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Bad Gifts #2: Clothing

December 20, 2011

In continuing my holiday theme week featuring the top bad gifts, I recognize I’ve picked a controversial one for today.


Because I suspect you might vehemently disagree.  

Because I suspect you might say, “My wife always gets me the best fleece hoodies!  I couldn’t tell you exactly what they look like, but I do know they have the Steelers on the front.”

Or you might say, “Hey, I bought my son a pair of $100 jeans last year and he loved them!  He wore them every day for a year.  We had to pry them off his body with a shoe horn.”

Well I see your designer jeans and your Steelers fleece hoodies and I raise you one pink velour turtleneck.

I was five when I was cursed with the infamous pink turtleneck.  My mom made sure it was put to good use.  And so it became a ribbed velour noose around my neck for months to come, squeezing the very life out of me in revenge for my wickedness.  

I received the shirt for Christmas from my Aunt Lela — who was known throughout the Midwest for her signature Oh, you shouldn’t have (no, really) gifts.  In looking back, I can’t imagine what I didn’t like about it. 

For one, it was pink.  Though, true, less “pink” of the Care Bear variety and more “pink” of the Pepto-Bismol variety.  But it was also velour with a splendid cozy plush feel, like the Velveteen Rabbit, like the Jack Tripper line of chic tracksuit loungewear. 

And I was five, for crying out loud.  What did I care?  What did it matter to someone who drew style inspiration from Mork?  What did it matter to someone who thought wearing Smurf pajamas to the grocery store was being fashion-forward?  Why, it was only the previous year that I opened another turtleneck with an expression that looked just like this.

Note my cousin Mike in the background.  He is not wearing the same expression.  And I can be certain he is also not wearing the turtleneck he just got.

My expression the following year, the year I opened the pink velour turtleneck, could not be captured in a photograph.  Sadly, I have nothing to show you of its existence.  Indeed, my mother wouldn’t have allowed cameras in the room during that regrettable moment.  But I can tell you when I opened the box in front of two dozen smiling faces my exact words were . . .

“Oooooh, groooooooooosssssss.” 

I know because I can still hear these words reverberating in my conscience like it was yesterday, like a horrendous record-scratching interruption to an otherwise delightful family gift exchange. 

And to that response of gratitude, my great aunt replied as she slapped her knee with her new embroidered checkbook cover, “Oh, come now!  Now that shirt is cute and it looks very warm.”

Which brings up a common fumble in the sport of clothes gifting.  If  you’re purchasing clothing for children who are older than, say, five, and who are old enough to know that their friends are now ready to size them up and throw them under the school bus for wearing rainbow suspenders, consider not using these words as determining factors in your selection: 

1.) Cute,

2.) Warm, and

3.) Free with a purchase 

Fortunately, in later years, children become strong enough to physically take action on such gifts. 

My family folklore contains the legend of an immortal shirt that my brother received from my Aunt Lela one Christmas.  After taking the unsightly frock straight to the thrift store, where it had the chance to find someone who’d really love it, the following year Tony received the same shirt. 

Unfortunately, after my brother burned it the second time around, we suspect its special polyurethane fabric components gave it the ability to extinguish itself, regenerate arms and pull its body from the smoldering ashes of the trash dumpster. 

Fortunately, in the case of cotton turtlenecks, we have learned that burning is not necessary.

Because simply tearing them apart at the seams . . . 

. . . is usually enough to kill them.

45 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2011 11:53 am

    Like zombies.

  2. December 20, 2011 12:26 pm

    I can just hear your great aunt. :-)

    My husband and I agreed to stop exchanging gifts in 1989 after a similar experience (I was the sweater recipient).

    • December 20, 2011 8:18 pm

      Sounds like a good plan. Although, now you have me intrigued and would love to see this dealbreaker sweater.

  3. December 20, 2011 12:31 pm

    I’ve learned to never give my wife clothing as Christmas gifts. Ever.

  4. mark permalink
    December 20, 2011 1:11 pm

    The turtleneck that Tony is pictured with at the bottom looks like it’s one of those late 80s gems…the 2 shirts stitched together into one ensemble. Whatever happened to those? I know I had quite a few of them…and kind of miss them.

    • December 20, 2011 8:21 pm

      I had a few tank tops sewn onto t-shirts, but I don’t recall ever getting a turtleneck/vest species of unitard. I believed those to be a rarity. I hope you didn’t have one too.

  5. December 20, 2011 3:58 pm

    I see your pink turtleneck and raise you 7 pink undies, every one with a different day of the week on them (monday through sunday), bestowed on me by my loving (but oh so cruel) grandmother on my 9th birthday, which I had the great misfortune to open at my party in front of my friends… .

    Guessing that turtleneck doesn’t sound to me too bad now, huh?! ;)

    • December 20, 2011 8:24 pm

      At least the underwear could be worn without others noticing. However, I’ll definitely agree that the opening in front of friends business is purely sadistic.

      Sally said in When Harry Met Sally that they didn’t make Sunday underwear because of God. I’m pleased to know that isn’t true.

      • December 21, 2011 3:18 am

        Yes, I give you that :)

        I will have to watch that movie again – I absolutely cannot remeber that part – in any case why wouldn’t God want us to wear underwear on sundays and is it sacrilegious to print “sunday” on underwear just because that was the day the rested after creating the world?

        She might be right about the US though, because we are a bit more relaxed about religion etc. in Europe

  6. December 20, 2011 6:43 pm

    This is very helpful because I have never known what to say when receiving clothes I will never wear. Oh groooooossssssss will come in handy.

    Favorite line: “But it was also velour with a splendid cozy plush feel, like the Velveteen Rabbit, like the Jack Tripper line of chic tracksuit loungewear.” I miss Jack Tripper.

    • December 20, 2011 8:26 pm

      When I was writing my Three’s Company post quite a while back, it hit me all at once that John Ritter/Jack Tripper is dead. I seriously mourned him all over again.

      Untimely celebrity deaths I still mourn: John Candy, John Ritter, Jim Henson, Mr. Rogers, Gilda Radner. For what it’s worth.

  7. December 20, 2011 7:29 pm

    The part about the son loving the $100 jeans reminds me of when I bought my eldest son two pairs of $50 GAP jeans a few years back and he used them to wipe paint off of his hands in art class. This is not to say he didn’t like them, he just treats all of his clothing like rags, even now. I had foolishly thought he would respect his clothes if they were more stylish/expensive/cool. In reality, I could have bought him a pair of $10 jeans and spent the other $90 on myself and he would have been just as happy.

    • December 20, 2011 8:31 pm

      That’s a good cautionary tale. I hope to God that will be my son. He’s two so I have a ways to go. I’m dreading the whole “buy me these jeans or I might as well kiss my future goodbye” schpeel. My daughter is four going on fourteen and I know I’ll get that schpeel from her. Probably next week.

  8. Janine Edwards permalink
    December 20, 2011 10:57 pm

    Only “NOW” after Aunt Lela’s passing may any of us DARE to talk about the FAMOUS Christmas gifts she always gave us. The gifts that “kept on giving”… white elephant gifts year after year. The Castle kids may still have a few of these gifts circulating each year??? JEFF???? JIM???? Now is the time to come clean!

    As you can see from Jeff and Jim’s expressions in the above photo they were waiting anxiously for “POOR” Mike to open his gift from Lela. The new item that would be worth 365 days of good roasting. Mike never had a chance, he was doomed from the first rip of that distinctive Christmas paper. My brothers no doubt told Aunt Lela how wonderful Mike’s NEW HAT looked and told her they wanted her to take a picture. Unfortunately for “ALL OF US” we all had to put our hats on and take a picture for eternity!! Some of which still haunt us to this day.

    • Chad permalink
      December 21, 2011 11:38 am

      I laughed out loud when I read this, Janine. My sister and I always joked about the “Lela gifts.” I still remember the colorful underwear (yeah, you heard me right) I received one year – about 5 sizes too small. But it was the thought that counted, right? :)

      • Janine Edwards permalink
        December 21, 2011 9:48 pm

        Chad….You don’t even know how much Kent and I have laughed and laughed- remembering the “FUNNY” gifts we have gotten.
        Kent could not even “TALK ABOUT” the TIE he got (early in our marriage) with a stain on it from Lela one Christmasi until NOW….THANKS TO ANGIE who was BRAVE ENOUGH…….and “CAME OUT OF THE CLOSET” with this can of worms …..LOL….OK the “5 sizes to SMALL” underwear gift wins…we can’t breathe, we are on the floor laughing…..STOP IT ALREADY……..

      • mark permalink
        December 22, 2011 6:59 am

        One of the gifts Angie and I got from Lela for our wedding was a box that included hand towels (which we still use) and a used waffle maker (which we never used and gave away to goodwill). Funny, though, now that we have a 4 and 2 year old, I wish we had that waffle maker. Thankfully there was no underwear involved in that potpourri gift package!

      • Kim Castle permalink
        December 22, 2011 8:01 am

        Oh the anticipation of the box of “goodies” from Lela! The funky tie, thin black socks and handkerchiefs for the guys, and kitchen towels and hot pads for the girls along with some great “antiques” that are “very old, very old” (we know this from the notes written on the masking tape). Some of my favorite “antiques” include a set of 3 plaques sporting antique cars that were plastic and some very old linens belonging to Lela’s mother….hmmm, who knew they had polyester machine hemmed tablecloths back in the day??? Over the years, there were a few treasures in those boxes if you looked really, really hard and I have a couple of good tablecloths, and two cross stitched samplers, once removed from their plastic frames and no longer mounted on a piece of a cardboard cereal box, that turned out to be lovely. And of course, our most used item ever is an ice cream scoop from the bank in Thedford that was in our “wedding box”. Just think of all the time she spent putting those boxes together….probably why she stayed active for so long.

        And I love Jeff’s football jersey and overalls get up. If only he were any better at putting together an outfit today. Sigh.

      • December 22, 2011 3:56 pm

        Holy smokes, this has become quite the place to purge everyone’s horrible Aunt Lela gift memories. Who knew they got even worse than what I received. Through sharing our hurt, we can further understand each other’s pain.

        I’m certain, wherever she is, Jesus is enjoying his crocheted tissue box cover.

    • December 22, 2011 3:49 pm

      Wow, I don’t think I ever received underwear in her variety packages. I feel rather left out.

    • December 22, 2011 3:52 pm

      Please, at some point I need to see this famous cousin hat photo.

  9. Janine Edwards permalink
    December 20, 2011 11:07 pm

    OK. The funniest part of your entire story is that AUNT LELA HEARD YOU SAY….OHHHHH GROOOOSSSSSS.
    Now that is FUNNY.
    I personally think it was a very appropriate response.
    One more thing before I go…..WHAT the heck is the blue and white “THING” in your hands in the above picture? Is that what I think it is???? A SWEATER???? Oh please tell me I am wrong…..

    • December 22, 2011 3:50 pm

      I appreciate the validation. I was under the impression that I was behaving like a brat. You just saved me tons of therapy bills.

  10. December 21, 2011 12:13 am

    You and your Bro Bro sure were tight. My kids wouldn’t be in the same frame, let alone the same room.

    • December 22, 2011 3:51 pm

      How are they today, Les? Best buddies, I hope? I always felt all those noogie sandwiches I received somehow helped our sibling bond grow stronger.

  11. LaVonna permalink
    December 21, 2011 8:09 am

    That blue shirt is the ‘bomb’, Angie. Looks like it was bought for me. Ha!!!!! Glad you got it!

    • Janine Edwards permalink
      December 21, 2011 9:18 pm

      LaVonna…(MoM)……She hated you so YOU ARE THE ONE THAT SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN THE BLUE AND WHITE SWEATER…..Tell Angie you are sorry…….She got YOUR gift……..

      • December 22, 2011 3:58 pm

        I personally didn’t think the sweater was in the same league as the turtleneck-vest combo.

  12. December 21, 2011 9:57 am

    I got a velour shirt from my Aunt Mary at Christmas for YEARS. My parents ruled our house with an iron fist, so “Ohhhhh Grooooooss” would have gotten me severe punishment, like actually having to wear the thing.

    • December 22, 2011 4:00 pm

      Oh, yes, I was forced to wear it alright. Your parents sound like mine. Perhaps your Aunt Mary and my Aunt Lela would’ve been better off exchanging their own gifts?

  13. December 21, 2011 10:00 am

    OH MY this reminds me of the Christmas my sister and I received a New Kids On the Block ensemble from my Grandma (bless her heart) and the words of gratitude were “ewwwwwwwwwww” To this day I feel bad for my Grandma – she really did try. LOVE the post from one 80’s baby to another :-)

    • December 22, 2011 4:01 pm

      Oh, no! NKOTB? I would just as soon wear a plaid leisure suit. Bonus points to your grandma for trying though!

  14. December 21, 2011 11:01 am

    You’ve gotten alot of mileage out of Lela gift’s…but she never stopped trying!! Or is it that she was very trying!?? Seriously…the blue/white print sweater you are holding up in the last photo is just about the ugliest sweater I have ever seen! Did your Mom make you wear that?
    If so…my opinion of her just dropped about 10 points!

    • Janine Edwards permalink
      December 21, 2011 9:56 pm

      Doris….You crack me up…..THANK YOU for verification that #1, it WAS a SWEATER, #2, It was ugly….BUT….. what I am MOST proud of is that ANGIE HAS A SMILE ON HER FACE in the photo???? WHAT THE HECK?????? THAT REALLY……

      • December 22, 2011 12:22 pm

        Really??? I’m pretty sure that’s a smirk…not a smile, Janine!
        Just check it out again…she is having a great deal of trouble not breaking out into laughter!

    • December 22, 2011 4:03 pm

      I’m going to have to disagree with both of you. That sweater pales in comparison to anything that comes with a sewn-on vest. And I have to think the look on my face is me reacting to Tony ripping his shirt in half.

  15. December 21, 2011 9:15 pm

    I, too, gained my fashion flair from Mork! Conicidence?

  16. December 22, 2011 11:18 am

    At least your brother is wearing some original Air Jordans! Nice!

    • December 22, 2011 4:05 pm

      I’m sure they’ll off-set the turtleneck-vest unitard quite nicely.

  17. December 22, 2011 4:07 pm

    Oh, I just also noticed in the bottom picture that I have a doormat sitting there on the floor under another pretty something. I know exactly what it looked like. It said “Love Me, Love My Cat” and had a picture of a cat and fish bones. What am I’m supposed to do with a doormat?


  1. Bad Gifts #3: Things in Tiny Packages « Childhood Relived

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