There’s no fashion crisis like a teen fashion crisis. (iStock)
Unfortunately, I recall many excruciating details from my adolescent years, from the Smurfs puffy stickers I stuck inside my locker to that humiliating day I threw up in the cafeteria in front of my entire seventh grade class, and every awkwardly self-conscious moment in between.
During this gawky stage, I hovered in a nervous state of adolescent limbo between my carefree primary years and the uneasy self-awareness of my late teens. At night, I’d lay awake in my mock-brass twin bed, under my Kliban cat sheets, staring at the Holly Hobby doll on my floral Contact-papered shelf, practicing kissing on the back of my hand, and wondering, “Who the heck am I, anyway?” Although nothing seemed certain, I thought having trendy clothes would go a long way in attracting a halfway decent friend group … and maybe someday, a boyfriend.
My parents aimed to clothe me in polyester dresses and knee socks for the rest of my life. That worked until middle school, when my best friend showed up on the first day wearing a blue satin jacket, rainbow suspenders, a Coneheads T-shirt and Sasson jeans with a clear plastic back pocket that showed off her Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker. Seeing that my friend’s cool outfit earned her social status, I was desperate to create my own style.
My older brother had abandoned the color-coordinated Garanimals outfits my mother bought him at J.C. Penneys, and replaced them with a decent pair of jeans, concert T-shirts and turf shoes. He parted his hair straight down the middle, and voilà! His entrance into the cool crowd was instantaneous, too.
For me, however, fashion was bewildering, with an intimidating array of trends from which to choose. Just buying a new pair of jeans was overwhelming. Pleated or plain front? Acid or stone washed? Tapered or Flared? Jordache or Lee?
Would I wear a madras shirt, a cut-up sweatshirt, a Members Only jacket, a cowl neck, a Forenza sweater, an oversized blouse with a brooch at the neck, a popped collar polo shirt, a whale-print turtleneck, or a blazer with enormous shoulder pads? How could I choose between painter’s pants, Hammertime pants, parachute pants, stirrup pants, and overalls? Jellies, Converse Chucks, Tretorns, Reebok high tops, Vans, penny loafers, Capezios, Docksiders and Candies. Not to mention the dizzying assortment of accessories: fingerless gloves, leg warmers, Vuarnet sunglasses, Swatch watches, stick pins, braided headbands, mood rings, fanny packs and banana clips.
Even after choosing an outfit, I still had to decide whether rooster bangs or a bi-level would go better with my frosted purple eye shadow! Oh the agony!
Unfortunately, I never developed a sense of fashion and eventually gave in to my mother’s influence, wearing brown leather loafers, blouses that tied at the neck à la Colonel Sanders, and my hair long with a slab of bangs that made my face look like it was framed with a ring of Polska kielbasa.
Even when I managed to convince my mother to buy me something trendy from the juniors rack, I could never quite pull it off. When she bought me Lee overalls, I accidentally dipped the strap into the girls’ restroom toilet before history class. When I wore a cool pair of boots I got for Christmas, I wiped out on a patch of ice stepping off the bus.
At some point, I gave up on acquiring fashion sense and honed my sense of humor. I didn’t get a good date to the prom, but I was voted “Class Clown” in 1984 and later became a humor writer. Now, as I watch military families go shopping for back-to-school clothes, I hope that less fashion-savvy kids are not stressing about what to wear to school like I did.
It’s OK if fashion isn’t your thing. Your best accessories are your personality, your intellect, your talent, your sense of humor, your kindness, your generosity, your determination, your compassion and your resilience. Wear whatever clothing makes you feel comfortable and confident, then simply let YOU shine through.
Fashion trends change, but character is forever. And that’s totally cool.