Keane’s Not-So-Brief History of Fashion, Part I

When I was in high school, I often felt totally discombobulated when it was time to get dressed in the morning. You see, I never really felt like I “fit in” with my age group, but it wasn’t because I couldn’t afford trendy clothes or didn’t have style. No, it was mostly because I had too much style to be caught dead wearing what everyone else was wearing.

This may sound to you as though I’m being conceited. I’m not. If you’ll give me a moment (or twelve) I would be only delighted to explain in detail why I refused to follow the dictate of 80’s and 90’s fashion. Even as a young child, I always felt that just because something was “in fashion”, that doesn’t make it FASHION. Where the 80’s and 90’s are concerned, this mantra holds especially true.

It all boils down to a temporary mental instability experienced by the fashion industry, which was caused by the rift that occured between 50’s femininity and 70’s feminist revolution. What followed was a drunken staggering through two decades that left consumers wondering which way was up, and obliterated the classic distinctions between gender and age. The 80’s and 90’s were the blast zone where the majority of the aftershock was felt, and therefore we began to see things as terrifying as models wearing boxy, unflattering shoulder pads and 1920’s gangster-style menswear, while the everyday consumer resembled a garage sale groupie.

In the 80’s everyone either wanted to dress like their parents (in the case of affluent, “yuppie” types, this meant mom’s tennis skirts, Dad’s button up dress shirts, a pastel sweater tied around the shoulders, ad nauseum), or their grandparents (with the Molly Ringwald set, this included faded florals, straw hats, oversized lumpy sweaters, and tights–because let’s face it, not even Molly could make Granny’s knee-high, brownish tan nylons cool).

The 90’s, on the other hand, were all about the younger generation. Everyone was either dressing like their little sister, or stealing clothes from their big brother. Apparently, the only true fashion faux pas one could make in the 90’s was to buy an article of clothing that actually fit. Tiny, cropped sweaters and tees, baby doll dresses in cutesy florals; all of these were combined with your brother’s oversized flannel plaid button up, some rolled down socks, and huge work boots (hiking boots, Docks, whatever). I gag to mention another mystifying trend that accompanied this hideous dichotomy: pouchy, waist-high MOM JEANS that made even the svelt Marissa Tomei and Mary Stuart Masterson look like poster children for the Secretarial Spread. (For visuals, see 1993’s Untamed Heart and 1996’s Bed of Roses, respectively. Side Note: The correlation between the two causes one to wonder whether Christian Slater may have had a slight Oedipus Complex, judging from his choice of Mom Jean-wearing heroines. But that’s another blog post entirely.)

The exception to the garage sale rules of 80-90’s fashion was, of course, the punk rock revolution, which stemmed from the lingering influences of Vivienne Westwood’s 1970’s fashion explosion, and a love of Rock, which was unfortunately liquified with the emigration of a bastardized form of Ska in the early 1980’s. Nevertheless, punk was a “totally radical” fashion tidal wave that combined architecturally-styled and/or dyed hair, noveau checks, spanish lace, vests, fedoras, boots, vynl, chains, and multiple piercings into one gigantic and glorious vomiting of past musical culture. The purpose of Ska fashion was more of an object lesson, a way to non-verbally “stick it to the Man”, and yet it became so much more than a rebellious statement.

While you didn’t necessarily have to wear excessive eyeliner (both genders) or rock a partial mesh glove to be considered truly punk, hating your Dad was an absolute requirement. Parents of the 80’s condemned the inclusion of punk into the mainstream market, but by the 90’s, most of them were used to their kids referring to them as “Charlie” and “Carol”, instead of “Dad” or “Mom”.

Even though punk was supposed to be this grand and original gesture of total fashion mutiny, one with a trained eye for fashion could easily see the influences of a much earlier time. Don’t believe me? Just compare the style of Duckie on Pretty in Pinkto early photographs of Louis Armstrong. Louis, widely akgnowledged to be one of the inventors of Scat (an original “stick it to the Man” gesture, which defied conventional, pre-planned music) as well as an all-around BAMF, was a pot smoking party animal well into his elderly years (He actually wrote at least one song about the joys of Hash. No kidding). In addition to his wild musical career, he was known to rock the jazz fedora with a snazzy satin blazer. Not too shabby for someone born almost 70 years before punk was a recognized genre.

Another punk staple: slim-to-none built guys in tight white tees. Yes please! The 90’s simply brought back James Dean circa 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. Anyone else notice the uncanny resemblance between Jim Stark and 90210’s Luke Perry? (Or even Jason Priestly, come to think of it…) Seriously, if we’re talking 80’s -90’s male punk fashion, just take JD and add a black vest and skinny tie. (Louis Armstrong hat optional) Presto change-o.

One thing I will never be able to figure out or trace back to a historical point of origin is the infatuation with spandex. The brief, yet unfortunately mainstream side-polytail 80’s were a cosmic accident as far as I’m concerned. Jane Fonda started selling workout videos, and someone in retail thought it would be a good idea to mass market neon spandex. One more reason to reject current fashion trends if they don’t apply to you. And glistening spandex, as a rule, should not be applied to anyone. Except for possibly Jennifer Garner, and then only when fighting crime.

Which brings us to another eternal and concrete rule of fashion: if it doesn’t make you look good, don’t buy it. And for God’s sake, please don’t wear it. A lot of women seem to feel that if a store carries a piece of clothing in their size, it was made for them. This is a horrible misconception, one which has painful consequences for thousands of boyfriends and husbands every day (not to mention the whole of the 80’s and 90’s). To spare them further pain, please repeat after me:

Even though the pants might fit you, that doesn’t mean you fit the pants. Skinny jeans do not make people look skinny. If you wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing it a year ago, you shouldn’t wear it now, just because everyone else is. Spandex is not your friend. Rock stars can get away with much more than you can, and even they get slammed by critics when they dress inappropriately for their body type.

Fashion, like history, repeats itself. But some parts of history, such as wars and plagues, should not under any circumstances be revisited. (And before you ask, yes. I do consider neon spandex to be a plague upon humanity.)

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