Does “BSC” mean anything to you? If not, then you will have no interest in What Claudia Wore, but if, like me, BSC pretty much encapsulates your entire girlhood, you will love it and should check it out immediately.
I spent my junior high years obsessively reading BSC books, which, being such thin, unsubstantial, quick reads, I wheedled my parents into purchasing for me in knee-high stacks. If you remember (or if you care), each BSC book begins with a 10-20 page summary of each girl, her personality, her family history, her hobbies, her dating history, her position in the club, the club’s history, the structure of the club, the meeting structure, each girl’s house and its geographical location in Stonybrook and so on and so forth. This summary rarely changes and is the most boring chunk of prose in young adult literature…except for the outfit descriptions. Inevitably, buried somewhere within (usually only in the Claudia and Stacey paragraphs, but every so often for each girl), lies an exhaustive description of a totally batshit outfit. The outfit descriptions are a HUGE draw of the BSC books – in fact, they were so important to me at the time that I once spent a long Saturday going through each book and highlighting the outfit descriptions so that I could find them more quickly in future (another year, and I was left with the problem of how to get rid of all these books without anyone seeing that I had done such a humiliating thing). But every so often, one of these 20-page summaries of prosaic detail would pass with no mention of an outfit (or some quick throwaway of examples of the types of things Claudia wears, like ‘high-top sneakers, fedoras, and earrings made of beads,’ which was just really phoning it in, because what you wanted was the full-out description, head-to-toe, of one specific, fascinating, train-wreck of an outfit), and in those circumstances, I would furiously hurl the book against a wall, feeling utterly cheated.
How many times have you heard references in popular culture to Spiderman, Superman, Batman, X-Men, Transformers, and so on and so forth? Now, how many times have you heard references to the BSC? Recently, I disgraced myself in conversation with some fellow improvisers – somehow the BSC came up, and I involuntarily began to regurgitate all of my knowledge of the series. I still remembered each girl’s first and last name, the first and last name of all of her siblings, various baby-sitting charges, who was mad at who and when and why, who cut her hair at which period and what everyone thought about it, who was interested in which guy and when it started and how it ended, what each girl was good at and what she struggled with, who moved where and when, and who moved back and why, how everyone’s parents felt about their various activities, how Stacey’s diabetes worked and each point where it suddenly reared up and ruined her life. And more. I know the Super Specials, I know the Mysteries, I know a few of the Little Sister’s books, I know Logan’s story and Logan’s story II. At some point, I stopped talking, realizing that nobody was with me. And that they were all horrified, and would never look at me in the same way again.
Well, what can I say? The books were a guilty pleasure. I was a massive dork in my adolescence, but not the kind of dork that’s trendy now. I was not a Rory-Gilmore-smart-dork, reading Pynchon and Chomsky at 12, although relatives were kind enough to pretend that’s the sort of dork I was. But, no. I was a BSC-reading dork. And I knew where I stood: everybody wanted to be Stacey or Claudia, but I was self-aware enough to admit to myself (if not to anyone else) that I was a hot mess combo of the more annoying aspects of Mallory, married to the more boring aspects of Mary Anne, with a soupcon of Dawn-desperately-throwing-herself-at-Lewis thrown in for good measure. I could not aspire to the coolness of Stacey or the funkiness of Claudia, and I was allergic to sports (not that anyone really wanted to be Kristy). Really, my greatest goal was to achieve the sort of generic anonymity of Jessie. Jessie’s biggest problem was that, as Token Black Kid of Stonybrook Middle, she was forced to pal around with Mallory Pike. But for the most part, Jessie managed to stay entirely under the radar, which was what I chiefly craved for the majority of my adolescence. She was black and she was into ballet, and otherwise, there was really nothing to be said about her. Nothing to see here, folks: move along.
Unfortunately, physically I was a fat Mallory with pink glasses, the skin pigmentation of an albino, and cartoon cats on my T-shirts, and looking back, I hardly blame other kids for not letting me pass unmolested: I was chum in the water.
So, I sat in my room and plowed through BSC books. I shared the author of What Claudia Wore’s interest in the cover illustrations, right down to being bothered by Stacey and Dawn always having overly similar hair. They are not the same person, illustrators! Dawn has California hair – white-blond and waist-length! Stacy has a New York perm, which should look like Carrie Bradshaw Season Four! What is so difficult? (Speaking of blondes, I was also bothered by Shannon, just in general, because she seemed just like a quieter Stacy – I don’t think the writers had any idea how to differentiate her from the blondes they’d already crafted.) I pictured the BSC as pretty much similar to the better group cover illustrations (Super Specials), and was sorely disappointed when the movie came out, and the BSC-ers actually seemed to be 11-13, rather than 27, as they appeared on the covers. I mean, Saved by the Bell and California Dreams had set a precedent, and I was used to teenagers being depicted as near-30-year-olds in floral crop tops and matching short-shorts. To see actual children in school was disconcerting.
My love affair with the BSC books ended at #76: Stacey’s Lie. I had always been ill at ease with Stacy, because it was just so obvious that she was the type of girl who, if I met in real life, would (a) blow me off; and (b) possibly mock and degrade me publicly. She was thin and blond and stylish and other people liked her. I did not like attractive and popular people at 12, and honestly, I do not like them much better now. I don’t trust them. They might at any minute decide to hurl stones at you, and other people will join in, because they are charismatic: never trust anybody with the power to rally others. But I did tolerate Stacey, warily. She had her weaknesses. Occasionally, she was dumped or ill-treated. Her parents got divorced. She had diabetes and would collapse in public from time to time; she had a disturbing memory of having peed herself in sixth grade. I read her books, and tried my best to sympathize with her perspective, although it never really worked. My closest moment with Stacey came when her friendship with Laine dissolved, because Laine had gotten too cool, too mature, and frankly, a little too dangerous for Stacey to go along with. I read this book right after a disturbing reunion with my best friend from elementary school – I had moved away, and she had gone to a magnet school, and when we got back together, we were worlds apart, and she terrified me. She had become a pot-smoking, 13-year-old aspiring screenwriter, and I was mostly into Little Debbies and horse-back riding. I could totally relate to #51: Stacey’s Ex-Best Friend. Twenty-five books later, however, Stacey ruined the BSC for me.
In #76: Stacey’s Lie, Stacey is head-over-heels for her swooney newish boyfriend, Robert. I don’t actually remember the point where Robert came along. Last I remember, Stacey was dating Sam Thomas, but regardless, by 76, she’s with Robert and they just want to be alone to suck each others’ faces on the beach. And Claudia (Stacey’s best-best-best-friend) starts to annoy the living shit out of Stacey, because she’s single and she’s around and she wants to hang out, and there’s this really horrible scene where Stacey has agreed to spend a girls’ night with Claudia, and they go out to eat and Claudia’s having a fine old time going to town on some lobster, and Stacey (who is supposed to get rid of Claudia and meet up with Robert later) is just sitting there staring at her and thinking about what an annoying, prattling baby she is, and how much she can’t wait to get rid of her so she can go hang out with her hot boyfriend. This, combined with the fact that Stacey is wearing a midriff-bearing top on the cover photo (always the fashion statement that brought home to me in the most blatant possible way how far my body was from anything desirable), killed the BSC for me. It was too close to home. My friends were starting to date at this point (the same guys who were still calling me fat to my face, I might add – loyalty becomes a quaint concept once everyone begins to menstruate), and I was still reading BSC books and still more-or-less terrified of all things outside my bedroom. And I just couldn’t deal anymore. So, if there is anything that could possibly be more dorky than being a BSC-fanatic, it is stopping being a BSC-fanatic not because you outgrew the BSC, but because the BSC actually outgrew you.
(Incidentally, I never got into the Sweet Valley High series, because they seemed to me to be The Stacey Problem times ten – I was positive that the two lithesome, preppily-dressed blondes on the covers would never in a million years talk to me if I met them in real life, and so I had no interest in reading anything they had to say – but if you were a fan of the fashion presented in those books, you might be interested in this column written by the Go Fug Yourself girls for New York Magazine.)