Mirrors Into Windows

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” ~ Sydney J. Harris

One of my August “before school started rituals” when I was a teenager was to buy Seventeen magazine and check out the fashions in order to get ready for another school year. There was a period in my long and sometimes not illustrious academic life when academics took a seat behind other important things—like clothes, boys, and friends. While Sydney Harris is undeniably right when he states that the purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows, if I were totally honest, there was a time (long ago and far away) when I was more interested in mirrors than windows.

Out of curiosity, last fall I picked up the September 2011 issue of Seventeen magazine to see if any of the things that were once important to me stirred memories.  Well, lo and behold—some of the fashions were very similar to those of the early ‘70’s and late ‘60’s (I was a “young” teenager in the late ’60’s—what, am I on truth serum?). Short skirts, plaid dresses, platform shoes, and hints on just how that crazy opposite sex thinks were all provided in the still glossy magazine that used to be my Bible.  Just like the old days. Only in the old days I believed the hints about boys. Today I am wiser.  There is no figuring out boys. I know this as I have been married for 30 years, and have yet to figure out the “boy” I married, or the boys who are my sons.

I often wonder what boys do to gear up for another year at school. I never noticed my sons really “getting ready” for another school year—they just treated it more with resignation that summer was over and it was time to get back to school and sports and computers and friends. Sure they got new clothes, but mostly because their mother bought them. My youngest son who is in college says that all he needs to start his September semester is new jeans and running shoes. Much simpler than my needs for back to school when I was in university!

The walk down memory lane with Seventeen magazine jogged remembrances of the fresh start each September provided—and to this day September is really the start of my new year.  But today, I am more appreciative of turning “mirrors into windows” than I was decades ago.

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Published in: on August 10, 2012 at 4:50 am  Comments (44)  
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  1. Interesting post. I came back the UK from Canada at the sort of age this magazine was aimed at. Here we had school uniform so there wasn’t a big issue about getting new clothes etc. I think I used to just feel sad the holidays were over. My daughter is the same at primary school. Her secondary school has no uniform so maybe she will be buying this kind of magazine and considering her wardrobe etc… It will be interesting (and kind of scary!) to see.

    • dreaming is allowed, and that is what that mag is all about. should be an interesting time for you.

  2. I’ve been wondering if the mirror thing will happen to my kids. I have never really had any style and avoid mirrors, but my kids (at least I think so) are much better looking. So far, the mirrors are still windows and the girls are happy with messy hair and barn shoes. I hope they stay somewhat the same – though with less of the horse smell. And it wouldn’t hurt them to comb their hair on occasion.

    • too soon to tell – but the tosseled look is very in–I remember my sons in high school–they took so many showers so there would be no “sports” smell

  3. Yes, we did pour over that magazine, and yes we loved clothes…..those were the days when perhaps the outside was more important than the inside. We were trying to figure out who were were and used clothes as a creative expression….I wish I had paid as much attention to my intellectual expression, but we eventually figured it out. What am I saying, I’m still trying to figure it out! Haha.

    • I am with you there. Those mags were fun and we did get a lot of ideas from them. And you and I are both life long learners.

  4. I love this time of year too. 🙂

  5. I remember pouring over that magazine in the 60’s … Cybil Shepherd was the major cover girl in those days. I was never fashionable however (to this day I’m still a jeans and t-shirt person). Interesting observation about the boys ….. two sons in my house and neither one had any special back-to-school rituals. A haircut and a new pair of shoes. That was about it!

    • hair cuts – are they still young? haircut was not on the agenda for my sons in high school – my basketball playing son went from practically bald to hair half way down his back (this is when he started becoming a rock god), and my self confessed nerd son had hair as long if not longer — so it was only new shoes and jeans in my family

  6. Oh boy I sure remember buying that magazine & Glamour as part of my “back to school ritual”. Never had any of the snazzy outfits I saw in them, but it was still a ritual… Having daughters myself, not much has changed 🙂

    • Although I could not afford the clothes in the mag, my mom was quite a seamstress so we bought patterns that mimicked the fashions and I was quite a fashion plate if I do say so myself (sometimes-lol)

  7. I loved school. Still do and getting ready for it was so wonderful. I wore many hand-me-downs because I had a big sister but my mother could sew ANYTHING and did looking at some of those fashion magazines. I think those pics (images of young women) from a couple of decades ago are far more obtainable than the ones now! And boys, well they’ve always had in much easier in terms of fashion, right? And I try to turn mirrors into windows — much nicer to do so as you get older. Nice post, Lou Ann.

    • You and I were so lucky that we had moms who could make us look good and up to date.
      sometimes though, my window seems to be open

  8. I am a high school teacher in Brooklyn. My students are very fashion conscious. Wearing the right clothes, shopping etc. is a huge deal to them.

    • it is a huge deal to kids – it makes going back to school more palatable for those no-so-eager students

      • Its not just going back to school. Its all the time.

  9. The pain and agony of summer being over was tempered by back-to-school shopping! Whoo Hoo!

    • I have never been a summer girl, so there was never much pain and agony in that respect for me —

  10. I read that mag too back in my day. Now that I look back – I don’t even know why though. I got new clothes every year. But – I knew I wasn’t gonna’ look like that. Still…memories…

  11. Personally I still experience this. But instead I Seventeen I buy InStyle magazine when I need a fashion fix. And back to school (even though my school days are currently behind me) is still my favorite season. Thanks for sharing this. It brought back memories. ~Gail

    • my favourite season too — I used to buy Vogue — but could not relate – maybe I should try InStyle

      • InStyle is fun … and I feel like I could find some of the outfits within my shopping scope. LOL!

      • will have to give it a try 🙂

  12. I can’t say I can go back to a whole new fashio period but I went through a tween-girl magazine phase and sometimes, when no one is wround, still pick one up and giggle 😛
    And I love the 70s and 60s style, it will always keep coming back!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

    • it does doesn’t it – but I cannot wear it – they say if you wore it once, you are too old to wear it again – so I though I am not destined for old lady shoes and house dresses- neither can my knees pull off a mini skirt!

  13. One of my daughters, when very young, noticed that, at certain angles, WINDOWS could be used as mirrors, LOL … if ever I lost her in a town, all I had to do was back-track to the last large store window, LOL. There she would be, dancing and posing.
    Here in the UK, these magazines can be found in all Doctors’ and Dentists’ waiting rooms, presumably for our edification while we wait to go in to be told we must lose weight, etc, LOL.
    Beautifully written blogpost, I will call again.
    With respect, Pat.

    • That is so true – now isn’t that cute (except when you had to backtrack and find her). Your doctors are just a little bit mean, don’t you think? Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

    • cannot seem to connect to your blog – tried to find you

  14. I too have sons and when I think on it, we mother of sons should make a combined blog about our experiences raising sons cos my goodness wouldn’t it make for hilarious reading. You discuss your sons minimalist needs in returning to uni….I count it as a blessing if my son can find his clothes at all….usually they are st someone’s house or in the back of his car or wherever. I also get the appreciation for mirrors turning into windows 🙂 😦 Thkyu

    • I think that would be some blog — oh the stories we could tell – and finding stuff? that is crazy causing at my house.

  15. Ah, Seventeen magazine – I remember reading that back in the day. 🙂

  16. I think it’s amazing that the magazine has survived all that time, when so many have fallen by the wayside. I suppose if they’ve filled a niche that’s always going to appeal to teenagers, as long as they keep up with the trends they’re going to sell it. I would imagine that teenage girls will always be interested in fashion, music and boys, whatever era they’re born into.

    • I think you are right – just hope they get their priorities on track eventually – not that fashion, music and boys are not good priorities!

  17. Turning mirrors into windows – brilliant!

  18. “Turning mirrows into windows”…now that’s a funny way of putting it.

  19. These mags and some catalogs were the gauge to the fashion world for us rural and smaller city kids. I had to have a new outfit for the first day of Jnr/Snr High and the rest of the week, I’d simply re-create. We didn’t put as much on clothes as kids do now…we didn’t think of them as tools to express our beliefs or philosophies. Did we even know them?

    Aren’t boys wonderful levelers? I get such a kick out of their “by the way” kind of attitude about things that girls make a career out of.

    When I had “dull” clothes, I’d use safety pins and ribbon to redesign the presentation. We didn’t have a lot of money so creativity arose out of necessity. I worked part time throughout high school, but I still had to “make do” with clothing. Thank goodness we didn’t take photos ever 5 minutes of everyone around. I’d be cringing if I saw those outfits!

    • I know, we were blessed to only be photographed by those keeners who needed pics for the yearbooks and not everyone with a cell phone.
      I liked to be fashion forward but did not always achieve it–I was fortunate to have a mom who could sew like a seamstress, so I looked pretty good despite myself.
      Boys though have other things that they stress out about–they make us think they do not care about fashion — but both my boys had to have pants that slouched just right, and each had hair that made a personal statement

  20. […] Mirrors Into Windows […]


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