December 9, 1988 was our first date. As I look back on the photos of us from the Winter Formal dance we attended that evening, nearly 21 years ago, I can’t help but wonder – what in the hell was I thinking?
Dick looks fine, clean-cut and handsome in his black tuxedo and electric-blue cummerbund. You can’t go wrong with a simple black tuxedo because it’s a timeless, classic fashion statement.
On the other hand, there was me. Like many teenage girls in the late 1980’s, I was not interested in timeless, classic fashion statements. Those were for my mom. I had just scrimped and saved most of my $88 weekly paychecks for 2 months to buy myself an evening of fun aboard a rockin’ party boat cruising Long Beach Harbor. For a girl raised on a steady diet of Dance Fever, Solid Gold and Dallas, it goes without saying that only the look I wanted to wear was one of glamour & glitz.
Being a 16-year old female in 1988 in search of a formal dress and with only two criteria for selecting said dress being 1) It must scream “glamour” and 2) It must scream it for under $80, naturally I was drawn to dresses made with the shiniest and most highly flammable synthetic materials of the day. If, like me, you were limited by experience, taste and budget you may have found yourself wearing the strapless electric-blue lame mini-dress I ended up wearing to my Winter Formal.
As an adult with an appreciation for the balance that is achieved with great design, I can tell you that the trick to pulling off a brilliant color with a bold texture is all in the execution of balance. By keeping the rest of the look understated hair & makeup aren’t in competition with the dress. But that’s the me of today. The me of yesteryear, without a fashion fairy godmother, a design aesthetic or a clue, embraced flashy & trashy over classy at every turn.
Accessorized with garish Sally Hansen stick-on red fingernails and some seriously rainbow-bright eyeshadow, one hardly notices my make-up when compared to the disaster that was my hair. Reddish-gold from too much Sun-In hair lightener and with a body wave that was on its last wave by the time we actually had our photos taken, my “look” was completed by gravity-defying bangs that were cemented in place by a generous application of my mom’s AquaNet hairspray.
My look screamed 1980’s for certain, but it also screamed “paid escort”. In more forgiving terms, my look spoke to the impulsivity and naivete of youth and of a vulnerability - a desperate need for acceptance that I long ago swathed under layers of black fabric, and concealed by mineral foundation, mascara and sarcasm.
Losing 40 pounds this year is a great accomplishment that deserves to be rewarded with new clothes that fit properly -at least until I’m down another 40 pounds.
As I strolled through the racks of my local department store, a navy pin-striped blazer caught my eye. The navy blue with grey pin stripe was cute at first glance, but as I reached for it, I noticed something oddly familiar about its cut. As I pulled the blazer off the hanger, it hit me – the tell-tale sponginess of shoulder pads.
It was as if I’d stumbled upon a used condom on a hanger. I shuddered with revulsion as I flung the hideously padded jacket over the rack. I mean, shoulder pads? Really? This has to be the one sign of “arm-ageddon” that no one saw coming.
“Isn’t that an adorable jacket?” a young sales girl remarked from the other side of the aisle. ”If you roll up the sleeves it’s a totally cool boyfriend jacket. A friend of mine bought it with one of the boyfriend tee shirts two aisles over and she paired it with a few of our plaid scarves for this really cute retro look.”
“Excuse me, but It has shoulder pads,” I said, still in disbelief.
“Oh, I know! They’re in all the jackets this season. I can’t believe how much they shape you. I think I look ten pounds thinner in mine.”
(Naturally, she was a stick-figure – size 2 at most.)
I rolled my eyes at her enthusiasm for the trend of volume in clothing.
“Maybe they make you look thin because you’re already thin. Besides, I’m 6′ tall. I don’t need to look like a linebacker. I bring natural volume to everything I wear in the form of bulk.”
The sales girl, apparently unequipped to counter my frank bitterness and clearly bored with trying to sell me on the hipness of shoulder pads, left me to assist another customer as I rounded the corner and to look for jeans.
To my horror pair after pair of acid-washed monstrosities – some of them “pegged”, some of them “bedazzled” – hung in row upon row of retro tackiness.
On the next aisle over I spotted what looked like fitted black pants on an end cap next to a mannequin. When I rounded the aisle, I noticed that the mannequin was dressed in an over-sized sweater with a chunky v-belt and black booties. What I thought were black pants were actually stirrup leggings.
“Isn’t it just SOOO Rihanna goes shopping at Fred Segal?” another plucky young sales girl commented.
“It’s an outfit I owned 20 years ago, actually. I even had one over-sized hoop earring with a key on it as an homage to Janet Jackson.”
The sales girl gave me a blank, smokey-eyed stare. I realized she had probably been a fetus in the late 1980’s and thus, had no clue who Janet Jackson was.
Changing the subject, I inquired, “Does this stuff really sell?”
“It sells incredibly well, actually. You wouldn’t believe how quickly those stirrup leggings are selling out,” she said folding sweaters on a nearby table.
“Who is buying this?” I asked incredulously as I pointed to a pile of folded neon pink leg warmers.
But the sales girl was gone – off assisting other female customers who were happily buying color-blocked over-sized shirts with shoulder pads, chunky belts and probably even those ridiculous leg warmers.
For a moment, I felt old. Really old.
Then I had a little epiphany; I felt sorry for the women who would choose to endure this 1988 flashback in an attempt to get it right the second time. So rather than try on all of those clothes in a vain attempt to make its resurrected trendiness fit into my life today, I turned my back and left it all behind – again. Goodbye 1988. Goodbye shoulder pads. Goodbye leggings. Been there and done that.
“Let them have it,” I thought, not really knowing yet who “they” are or understanding why they would want to be seen in public wearing acid-washed, bedazzled denim.
Yes; I’m older – that’s true. Yes; I don’t “get” the whims of fashion trends. Seems to me that some ideas are better off dead. As for me, I may not know who I am yet, but at least I know when to let trends dress my past and pad my future with the confidence that only years of experience (and a lot of bad fashion) can bring. To age gracefully is not, as I had always thought, to be a good sport about the process. Aging gracefully is about stepping out in public wearing the sexiest, most glamourous thing you will ever own – your self-confidence. You can never go wrong making that most timeless and classic fashion statement.