A student at University High School was describing the current state of teen fashion.
"You just gather a bunch of stuff," she said, "and put it on."
However vague it may seem, the description is accurate.
Today's look is casual, comfortable, sloppy. The pressure is off to dress for success. Even in private schools, competition has relaxed for the must-have accessories that are allowed with uniforms. Competition comes not from what is worn, but how it is worn.
That's the latest word from University High in West Los Angeles and Bancroft Junior High in Hollywood, both public schools, and private schools St. Bernard's High in Playa del Rey and the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks.
At University, junior Ali Morra, 16, calls today's look "mellow fashion." She was dressed in white stretch jeans, a loose-fitting V-neck black shirt, an oversize black and white tweed coat and cowboy boots, extremely popular this year. Earrings made from crystals, another new accessory, hung from her lobes.
There are casual looks taken from the '60s and updated for the '80s.
"My parents look at me and say, 'I used to wear that,' " said Rachael Marcus, a 16-year-old junior wearing ripped jeans with white lace stockings underneath, an oversize T-shirt and several clunky silver rings. "My mom doesn't take it seriously."
Styles weren't always this casual. Senior Trevin Hartwell, 18, wearing blue sweat pants, a T-shirt, a zip-front sweat shirt and high-top tennis shoes, recalls that two years ago he and his classmates dressed up much more for classes.
"In the 10th grade, even the guys were wearing brooches with jackets," he said.
There are some splurges like leather jackets, expensive jewelry and other accessories. Ali bought a pair of $100 shoes recently, a figure she admitted was high.
Who pays for it all?
Usually parents, who fork over a credit card or cash and let their children roam Beverly Center unattended. Even those teens who work spend their money going out, not on clothes. Sometimes there is a ceiling on the amount doled out by parents, sometimes not.
"If I tell them what I want they say, OK, go get it," said Brooke Pickens, a 16-year-old senior.
"If it's really expensive, I have to put it on hold and then my mom checks it out," Rachael added.
A Cheaper Way to Dress
You could spend a fortune on even the grungiest of clothes, but today's students would rather not. They shop at thrift stores, and choose Pure Sweat discount outlets and the Gap over the Esprit Super Store for an anti-trend trend. Girls find oversize tops and sweaters in men's departments, or raid their brothers', boyfriends' and fathers' closets.
"You make do," one girl said with a shrug.
Having the right label is definitely out.
"Levi's are big, but they've always been big," said Jolie Mitnick, a 16-year-old junior. "It's not really trendy, it's just an American look."
From the Closets of Others
What isn't purchased is borrowed--from friends, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers.
"This isn't my jacket," one girl explained. "I got it from Tracy, but I think she borrowed it from Carrie."
"I'll borrow my mom's Lina Lee blouse and wear it with ripped-up jeans," Ali said.
Parental wardrobe approval doesn't come easily.
"My parents like me to dress preppy," Jolie said with a sigh that meant she never would.
Preppy or 'Bummy'?
Ahmad Reese, on the other hand, said he gets compliments from his parents on how he's dressed. The 17-year-old senior favors a preppy look, including items by Polo and Izod.
The students are influenced by magazines like Elle, Vogue and GQ; they drool over five-figure outfits but scale the ideas down for their bodies and budgets. Girls look to TV fashion princess Lisa Bonet for ideas.
"All the girls dress like her," Trevin said. "She used to dress real trendy, but now she looks bummy--like Ali," he added, nudging his friend and laughing.
Music video-influenced fashions are out, since many students don't even watch them anymore.
"We like older women in the movies," Rachael said. "Not like the ones in 'Breakfast Club.' The older ones usually look best, like Glenn Close and Kim Basinger and that chick who played Beth (Anne Archer) in 'Fatal Attraction.' "
Despite the casual look, there are few complaints about how the opposite sex dresses. Said Trevin: "I think it looks elegant. It gives them sex appeal."
"There is still a lot of conformity for what kids are wearing," said Gerard Gumbleton, a psychologist in the senior high division of the Los Angeles Unified School District. "If you're talking about ripped-up clothes, that's the uniform. But you can go into some schools and still see preppy stuff, too. They all represent a uniform for the group that you're in."