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Smells like ’80s acrylic


In the mid ’90s, bellbottoms rolled back into fashion with a thump. I was one of the first bodies to step into the low-slung, curvy shape, pleased by how they cut around my womanly hips and other rounded parts. Friends who teenaged in the 1970s clutched their heads at first sight of the bells. 
“Blecch. Bellbottoms. They were everywhere. You couldn’t find anything else.” 

To me, of course, they were novel, and my generation did not wear them exactly as the previous generation did. We paired our bellbottoms with platform shoes, and … long straight hair … and natural … looking … makeup. Which, as I write, is starting to sound like an exact copy of 1970s style. My knowledgeable friends clamped their mouths shut at the time, though. Youthful trends, like young love affairs, are undaunted by good

When my vintage Levi bellbottoms finally ripped at the crotch, a single, mascara-darkened tear dripped off my cheek. Then I put them in the trash. I am not, by nature, a sentimentalist when it comes to trends, as my veeeerrrry particular fashion taste is only outshined by my three loves — the peculiar, the classic, or the well-made.

Which is why, I suppose, when my trend-sensitive fashion journalist nose twitched in 1998 at the faint whiff of Dippity-Doo wafting between the kitten heels and the sweater shrugs, I shouted like Charlton Heston in Soylent Green: “NO. It cannot be. The ’80s … are coming … BACK.”

I wrote the first ’80s-style-prediction story for a major newspaper to herald the new decade. Yes, that was me. I didn’t do it out of filial loyalty to the decade of my elementary years; it was fear and a paycheck that drove me to do it. The ’80s are my Waterloo. The clothes of the time period looked ugly and fit ugly; often they were flammable, and please don’t ask how I know that. Wintry East Coast style was pushed on us, and all those layers created a sweatiness typical to acrylic sweaters, causing pooling at the armpits — the result, a smell not unlike mildewed doll hair mixed with Opium perfume. 

And perms. So many perms.

Ten years after writing that stupid fashion-prediction article, I am up to my neck in side ponytails and skinny, synthetic pants. Much like the original decade, it arrived and won’t go away. But on the second go-round, the Reagan era’s trends got mixed together, and the results confuse me. It’s not a matter of sorting out what originally went with which, because 1980s style never made sense in the first place. Also, I don’t care for authenticity, which I think should be saved for, say, Civil War reenactors and People Who Collect Things.  

What does bother me is that there doesn’t seem to be a point to the ’80s revival — it’s not about appearing attractive, or sexy, or ironic, or silly. It is not a nouvelle approach. Eighties revivalists appear determined to be authentic. They quote &$*ing John Waters films, and worship at the church of conspicuous consumption: Gucci. If you were to put this together as a math equation, it would be the following:

Costuming of The Royal Tenenbaums times footage from Dogtown and Z-Boys squared by jelly bracelets to infinity minus the New Romantic Look (Prince) divided by those stupid plastic Knight Rider sunglasses that make you appear as though you have a broken nose plus any and all John Waters films equals the 1980s revival. 

Thankfully, the twitch in my nose has started again, which means there is something fresh in the air yet unseen on the shelves. The 1990s, my favorite lived-through decade, are on the wind. I can tell you exactly what will happen next. 

Frances Bean Cobain will come of age. Several archival box sets of grunge music will be released, followed by a short resurgence of trip-hop and post-acid-house techno.  Marc Jacobs’ one season of grunge couture will command high prices on eBay.

Darts will reappear in women’s blouses. Pants will fit. And lo, an angel named Kurt will be there to oversee the shedding of cheap conspicuous consumption. Then, I will drop to my knees, rejoicing, right before my twitchy nose catches the next scent in the wind. 

Hopefully, the next thing after this one will be new, really new, as authentically new and shocking as the appearance of women’s legs in the 1920s. Until then, I will sleep and dream, of unseen versions of flannel shirts soon to grace the backs of the young. It will be new to them. But not to us. We know our history too well. 


A more wearable version of the ’80s boomerang comes to Target March 4 with the national debut of Alexander McQueen’s McQ collection for the superstore’s series of affordable designer collaborations. The zigzag leggings, studded leather vests, mannish mini dresses, and buff T-shirts, he told New York mag, were inspired by “the anarchy and social change” embodied in ’80s punk culture, plus the Duke Spirit lead singer Leila Moss. If that turns you on, too, make haste, because each collection is in-store for a very limited time.

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