In elementary school I chose my outfits for one thing: recess. And recess meant one thing: soccer. Indoor soccer shoes, soccer shorts, and one of my soccer jerseys. I didn’t need pockets back then. I took those games during recess very seriously. One time after scoring a goal I took off one of my red and black Adidas Predator indoor cleats to celebrate like Cuauhtémoc Blanco. Instead of a crowd of fans I looked up at a big vine-covered wall. Getting back up I realized one of the girls in my grade was looking at me. She looked bewildered.

But the outfits weren’t just a practical matter. I loved how they looked. Especially when they had three stripes on the sleeves. My snooty snot-nosed self looked down on anything with four stripes. Or, God forbid, five. Unfortunately, Club América – the Mexican soccer team I supported and the one Cuauhtémoc Blanco played for – wore Nike. I dreamt one day they would return to Adidas. But then Nike started designing retro-inspired jerseys that caught my eye. Intrigued, but devoted to the three stripes, I drew and colored imaginary Adidas-branded Club América jerseys and tacked them up on the corkboard above my desk. I can probably still draw both logos from memory. The Adidas one is trickier than you’d think.

Then I found out about Abercrombie & Fitch. We didn’t have one in Mexico, so the prodigal sons strutting around in their branded polo shirts must’ve gone shopping in the States. I wish I could remember what I thought about it at first. Did I care? Some part of me must’ve known that little moose was bull. But at that age intuition gives way easily to the cool kid decree.

Before I had a chance to buy into the hype, my parents announced that we were moving to the States. And right in time for me to experience the fabled American institution of middle school. That summer, while our parents dealt with the logistics of moving a six-person family from Mexico City to the suburbs of New York, my siblings and I watched nauseating amounts of Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. This time it was my older sister staring at me as I took diligent notes from Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide. I loved neat and simple rules, and relished the idea that they codified everything.

Ned’s tips were good, but not nearly as influential as his outfits were. Now it would be my turn to strut through the hallways in an open button up with a t-shirt underneath. And if the button-up were to have a little moose on the chest, then so be it. (It’s fortunate I didn’t discover mirrored aviators until later. I would’ve been too powerful.) I recreated it with Abercrombie button-ups and striped sweatpants from The Children’s Place. (One big stripe was an admissible, if humbler, alternative to the three.) On more modest days I wore one of my graphic tees, like my navy blue long-sleeve that read, in letters stylized as ice cubes, COOL AS ICE. Another favorite was a black short-sleeve with The Dark Side of the Moon album cover on it. I knew nothing about Pink Floyd but it seemed like a cool thing to wear. Plus, the material was so soft, it was like wearing a pajama top.

On those first few weeks, I swaggered through the halls in my new outfits, savoring my authentique américain lifestyle. But the quippy repartee that I anticipated happening in the busy halls wasn’t as natural in the secluded corner of the school, where the sixth grade lockers were. Plus, opening a locker wasn’t the 3-second operation that TV had assured me existed mainly as backdrop for flirting between classes. I don’t know at what summer camp all those Nickelodeon teens and teens got their bank-heist finger agility.

Even lunch time was a sobering affair. My idealized vision of middle school suffered a severe blow when the ever-grouchy ketchup-haired lunch lady rung up my lunch food at more than the three bucks my mom gave me. Apparently I was supposed to look at the prices and add them up to a total, like an adult at a grocery store or something. I figured the transaction was more cultural than monetary. You give me lunch, I give you lunch money.

But the cool kid crowd whose law I now observed wasn’t concerned with button-ups, graphic tees, moose, or even stripes. It was all about the shoes. Skateboarding shoes, specifically. Etnies, DCs, and, for those with bolder taste, Osiris high tops. (Other cool kid crowds were innovating in different directions, with Ed Hardy t-shirts and such.) I wasn’t confident about how I’d look in a pair of chunky skate shoes, but the allure of the group convinced me to take the leap. I vied for membership with a respectable bid: Nike SB 6.0s, the ones with the thick tongue. At first, they felt like part of a costume. For years, my criterion for shoes had been that they would allow me to play soccer at a moment’s notice. Even dress shoes had to be conducive to good ball control. Nonetheless, my chunky new SBs became my main pair of shoes, even though they’d often fly off my foot after kicking a ball. I loved how they looked. At some point, despite my scandalized father, I took a black Sharpie to them and drew flames and other bits on the side of the soles.

In high school, one of my best friends was very amused by the semi-formal attire I changed into after class one day, hoping to impress an exchange student at a group dinner that evening. (This was in the early 2010s, before “looking like a dad” could be positive.) To be fair, my outfit was nearly indistinguishable from our private school uniform. I didn’t look like I was going out with my fellow 15 year-olds, but like I was going to evening mass.

It was tricky to dress my age given my dad’s impulse to impress his preferences on me and my brother during our gender-segregated trips to the outlet mall. (Pobre niños, I only took them to Tommy Hilfiger, Lacoste, Polo Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein…) The boys enjoyed an efficient tour through the collared, emblemed world of business casual while the girls enjoyed going shopping. (The gleeful shopping spree where I realized my Ned outfit for middle school was casually sponsored by my mom on one of the days where a breach opened in the gender divide, leading into a world of abundant oks and yeah sures.) Luckily for me, my dad also highly approved of Adidas. Actually, it was he who gave me the Impossible is Nothing poster that hung on my bedroom wall, featuring a looming Muhammad Ali, an arm-slinged Beckenbauer, and various other figures of iron resolve.

My dad would never have taken us thrift shopping, and yet he supplied me and my brother with some prime vintage pieces. He kept some of his clothes for decades, despite the fact they didn’t fit him anymore. I suppose he foresaw the possibility of their inheritance, or maybe he collected them for no practical reason like he did his military school uniform and racecar magazines. In our late teens and early twenties, my brother and I mined my dad’s store of 80s and 90s attire for bona fide retro items. It was like going thrift shopping, except the old man was no stranger. And it was free. I guess thrift stores charge for the mystery.

My kids are unlikely to enjoy the same luck. At the peak of my “minimalist” phase in my late teens and early twenties — as my mom admiringly called it — I got rid of a lot of stuff. Probably too much stuff. My dad had to talk me out of getting rid of my school yearbooks. One of the things I regret getting rid of is a Club América t-shirt signed by a teenage Memo Ochoa, the talented up-and-coming Mexican goalie who, ten or fifteen years later, made outrageous saves at the 2018 World Cup in Brazil to deny the likes of Neymar. I got to meet him when I was eight years old and playing in the Club América youth academy, which was real enough to summon a couple first team players for a meet-and-greet after practice one day. Actually, I even got to stand on the field at the legendary Estadio Azteca – site of Maradona’s infamous Hand of God in the 1986 World Cup – before kickoff at a Club América game. My teammates and I were lined up to high-five the players as they came out onto the field, but most of them didn’t stretch their arms far enough to make contact with us. I remember feeling quite annoyed. I guess that was easier than feeling disappointed.

I also regret getting rid of a particular red polo shirt from my childhood. I had no shortage of embroidered polo shirts, but this one was special. It was the one I wore on the fateful day I crossed paths with none other than Cuauhtémoc Blanco. It was orchestrated not by the academy but by chance, and by the universal appeal of Six Flags. I came off my second ride of the Superman rollercoaster to find out that my friend’s chofer, who was accompanying me because none of my friends wanted to go on the rollercoaster, had seen Cuauhtémoc. I couldn’t believe it. Why didn’t you get his autograph? Because I know him from back in the day, I used to play soccer with him. Where did he go?

Sure enough, there he was – standing in a crowd of parents watching their children on one of the kiddie rides. Some of the parents were wearing Club América jerseys, but none of them were looking at him. I couldn’t believe nobody recognized him, but then again I barely did, in his dark sunglasses and white t-shirt advertising a splashing Aquafina water bottle. A shrewd disguise. I guess it also helped that he naturally looked less like a Mexican soccer star and more like a Mexican Tony Soprano. I waited for the kiddie ride to end and, as the parents dispersed, I approached him, heart thumping. Straight to the point: can I have an autograph? He paused, said nothing, glanced quickly over his shoulder, took the pen my friend’s chofer had given me, found the top corner of my shirt, and signed it. When I got back to my friends, they couldn’t believe it.

In my university years, some of my friends developed a special affinity for Four Horsemen (4H), our local casual-yet-high-end clothing store. (Street wear?) The walls were all white, the clothes were expensive, the music was hip, and the employees even hipper. I browsed often but rarely purchased anything. And yet I spent hundreds of dollars there. All I remember buying is a pair of New Balances 999s, two pairs of black Chapter pants, and a pair of roomy, pleated, grey, speckled 4H pants, which I still love.

The special emphasis on pants is due to the difficulty I have buying pants that don’t smother my thighs. In fact, it was from one of the Four Horsemen workers that I first heard thick as slang, when I was trying on the grey pants. I laughed nervously before escaping back into the fitting room. I bought a size up and got a tailor to shorten the waist. After years of tapering the end of my employee-discounted Tommy Hilfiger chino pants by folding the hem, those grey pants were a departure. Looking at the loose hems in the fitting room, I was doubtful I could pull it off.

During a day trip to Vancouver with that same friend group, I ended up splurging on an olive-colored John Elliott Hooded Villain sweater. The side-zipper design surged in popularity, high enough for H&M to mimic, and then crashed back down. Ritchie with a T, in the outro of Injury Reserve’s “All This Money”:

I don’t even know who’s idea it was to put a zipper on the side

Like what…

I wore it religiously for at least a year, most often under a vintage Tommy Hilfiger jean jacket that my smiling dad let me steal from his collection. I still have the hoodie in my closet. Maybe I’ll keep it for my kids to gape at in a couple decades. If it’s not cool again by then, at least it’ll be novel.