“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” Oscar Wilde
In 1984, my interest in fashion waned. That’s the year I bought my last Seventeen Magazine and the year I graduated from an elite private prep school. Before that year, I cared deeply about appearances and spent 1.5 hours each morning washing, primping, hot-rollering, dressing, and making myself up. I had an eyelash curler, and by golly I wasn’t afraid to use it. Most mornings, just before carpool arrived, I would decide to change my whole outfit and rush out the door fastening my ribbon belt.
I was trying—and failing spectacularly—to fit in, but at least I was a preppy, neat, and fashionable failure.
College fixed all that. Duke University, at least for those of us completely uninterested in sorority rush, was all about nose-to-the-grindstone studying. Your roommate didn’t care whether your Izod polo shirt matched your eye shadow at two o’clock in the morning when you were quizzing each other on the difference between mitosis and meiosis for a Cell Biology exam. Your classical history chum wasn’t concerned with the state of your penny loafers while you were comparing notes on Odysseus’ use of rhetorical tropes in his speech to Nausikaa.
Who can bother with 1.5 hours of primping in the morning when you didn’t stop studying until 4:00 AM and you’ve got a stinkin’ 8:00 AM calculus class on the other side of campus?
No one. That’s who.
Underneath my preppy high school exterior was a woman who just wanted to be comfortable, clean, and presentable. As my sister always says, “Never sacrifice comfort for fashion.” After being liberated by my college experience, I enjoyed shopping for clothes and never again stressed about being a fashion plate. I also never had a hard time finding acceptable, comfortable, classic clothing to meet my admittedly conservative standards. Until recently.
What in the name of Ralph Lauren is going on in the fashion industry? I’m confused, and have been for about three years. That’s when I started seeing a revival of early 1980s weirdness: the Madonna crap, not the cute preppy stuff (though the Gap did try). But what little preppy stuff I saw disappeared quickly, to be followed by a fashion motif best labeled “Hurry Up! Let’s ALL Look Frumpy and Pregnant!”
It took me two days of hard searching in 2007 to find a decent dress to wear to my husband’s Air Force retirement ceremony. That was my last major clothing purchase, and as a result, by this year, my wardrobe started getting, shall we say, tired. To perk it up, my sister and I went clothes shopping back in March, when we encountered the following fashion trends (in addition to the Pregnant Look) that really put my knickers in a twist:
--Shirts with oversized ruffles, cowls, or cotton lace.
--Shirts with distracting and unflattering ties, ruches, and puckers.
--Shirts with patterns so loud and colors so garish that my eyes looked away in self-defense.
I found a few shirts that were, at best, inoffensive and hoped for better in the summer. But in July, when I saw three different women dressed in full-length, tube-top sundresses at the Indianapolis Zoo, I gawked in horror.
Why? For the love of Bermuda shorts and at-the-waist jeans, WHY?
These old fashions were ugly enough the first time around, but I consider it a crime against womankind that the clothing industry is uglifying women and expecting us to be grateful for it in these hard economic times. Couldn’t we all use a little pretty in our lives right now?
Mary Grimes and I went shopping in Madison while our husbands put their feet up the day before Ironman. Mary is very stylish and used to be a buyer for Talbots. I felt sorry for her shopping with me. I tried on an embarrassing number of outfits and found that nothing fit me. Nothing. Do the clothing manufacturers consider that women often have bigger hips than waists? Do they notice that most of us are not 5’11” and 98 pounds? Do they notice that we have skin that doesn’t like scratchy seams or stiff fabric that chafes?
Am I really asking too much?
This fall, as my wardrobe further deteriorated into tatters, I resolved to focus on the Eddie Bauer, Lands End, and L.L.Bean catalogs: long-time reliable sources of classic clothing. Perusing their most recent offerings, however, I found that even they have caved a bit to the uglification process. Skinny belts over cardigans (who but fashion models can carry that off?), low-rise pants (instant muffin-top, anyone?), and maternity shirts with weird little bows and puckers appear next to lovely classic cable sweaters, studio skirts, and cashmere argyle scarves.
That studio skirt is going to be mine, by the way. All mine.
My apologies to anyone who is thrilled with today’s fashions, but if you are, I hazard a guess that you’re younger (and skinnier) than I am. Just think, one day, when fashion cycles back to this look, you’ll be decades older and not so skinny or tolerant of discomfort, and you’ll remember this essay. And I predict that you will have joined me and my sister in agreement with the brilliant Gilda Radner, who said, “I base my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.”
Fashion industry, I hope you’re listening.