and I quote

june 2010

click for permalink June 18 , 2010

jumpsuitI'm beginning to think that I've reached a little-publicized milestone of maturity. However — unlike that inevitable day when you lean in for a closer look in the bathroom mirror, eyes widening in horror as you try to discern if you've just spotted your first grey hair, or if it's nothing more than an overly reflective strand catching the green-white glare of the overhead lights — no one ever warns you about this particular landmark looming ahead, especially not in your mid-thirties.

pantsuitNo one tells you that one day — a Spring day perhaps — you'll look around at what everyone else is wearing and think, I just don't get it. (Not that you'll want to get it either, because you'll think everyone looks ridiculous.) Or that one day, after reading fashion magazines for three decades and following along in your own casual, mix-and-match kind of way, never making enough money to actually follow all the trends but never really falling behind either, you'll pick up the September issue of Vogue and wonder, with increasing incredulity as you turn the pages, What the hell happened? Is this really what's in style now? If it keeps up like this for more than a couple of seasons you may find yourself saying, Screw it — I give up.

AAThe first time I noticed a young woman walking a few paces ahead of me wearing nothing but a t-shirt and a pair of tights, I just figured she'd taken those American Apparel ads a bit too literally. Not that she looked bad, just — ridiculous. It was one of the rare times I was out with a friend, and we exchanged glances. Oh, that's a shame, I whispered. My friend laughed, saying that if she and her sister had ever tried to leave the house without any pants on, their mom would have beaten them senseless. Oh my god, that's so sad... she must not have a mom, I said. How else could she leave the house like that?

We laughed and laughed... but it does make you wonder. I honestly can't think of any time in my life when there wasn't somebody — a parent, a grandparent, a roommate or a boyfriend — who I couldn't have counted on to plant themselves between me and the front door if I'd ever been foolish enough to try to leave the house wearing nothing but a pair of tights like it wasn't no thang.

Valley GirlNow I want to make one thing perfectly clear; I am by no means trying to imply that I've never left the house wearing something ridiculous — far from it! Just ask my mother about the time I wore a black satin and gold lamé top with a diagonal row of gold sequins across the front. To school. In 7th grade. Then there was my Valley Girl phase; electric blue eyeliner and miniskirt dresses with matching headbands (I've been seeing some of those exact same dresses on the streets of Vancouver this spring... and stirrup pants... and belted off-the-shoulder sweaters — worn with leggings — but that probably goes without saying).

Not that I have anything against the 80s — far from it — but before we go there, let's go back a bit farther. My fascination with clothes started a few years earlier; in fact, my very first fashion icon was — Holly Hobbie. Don't laugh... I was three and I rocked the patchwork floral prints!

Holly Hobbie Me circa 1976

HH & FriendsBy the way, did you know they've "updated" Holly Hobbie for the 21st century? The new incarnation is supposed to be the great-granddaughter of the original — who debuted in 1974 — so you do the math. But can't you just picture the marketing Machiavelli who pitched this idea to the money people? "So check it out — you got your 2nd gen Holly Hobbies just hitting their pre-tween years, right? Give the brand an update — country cute becomes urban garden chic — throw in some interracial pals, sex up the outfits — DIY Divas — guaranteed hit, I'm telling you..."

BratzI guess it's supposed to provide the "mommies" of my generation with an alternative to Bratz, but they'll probably meet the same kind of resistance my mother did when she tried to transfer my Barbie fixation onto the granola-wholesome Sunshine Family. Honestly, I can't imagine how anyone raises a child these days — I mean, hell, I love Bratz! Just looking at them fills me with an irrational urge to brush their hair and dig through their closets (a shoe box perhaps) and dress them up in beach party outfits. The thing is, it's okay for me to like them — the damage is already done! — but if I had a six year old? Shit, I'd probably be taking Xanax too.

Back to the topic of early fashion inspirations...

JanaI was around five or six when it first occurred to me to try and emulate someone I thought had it goin' on, style-wise. My very first bathing suit was an homage to a short-lived cartoon heroine named Jana, Queen of the Jungle. Kind of a feminist Tarzan, she hung with the animals and swung on the vines wearing a fabulous, strapless fire-engine red... hmm, what was that thing anyway? Couldn't have been fur or hide — maybe something she stripped off a hapless tourist she found wandering through the jungle in a daze after too many cocktails and a late night swim — but needless to say, at six, I wasn't bothered by such trivialities.

Debbie HarryDespite the valiant efforts of my mother and grandmother, I watched every bit as much television in the 1970s as every other kid. I had a weird fixation for Julie McCoy on The Love Boat. Despite being forced to dress in her dorky nautical whites by day, when she hit the Lido deck every evening, she was 70s style personified; coke-addict thin and lip gloss-shiny in the halter dress du jour. As the decade of polyester and perms gave way to the decade of shoulder pads, spandex and federally mandated perms for everyone, I had already amassed a veritable pantheon of stylish idols. Many of them hold up a lot better than Julie when viewed in the jaded light of fashion hindsight, like Charlie's Angels and the always atomic Debbie Harry.

Of course, it took more than mere sex appeal and an outfit for literally every occasion to rank among my earliest female role models; you had to have brains — and not just brains — you had to have a little something extra, something they used to call moxie. Like Jennifer Marlowe on WKRP. Sure, Jennifer was over-the-top beautiful — from the helmet of impermeable platinum blonde hair to the impeccable wardrobe of turtleneck dresses, full-length fur coats and a footwear collection to rival Imelda's — but it was her smooth Southern charm and her effortless, imperious wit that made her the coolest blonde on TV.

CyndiI probably don't have to tell you who dominated the 80s, lending their first names to a massive new wave of teenage girlhood idolatry. The influence of Cyndi and Madonna on fashion was so massive, so all-pervasive, it would be hard to overstate it; the jean jackets, the mesh tops, exposed bra straps, colorful biking shorts under lace crinolines and miniskirts, ankle boots, fingerless gloves, armloads of gummy bracelets, ankhs and crosses dangling from silver chains, chandelier earrings and winged eye shadow in colors to rival the brightest of tropical birds. Sure, we looked ridiculous but it was fun, and I can't think of another time in history when we had so many ways to experiment with what it means to be a girl.

1987Both of my high schools and the college I attended were insulated from fashion consciousness and the trends taking place at a macro level — or maybe it's more accurate to say that they had their own internal systems within the broader contexts, of "hippie alternative" and "art/goth" respectively. In the space where those two categories intersect are the artifacts of the late 80s and early 90s — neither punk nor pacifist, my peers will be best remembered for pioneering passive-aggressive chic — Converse high tops, Doc martens, biker jackets, shredded denim and army surplus, DIY silkscreen and Value Village t-shirts, the mainstreaming of tattoos, DIY dreads and dye jobs — Miss Clairol, Manic Panic or Kool-Aid, jet black or bleach — it was personal transformation at Ramen noodle prices.

SKOWThey say that whatever music you listened to and loved in your teens and early 20s hardwires your tastes for life. Something about the potent cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters flooding our brains in adolescence locks in the soundtrack from those formative years. As melancholy and deterministic as this may seem, I take some comfort in the fact that, thanks to my incidental placement in the human timeline, that critical period of synaptic suggestibility for me just happened to coincide with a particularly fruitful phase in music. Whether it appeals to you personally or not, you have to admit that the "grunge" and "rave" scenes of the early 90s represented an explosion of creative expression that no one would have predicted at the end of the Reagan era. (Hmm, just like the late 60s... Maybe all it takes to spark a Renaissance is raising a generation of kids under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation! Somebody get Geffen on the phone — I've figured out how to save the music industry...)

The fact that I've spent the last ten years either working for technology companies or working from home, has contributed in no small part to my losing the plot, fashion-wise. Hard to keep track when nobody around you is paying attention to what the cool kids are wearing — and more importantly, couldn't give a shit what you're wearing. So, there's that... but it doesn't change the fact that all the cool kids look ridiculous right now.