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Style / Fashion : Teeing Off

June 25, 1995|MARY MCNAMARA

In the '60s, we tie-dyed them. Post-"Flashdance," we shredded them. And now we're shrinking them. Forget the Dow Jones, forget the Gallup Poll--if you want to figure out the American Zeitgeist , keep your eyes on our T-shirts. No one informed me, of course, about the tiny-tee trend. So the first few times I saw grown-up girls in shirts that stretched tautly at the shoulders and barely reached the navel, I figured these women were simply unfamiliar with the propensities of cotton and the various temperature settings on most modern clothes dryers. I felt nothing but sympathy. Then I noticed women in the entertainment industry--models, actresses, Rikki Lake audience members--sporting them, and I realized this was no laundering accident. This was a Look.

I had been feeling so much better since the baby-doll dress had retreated to the children's department where it belongs, so I rejected my first reaction--the one that sent the word pedophilia screeching through my brain. Perhaps, I reasoned instead, this is a political statement. Perhaps the fashion industry is protesting the shrinking social services budget or reflecting the country's alleged desire for a more efficient federal government. Maybe the United Garment Workers created the Look as a symbol for the dwindling percentage of clothing actually manufactured in the United States. Or perhaps it is the work of feminists hoping to illustrate how wrong it is to force women into the roles and postures of little girls.

Wouldn't that be nice? If it were any of those things?

Now I begrudge no designer, be it Anne Klein or K mart, any attempt to cash in on our whims of fashion. I don't particularly mind the obvious implications of many of the current styles. Hey, I can live with the WonderBra, I can even live with the return of corsets--these fashions at least acknowledge the changes that take place in the majority of females during puberty. So maybe it's all just a case of sour grapes. Many of us, upon looking at Kate Moss and then at ourselves, question not just the nature of diet and genetics but the definition of species. For us, the tiny tee is strictly off-limits. Imagine Sophia Loren forced to shop at GapKids. Imagine a world in which anarchy reigns.

I take comfort in knowing that most Looks have a half-life equivalent to that of "The Quick and the Dead," but feelings are mixed as to the fate of the baby tee. The folks at Funkeesentials in Los Angeles say interest is already dwindling and patrons are demanding bigger and looser tops. "It's more early '80s than late '70s now," reports co-owner Sally Sowter, making a distinction perhaps only John Travolta can truly understand. But in New York, designers such as Todd Oldham recently sent models down the runways in shirts so wee that there was no question what the "T" stood for. And won't those be fun for us gals to wear to the company picnic?

I don't mean to sound bitter or hysterical because I'm not. Women wear what they wear because they want to, because it feels good and/or they think it looks good, and if tiny tees make women feel better, heck, let's hand them out on street corners. But as I said, T-shirts, more than any other fashion item, make a statement about the mood of the country, or at least of the young and hip--and all tiny tees seem to be saying is "I don't fit in here." Literally.

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