrible what-ifs are rooted in things that have actually happened to me, and I hate having to shop under pressure or killing a day to find something. Who would have predicted three days in May inNew Oleans with highs of 52 degrees? Not the lady shivering in shorts, tank and 3 teeshirts, that's for sure.

  8. I have been to M&J-- what a wonderful place! No where but in NYC could you ever find a store like that!! I hope your coat is altered to your liking before the trip. My sheet music place just closed there, so I hope nothing happens to M&J.

    I like to go carry- on to and will obsess about what to take for, well, days. I try not to think about the what-if's, though-- did you really freeze in New Orleans? It's always so hot there...

    1. I'm trying desperately to figure out what will work in a carry on - I want to show myself that I'm capable of traveling without an entourage and bearers.

      Yes, one year there really was a cold snap, and the entire mob scene at Jazzfest consisted of hunched-over wrapped-up ill-equipped music lovers with goosebumps. And a few lovely and graceful Southern ladies, I've come to believe these gals are trained from birth to be impervious to temperature changes.

  9. I sew grudgingly as I'm self taught and terrible. I wish I had been taught more practical skills. I can tell you everything about ancient greek battle formations or how to price a derivative but those are useless relative to how to make a good stew or sew a button. I'm hoping to teach my children more practical skills.

    1. Hi, Jen, I can sketch, drape, lay out, cut, baste and fit - the whole 9 yards. I just felt that if the ridiculous price of the trench includes free minor alterations, then JC ought to live up to this and in fact provide said free minor alterations. Stubbornness is a substantial part of my DNA.

      So I just got back from bringing a glorious old Ralph Lauren Collection silk dress to my alterations guy, the hem's being redone, the neckline's being lifted and the self-belt is being relined. All for less than JC's quoted price for the few stitches needed to relocate the belt loops, which BTW Fernando is throwing in for free.


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