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HE SAID, SHE SAID / PATRICK MOTT and ANN CONWAY

An Autumn Shopping Ritual to Fall in With Right Crowd

August 27, 1993|PATRICK MOTT and ANN CONWAY

T he beginning of every academic year is always a curious mix of scholarship and show biz. Yes, you prepare for another nose dive into the books by stocking up on notebooks, paper and pens. But, over there on the other side of your brain, you're thinking about emerging on the campus stage with a new--and sartorially correct--wardrobe.

We take a look at the student-as-fashion-plate phenomenon, today and yesterday.

HE: Maybe it's because many kids of high school age have yet to develop a certain sense of self--an identity--that they seem to embrace any piece of clothing with big writing on it. There's not a lot of subtlety to it. It's flashy and it's colorful, but most of it amounts to so many walking billboards. The clothes stop just short of screaming, "This jacket was designed by B.U.M., whose ad guys have managed to trick this person into thinking it's cool!"

SHE: I don't think kids are getting tricked any more than we were when we followed fashion trends. These days, media ads scream the "Be Cool" messages. In the not-so-old-days, we sent them to ourselves. If Debbie Homecoming Queen wore a skirt that was so tight she could hardly climb the school steps, we all bought tight skirts. If Chuck Quarterback wore his hair long, the rest of the guys forgot their barbers' names. We did it for the same reason kids do it today: an I'm-as-hip-as-the-next-guy identity. Some things never change.

Did you follow the sartorial herd in high school?

HE: In fits and starts, yes, but there wasn't much latitude. I graduated from high school in 1970 and, at that time, even in a public school, there was a standard dress code: no T-shirts, no shorts and no high heels or pants for girls. It was only slightly less restrictive than being a Disneyland employee. This reined things in quite a bit, but brand names were still in vogue. Converse tennis shoes, Hang Ten shirts and anything by Levi Strauss.

Away from school, things were sometimes hugely different. Among some of the older kids, who were beginning to embrace the counterculture of that time, you'd see the Bizarre Duds of the Week. Big floppy hats, radically customized bell-bottom jeans, granny dresses and the ubiquitous leather sandals. Among the more conservative crowd, though, things were pretty, well, uniform.

SHE: The thing I loved most about dressing for high school was the anticipation that accompanied those shopping trips. Would Steve like me if I wore this outfit? If he asked me to the homecoming dance, should I wear this dress (the one with the velvet collar)? Would the other girls have this length (the maxi skirt)? Or would I be the only one?

And then there was the thrill of shopping with my patient mother, Dorothy. Again and again she would nod her head when I asked for another pair of shoes, another blouse, one more coat (she bought me a pea-green corduroy number that made me feel like the Queen of England).

I didn't have many clothes then. But they've never meant so much.

HE: I think girls get their fashion sense in their high school years, and guys don't truly come around until they're about, oh, 35. My male friends and I were a pretty monochromatic crowd in high school. Sure, we wanted to impress girls, but it didn't occur to us to do it with clothes. We figured that if we let ourselves get beaten half to death playing football that we'd become irresistible. The only people I became irresistible to were large, ill-tempered linebackers.

High school guys do get a clue every now and then, though. Let's say Aunt Alice buys you a green crew neck sweater (you hate the style and color), and your mom insists you wear it to school, just once. You do, and that girl who turns your legs to Jell-O says, "Gee, that sweater looks great on you. It sets off your green eyes." You sprint to the store and buy up 40 gross of them, and spend the next week in front of the mirror marveling that, by golly, you actually do have green eyes.

SHE: My favorite school outfits: the lemon yellow embroidered organdy dress I wore to the eighth grade graduation dance. The powder blue organdy gown I wore to the junior prom. The sequin-splashed pink net number I wore to the senior prom. The pale pink "sharkskin" bathing suit I wore to senior ditch day in Laguna Beach (I got so sunburned I couldn't give a speech at school the following day). The banana yellow skirt with the brown jersey top and brown suede shoes. The pink sweater and charcoal skirt with pink kick pleats.

I'm getting depressed. School! I miss you!

HE: Guys don't remember what they wore in high school, unless it involved triumph or disaster. Consequently, all I remember is my mortarboard graduation cap and a formal shirt I wore that was so heavily starched that every time I sat down the shirt buckled and I looked like I had bigger breasts than my prom date.

SHE: Guys don't remember what they wore because they were reading Dick Tracy while we were reading Seventeen magazine.

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