Will you recognize me? Call my name or walk on by. Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling… down… down… down… down…
Those are the lyrics beaming in surround sound as your curious man steps out of the rain and into the boutique, dressed casual yet cunning in a lime shirt, batwing denim jacket, pegged black jeans, crimped double-socks, shiny black shoes, and a fountain of bangs spilling from a black beret. Gazing about today’s vastly improved apparel – in which V-Shaped jackets have replaced cardigans, hourglass skirts have obliterated A-Lines, and straight-legged trousers have jettisoned elephant bells – I note the emergence of a new fashionable outlook. For everyone who waited anxiously for the 1990s to finally capsize, these recent changes are indeed energizing.
Emboldened by this new aesthetic pendulum, your curious man here sets out for answers to the most probing fashion question of 2010: why did it take nearly an extra decade for the 1990s to finally die?
Inside of the Gen Y clothing retailer Forever 21 in Portland’s Pioneer Place, I admire today’s finery to the tune of Simple Minds’ epochal 1985 hit when a salesgirl named Bernice, tending her assistive duties, pauses to my loaded questions. Have the ‘90s truly ended? Are we really in another era? “I feel like everything came back… there’s nothing actually that’s new,” said Bernice in befuddled innocence. Lucky girl; she appears to have no memory of the 1990s.
Trouble is, those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.
When the teen mall-jock wave engulfed pop culture back in 1999, it signaled a measly sigh of approval from most 1990s haters for one solitary reason: it spelt the death knell for grunge. But fashion movements don’t stem from the preppy likes of Britney and Christina; movements conclude there from a long and twisted trail sprung from those on the margins. Madonna, after all, was no ordinary girl; she had been cultivating her bedecked and frilly ensembles down on New York’s Lower East Side for six years prior to her breakthrough. The Class of ’99 had no such ingenuity, being merely the lucky lotto picks of the Disney talent pool. So what could one ultimately expect from the dawning 2000s when the decade was being initiated by a movement devoid of anything tangibly new?
Consequently, while most decades come into their own during their third year (1972, 1982, 1992), the noughties didn’t budge until their eighth. But then, it happened: tightened jeans; Rihanna with her vulcanized hair and costumes; Lady Gaga with her bodysuits and shoulder pads; Katy Perry with her hourglass dresses and sheer leggings.
So who are the inspirations behind this current pendulum, away from the cookie cutter A-Lines of yore and towards the figure-flattering Hervé dresses of today? “The Kardashians,” says the befittingly Khloé-like salesgirl Holly while tending counter at bebe, the hub of hourglass women’s fashions; “we have the Kardashian line right now so we’ve been selling a lot of Kardashian stuff”.
Those sexy sibling socialites are indeed the poster girls for today’s body-conscious clothing. And who are the ones inspiring the decorative styles of late?
“I know that a BIG one would be Rihanna, when it comes to hairstyle,” says Bernice as she walks towards the bracelet collection at Forever 21. “When it comes to accessories it’s Beyoncé.” She briefly stresses the veteran Destiny’s Child alumni as the preeminent fashion icon, before it hits her: “The biggest influence at Forever 21 is Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga is bringing back shoulder pads”.
I can not help but feel elated to hear another person declare that shoulder pads are coming back into style. From Gibson Girls to Dynasty divas, padded-shoulders had been a staple of aristocratic elegance throughout the decades; enhancers of a sleek, sharp silhouette conveying power and sex appeal all in one. By the 1980s, male rockers like Duran Duran had adopted them for the robust look which shoulder pads gave to their wardrobes. Sometime in the 1990s, however, the fashion punditry – having recently gone turncoat from the common-sense stance on flares – needed something new to stuff into the bullseye of scorn, and good taste became the postmodern scapegoat.
Thank heavens we’re in 2010, where Lady Gaga has jettisoned the tube-top and dungaree afflictions of Y2K to resurrect wedge-silhouetted dynamism for the 21st Century: emphasized by top-heavy bejewelment and sheer legginess. Last year, whilst musing over an ensemble comprised of a diamond-shaped leather jacket, thong bodysuit and pantyhose, Lady Gaga declared inspiration from “all sorts of things, mostly New York City… I guess you could say that this is slightly skyscraper inspired”.
Watching women become attractive again after years of boho-ridden sloth has been just one of the upturns of this new aesthetic pendulum. Seeing other men finally emerge from a grunge-induced fashion coma has been another.
The Jonas Brothers are shaping up as the best dressed male combo to emerge since… Duran Duran. Seriously. With their tapered trousers, pointy shoes, thin lapels, cuffed sleeves, popped collars and upswept hairdos, these three young men remind me of the New Wave era, when bands – from Spandau Ballet and Ultravox, to Madness and the English Beat – threw inhibition aside and made their best effort to look as well as sound terrific.
“I think music and fashion go hand in hand because style has always been such a big part of rock n’ roll,” says Nick Jonas, the handsomest of the lot with his perfectly arched eyebrows. His outlook succinctly recaptures the common sense 1980s understanding of pop cultural interconnectedness, in which music and fashion are mutual reflections of a cohesive whole. Following the dreary 1990s, in which these concepts were both devalued and sexually marginalized, this return to conscience is like a godsend. Elaborating on these sentiments, Kevin Jonas states how him and his brothers “wear things that are very fitted because we feel more comfortable in them… we don’t like baggy things or things that hang off your body, we like things that are tailored to you”.
Indeed, the pursuit amongst stylish men today is for “slim and shorter” silhouettes, says salesman Simon while folding trousers at Banana Republic, where current displays are alight in Jonas-like sharpness. Simon credits the fitted trend to designing visionaries like New York’s Thom Browne, whose slim pants “usually show a bit of ankle”.
Perfect. Now socks can function as part of a man’s overall look.
As we concur on the common sense nature of the latest fashions, the question arises as to why the cylinder shapes of the ‘90s even occurred in the first place. “I don’t know, and it saddens me,” says Simon as he walks into the backroom to gather more inventory. Turning to me, he observes that I “have a very 80s style… that’s similar to what’s going on now”.
Well then, having not made the slightest sartorial adjustment over the last quarter century, I suddenly find myself looking fashionable again.
I haven’t felt this way since 1985.