High School Halls: The Fashion

Welcome to Deep-Fried Friday! For the next few weeks, I’ll be heading into the hallowed high school halls. Since plenty of families have already gone or will be soon shopping for back-to-school clothes, today’s topic is high school fashion. Fashion trends say something about each generation.

That Was Then

As I mentioned last week, I attended high school from 1982 to 1986, but I’ll take a general look at the 1980s teenage fashion fads. There were several looks that passed through the 80s–like the Madonna bustier-and-lace, the big hair and shoulder pads, the preppy presentation, and the fitness-craze look. Here are some of the items that made an appearance or experienced a resurgence:

Leg warmers. Jane Fonda wore them, but she didn’t make them popular with teens. It was the likes of Jennifer Beals in Flashdance (1983), the teens in Fame (1982) and  Footloose (1984), Cyndi Lauper and Madonna, and my personal favorite, Olivia Newton-John, who made us all run down for our own set of leg warmers to wear with flats, tennies, and even high heels.

Hair bows. The rule with hair bows then: The bigger, the better. Look back through 80s photos, and you’ll see hair bows on everyone from Madonna to Ally Sheedy to Whitney Houston.

Lace and more lace. Thanks to Cyndi Lauper and Madonna, who took the lead on this one, lingerie went inside out in the 1980s. Lacy camisoles became outerwear, and the lace trend extended to leggings, hair bands, and more.

Parachute pants. Say what you want, they were comfortable. They were cool enough for Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran to wear, but of course we all know who rocked the parachute pants. Hammer Time.

MC Hammer, U Can't Touch This

Designer jeans vs. Levi’s button-fly. Designer jeans showed up in the likes of Gloria Vanderbilt, Sasson, Jordache, Zena, and Calvin Klein (thanks, Brooke Shields). Levi’s, however, got a boost in sales with their unique button-fly shrink-to-fit 501 design. While there is a 1984 Levi’s commercial in which Bruce Willis and Jason Alexander make an appearance, here’s my favorite one from that era (I still know every word):

Swatches. Swatches were cheap plastic watches with good timepieces that had fun, colorful faces and bands. They became so stylish that teens would wear more than one Swatch on their wrist. Most people owned one, and plenty of us more than one.

Bomber jackets. The bomber jacket look was popular with Michael Jackson, Mel Gibson, Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), Mike Seaver (Kirk Cameron), and others, but for some reason it had to be a Members Only brand to be really cool.

Polos and penny loafers. Hello, preppies. Ralph Lauren Polo and Lacoste Izod shirts were all the rage for a few years–with the collar turned up. In fact, some teens wore more than one polo with the collars raised. This look was often paired with penny loafers. The shoes didn’t come with the coin; you had to find a nice shiny cent and push it into the hole. My parents swore we just copied their 50s look, but somehow we all thought we had improved on it. Maybe it was the alligator on the shirt or the fact that it was likes of John Cougar Mellencamp in those loafers.

John Mellencamp, When the Walls Come Crumblin’ Down

There were other fashion choices, like stirrup pants and granny boots; neon, neon everywhere; jelly shoes; twist-a-bead necklaces; and as many bangle bracelets as you could get on your arm. We watched actors and actress, musicians and singers, and fashion commercials and ads to see what was trendy.

This Is Now.

So what’s hot on the racks now? Well, thankfully the meat dress never caught on, but here are some of the looks you might see on teens.

Loungewear. Have you noticed a lot of teens wearing what look like their pajamas? Some of them actually are wearing pajama bottoms, but there has also been a rise in the sale of lounge pants. Abercrombie & Fitch, Aeropostale, and Victoria’s Secret Pink feature the look in their stores.

Skinny jeans. Skinny jeans are everywhere, on both girls and boys. And now they come in many colors. Popular brands today include Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lucky Brand, Aeropostale, Diesel, and others. There are still Levi’s, but the commercial looks a lot different.

Bracelets and wristbands. Homemade friendship bracelets and rubber awareness bands grace the wrists of plenty of teens. Weave a few strands or pick up a band with your school team’s name, your favorite charity, or a life message inscribed on it, and you’re good to go.

Flip-flops and Crocs. Back in my day, flip-flops were called “thongs,” but now that’s a whole other thing. What’s newer about flip-flops is their versatility. They are no longer for summer wear with a pair of shorts; you can find them in various heights and styles, from casual to flashy, and they are worn with anything and everything. As for Crocs, these foam clogs rolled out in 2002 and gained a popular following within a few years.

Ugg Boots. Uggs in an Australian brand of sheepskin boots, but the term “Uggs” is to sheepskin boots is as “Kleenex” is to tissue. Other popular brands are Emu and Bearpaw. There is an ongoing debate about whether Ugg Boots and their knock-offs are passe in the fashion world, but most people agree that teens are still wearing them and since Emma Watson had them on for a recent movie

Pic tweeted out by Emma Watson

Flat-billed caps. This is an addition from my son, who says flat-billed (aka baseball) caps are popular. Sure enough, my Internet search found examples on Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Rihanna. The bill is kept flat and not bent like a Redneck cap from my generation.

What else is new? I scoured Seventeen and Teen Vogue websites as well, but it seems like they are pushing fashion trends out there, not watching what teens are already wearing. Some other fashion fads–like crinkled scarves, platform shoes, boyfriend jackets, and the resurrection of neon–seem to be less widely worn by high schoolers.

So what fashion do you see in today’s teens? What were the fashion statements of your high school days? How do you think our fashion choices play into how we identify ourselves as teenagers?

P.S. HAIR is not this week. That is a whole other subject which I will cover in another post.

Sources: Like Totally 80s; Wall Street Journal; Los Angeles Times; Love to Know Teens; Crocs; my high school son.

28 thoughts on “High School Halls: The Fashion

  1. I can vouch for the change in wardrobe styles. I grew up in the eighties, and was in high school from 93-97. To be completely honest, I couldn’t tell you what was cool when I was in high school, as I simply didn’t care, wearing jeans and a logo t-shirt nearly every day.

    I can, however, say your list of current styles is right on target. I lead my church’s high school yearbook, and I’ve gotten many comments about exactly the items listed here. I still get flack from the kids about wearing my curled-billed caps, which were definitely cool when I was growing up.

    1. How do these teen guys tuck their hats into the back pocket of their Wranglers if they don’t curl the bills? (Texas gal wonders.) I wasn’t nearly as trendy as the above suggests. I never wore lace stuff or had a Members Only anything. I did wear Levi’s and a Swatch, though.

  2. Oh my goodness, Julie. How fashion trends come and go, right? Remember how we all used to (and I still DO) laugh about the way OLD old people wear white socks and slippers? They have been and are the rage with my son who’s 18 and this has been going on for about 3 years. They are completely dorky and I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing something like that. But these guys (athletes) wear what they call “slippers” which are open-toed and are made of a rubber or leather substance, just like thongs, with white socks pulled up half-way up their calves.

  3. Do you have any idea how many of those trends are coming back now?! At the store, we’re getting in 80’s neon colors, acid wash jeans, lace lace and more lace, and giant bobble jewelry. I still remembering wanting my ears pierced so bad so I could wear giant plastic geometric shaped earrings like my sister!

    Me thinks I rocked a couple of those hair bows into the early 90’s!

    Idea: Next DFW Con, you wanna all wear parachute pants? You’re in charge of the choreographed dance number! Then we can practice it in our hotel room! Hammer time! *do do do do…do do…do do*

    1. No, no, no…not the lace & bobble jewelry! Will we start singing “Like a Virgin” again? I did have plastic geometric earrings as well, and there was a brief trend in the 80s to wear a stud in one ear and a dangle earring in the other. You could actually buy a pair like that.

      As to DFW Con, Jess, if only I had kept the “harem pants” I wore in college. I wore them with a shoulder-padded jacket and big tribal earrings. Good gravy.

  4. I also went to high school in the ’90s (graduated in 98). Our trends were grunge. Flannel shirts, hoodies, band t-shirts, etc. Towards the end of HS for me, we got a little dressier–I had some chunky heeled shoes and wide-legged trouser jeans with baby doll t-shirts. Oh. And scrunchies. I always had a scrunchy (until my senior year when my BFF informed me that scrunchies were no longer cool, only plain hair elastics were acceptable).

    Is it terrible I saw that pic of Madonna in the neon yellow lace shirt and thought, “That’s really cute!”? LOL! I think Jess is right–all of those styles are making an updated comeback.

    1. Ah yes, the grunge world! At least it was really comfortable. I can somehow imagine you rocking the baby doll t-shirt look. I liked that lace shirt on Madonna too, so I don’t think it’s terrible. Some of the fashions were over the top, but had a cute factor to them too.

  5. Intentionally-ripped jeans were in fashion when I was in college, and recently seemed to make a comeback. Flat-billed-hats is a fashion I can do without. Especially when – as is fashionable – a big price sticker or label is left on. Same with the pants that are so loose-fitting they practically fall off. My mother-in-law worked in an inner-city school cafeteria and saw this there before we saw it in the suburbs, and she says it came from prison clothes. Ugh!

    1. The ripped jeans look was big. I remember seeing guys’ boxers through the rips in their jeans, and that was way TMI back then.

      I think your mom is right, Jennette. I’ve heard the baggy pants falling down comes from prison guys who have their belts taken upon entry. Then, their jeans sag. How that ever became fashion, I don’t know.

  6. Don’t forget the huge shoulder pads and neon colors everywhere. The neon seems to be back, but not the giant shoulders (thank goodness!). The jelly shoes and ruffled, tiered short skirts have returned, too. I loved acid washed jeans in high school. Fun post, Julie! 🙂

    1. Those giant shoulder pads were supposed to make our waists look thinner! Did it work? If so, I would welcome those pads back (now in my 40s). LOL.

      I have also seen the ruffled, tiered short skirts. Those are kind of cute, I think.

      Thanks, Diana!

  7. Oh the big hair, I did that. My bangs were so high high-school, lol. But at least I remembered to turn sideways in the mirror, not all my friends did. Their bangs looked more like a floating waterfall. I remember the jelly bracelets. So many different colors 1/2 up my forearm, so cool 😉
    I remember ripping holes in my jeans too and pegging my pants, that seems to have come back, so sad 🙂

    1. I don’t know what “pegging my pants” means. I do remember purposely trying to rip the knees out of my jeans too. In recent years, I’ve seen jeans sold like that and wondered who pays for torn clothing, especially when you can do it yourself. Thanks, S.J.!

      1. pegging, omg, it can be done 2-ways, at the ankle you fold the pant leg over and then either pin it or roll it up a couple times, it’s so attractive 🙂

  8. I graduated in ’73 so our fashion was so much different from what you’re saying. Think tie dyed, bell bottoms – some with bell wide enough to cover your feet, Indian (India) printed/styled shirts, Native American jewelry, embellished shirts and accessories with embroidery, paint studs etc. that you did yourself. T-shirts galore. It was a great time to show the crafty side of you.

    1. I definitely had a few of those things when I was young (born in ’67), but it quickly moved into disco shirts and then 80s fashion. I think the craftiness of the 1970s was cool.

  9. Fashion is such an odd thing and not one I’m very good at I like to be comfortable and I want to through my clothes into the washing machine and not worry about them. But the trip down memory lane was fun 🙂

    1. Believe me, Alica, the most common thing I wear now is a pair of yoga pants and a t-shirt. I’m sure What Not to Wear would have a field day with my writing attire, but it’s comfy and no one’s here to judge. 😉

  10. We have a few years age difference, but I know I remember Coca-Cola brand clothes being in fashion. I saved my money and bought myself a pair of Coca-Cola jeans for about $75. Another thing I remember is these shorts called jams. I believe this was the brand name They were knee length and made of garish patterned fabric.

    As for current fashion–the thong underwear seem to have come and gone. I judge by what is available at Wal-Mart, of course. At the height of the thong “boom,” Walmart had a pretty good selection of thong underwear. I’ve noted they no longer carry a whole bunch of them.

    This may be just me, but I’ve also noticed a young women wearing feathers (yes, really) braided into their hair.

    1. $75 for jeans?!! Wow. They better have made your butt look golden. 😉

      I totally recall jams. They were a big deal where I lived too. I thought they were kind of fun.

  11. What a GREAT post, Julie! You really took me back… I think I mentioned it in last week’s comments, but I feel the fashion has changed drastically. I think we (’90s) were more comfortable in our own skin than today’s teens. We dressed for comfort, although cute, something that was very important to us having to sit in a classroom for eight hours a day. I think teens dress how they do (very exotic like and show too much skin in my opinion… and the heels… oh, my) trying to discover who they are and trying too hard to fit in.

    And like Catie, I remember the Coca Cola shirts… I had one. Benetton was really big too. Are they even around today? Guess. Girbaud. Tightrolls. Braided Belts. Big flannel shirts over tucked in tshirts. Awe, the memories…

    1. Teens wear heels now? I don’t remember wearing heels to school; only to dances. And oh my goodness, BENETTON! They were huge! I haven’t seen them around in years.

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