35th anniversary celebration: An ode to the dock spider sweatshirt

a dock spider sweatshirt with an illustrated character who is alarmed Illustration by Katie Hicks

Into the early 2000s, we published a series of “Classics.” The writer would argue for something that you could not live at the lake without—watermelon, beach towels, a beloved web chair. Twenty years on, we’re asking, what are the new cottage classics?

A cool, late-summer morning in the early ’80s: I was a cottage newbie, recently introduced to lake life by my soon-to-become-spouse, Steve. We had just pushed off on a leisurely paddle—I was a rank beginner at canoeing too—when after only a couple of strokes, Steve headed us straight to a neighbouring dock. “I don’t want to upset you,” he said (which alone was enough to upset me), “but I think when we got in, a dock spider got in with us.”

Right. Me, in a 14-ft. canoe with the largest spidey species in Canada, and the ones I’d seen on our dock were particularly healthy specimens. The size of salad plates—hairy salad plates, with venom. Steve, who grew up in cottage country, had assured me they weren’t aggressive, but this was no time to take a chance. I leapt onto the neighbours’ dock, peeled off my jeans, tee, and everything else, and began to shake and shimmy from the shoulders on down. Apparently, it was quite the dance routine. Luckily, the neighbours missed it. Luckily, the spider (if one really had hitched a ride with us) got away.

Fast forward to the early ’90s: I was the editor of Cottage Life, and Steve was its art director. We were in a meeting discussing CL merchandise. “How about we do a sweatshirt with the logo on it?” someone suggested.

Steve, who clearly hadn’t forgotten that delightful scene on the neighbours’ dock—he still claims it was the fastest he’s ever seen me undress—said, “Boring. Needs attitude. How about a sweatshirt with a dock spider?”

“Beside the logo,” someone else said.

“Nah,” Steve replied. “On the back. So it’s climbing up on your shoulder, like you don’t know it’s there.”

The spider wouldn’t merely be printed on the sweatshirt. Verisimilitude required that it be done in fuzzy flocking to achieve the hairy effect; and it would be life-sized, of course—all the better to horrify someone approaching from behind.

And so a classic was born. On the sidewalks of cottage-country towns and at the annual Cottage Life Shows, I’d exchange knowing smiles with other members of the Spider Sweatshirt Society. The original run eventually sold out, to be replaced by a less, uh, realistic version, with a flat, printed-on spider. But I hear that people are still showing up at the Cottage Life booth today with their classic sweatshirts on. Mine, sadly, was retired to the ragbag years ago, its dock spider bare of fuzz, worn down to a faint shadow that wouldn’t even alarm an arachnophobe.

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