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Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Women’s Fashion Trends That Are Too Ugly to Die

By Barbara Yaga
When you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ve seen a lot of fashion trends come and go. You might not believe it to look at me now – what with my long, stringy gray hair, milky cataract-infused eyes and the obligatory wart on my nose – but at one time, I was quite the fashionista.

Granted, that “one time” hearkens back to the first Reagan administration, but my selective memory is still sharp enough to notice something: that the most hideous of women’s fashion trends for some reason keep coming back, like the arm reaching out of the grave at the end of “Carrie.”
An example: You youngsters out there probably don’t associate big, black-rimmed plastic glasses frames with anything but hipsterism. But when I was a kid, these were the exclusive eyewear of choice for science teachers and guys working the consoles in the NASA control room. Nobody cool wore horn rims: all the hip kids were wearing John Lennon wire frames and later, aviator glasses (another trend that’s made an “ironic” comeback amongst hipsters—and/or Chloe Sevigny).
I asked several fellow crones, huddled around the hearth in their thatch-roofed huts, what fashion trends of their youth they most regret, and the response was overwhelming. They mentioned many things: polyester pantsuits, flowing ties on women’s suits, harem pants, crop tops and anything made in a synthetic fabric known as Qiana, for starters. Luckily, these
once-happenin’ trends are long gone. But a few other trends that we repeatedly
remembered with regret are back in the fashion vanguard, if not the mainstream.
Such as:
High-waisted jeans. My daughter got the first three seasons of “Saturday Night Live” on DVD for Christmas, and I’ve been watching them with her. In my rosy memory of this show, I’d completely forgotten the first-season R-rated Muppets segment, some really awful home movies, and the horror that was high-waisted jeans, or high-waisted pants in general.
There are the female comic icons of their time -- Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Madeline Kahn, Candace Bergman – all wearing pants with the waistband hitting right around the top of the sternum.

The legs of these pants were wide and belled and, if made of denim, frequently “accessorized” with some malignant form of applique, such as flowers or Peter Max-type designs. (In case you don’t know, Peter Max was a ‘60s-‘70s pop art designer whose work looked like what would happen if My Little Pony ingested too many rainbows, then puked all over the Lucky Charms

The high-waisted look of the late ‘70s is not to be confused with that truly hideous trend of a decade later: baggy, high-waisted jeans which tapered to the ankle, a design tactic that made the wearer look like one of the popular icons of the time—no, not Madonna, but William “The Refrigerator” Perry. (Full disclosure: I had a purple pair.)
And yet, like all monsters, just when you think they’re dead, some dumbass resuscitates them for a sequel. Yes, high-waisted, big-legged jeans are back. As are...
Shoulder pads. Oh, how we laughed at the 1940s-era pictures of our mothers, with their big frizzed hair, clown-red lipstick and shoulder pads. Just take a peek at any Joan Crawford
movie from the times and you can guess why Mommy Dearest despised wire hangers (they probably got caught on the massive shoulder pads).

For some reason we stopped laughing in the mid-‘80s, when once again, big, frizzed hair, red lipstick and shoulder pads made a comeback (just watch any John Hughes movie for a hot, heaping helping of this particular mess).
And another fashion trend from the past that's back:
The “Little House on the Prairie” look. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, girls going to prom
and brides had two choices in formalwear: they could look like disco divas or Victorian schoolmarms, with very little variance in between. By far the biggest purveyor of the latter look was dress designer Jessica McClintock, first with her Gunne Sax line in the ‘70s and later with her eponymous line of higher-end duds.
Kids today who hear “Victorian” in connection to women’s clothes are probably thinking, “Cool! Steampunk!” But these outfits were actually a kind of anti-steampunk. There was nothing goth, black or sinister about them. They were ruffly, lacy, and white or pastel or floral printed. There was no cleavage, no plunging backlines, nothing to suggest sexuality in any form.
Instead of strapping on a pair of goggles and flying a steam-engine-powered dirigible to rescue William McKinley, the gals who wore these dresses looked like they were about to get tied to some railroad tracks.

Jessica McClintock is still around. According to the corporate website, Jessica designed the dresses with “skills she learned from her grandmother.” (Gee, I'm shocked.)
Her current designs for bridal and formalwear don’t look any different than anything you’d see at – the obligatory strapless satin look. But back in the day, every self-respecting Sister Goldenhair was sporting one of these numbers for formal dressup.
And yet the prairie look is back, at least for the cutting-edge vintage crowd. Hip-ass Etsy lists more than 1,500 Gunne Sax dresses for sale, now categorized as “vintage” and available for a whole new generation to wear to prom, ironically or not.


  1. Although these various women's fashions do seem less than attractive, it does have popularity in today's society. Interesting post.

  2. I just found this site and loved your post. I wear Jessica McClintock perfume...have for years and love it. You really took me back to the good ol' days. Well, maybe no so good ol' days. *lol* I remember them well.

  3. Thankfully men's fashion styles do not change as often as women's fashion. But there are trends and tips that one must still pay attention to. Good news is that most of guys will already own a few of the key items. Remember last summer...