Kanye West sunglasses and FBI sweatshirts

In Washington, spring means cherry blossoms and teenagers. As soon as the weather begins to warm up, the city is flooded by tour groups of middle- and high-schoolers. They come from across the country to visit D.C.’s greatest sights, crowding the metro, sidewalks, and cafeterias across the city. They are loud, energetic, and often exhausted from their busy itineraries. They are filled with all the angst and jubilation that comes from being young and away from your parents for a week.

2694931337_bffd2354acFlickr photo by antjeverena

Teen tour groups are immediately identifiable. Not just by their size, but also by the one “cool” souvenir that—every year—becomes the ubiquitous item to have. Each spring, one thing catches on as a trend and is sold en masse to the teen tour groups. Sometimes it’s something that is sold in our stores, sometimes it’s something you can find at the t-shirt trucks that line areas of the Mall and the surrounding streets. In the ten years I’ve been here I’ve seen thousands of pink FBI wool caps, CIA trucker hats, personalized dog tags, and Kanye West-style louvered sunglasses. One year everyone between the age of 10 and 14 had a stuffed monkey hanging from his or her neck. I have no idea how they start, but I love these yearly trends —they reflect the uniquely teenage desire to make a statement about who you are by trying to be exactly like everyone else.

Some D.C. natives find the masses of teen groups frustrating to deal with. But their energy and excitement always make me nostalgic for my own 8th grade Washington trip, when I roamed the very hallways I now walk through to get to my office. I remember seeing the Star-Spangled Banner and the First Ladies dresses, and I’m sure I giggled and gossiped with my friends and tried to go up a down escalator. The pride with which these masses of kids wear their souvenirs remind me that though many of them try to act cool and unimpressed, they are excited and proud to be here.

2339439530_714ab40efb_oFlickr photo by M.V. Jantzen

It’s hard to say yet what will emerge as this year’s dominant teen trend, though 80s-style neon “I <3 DC” sweatshirts with splatter-paint accents are popping up everywhere you look. I’ll be excited to see the museum fill up with the next new fad soon.

Did you come on a school trip to D.C.? What do you remember about the Smithsonian? Tell us the story of what you bought to remember your trip by!

Megan Smith is an education specialist who remembers wearing splatter-paint neon sweatshirts the first time around.

Posted at 11:10 am EDT in Musings