Thursday, June 1, 2017

Preppy Pastels and Big Hair: Remembering the 80s

I'll be honest: There's very little that I like about 1980s fashion, especially mid to late 80s fashion. I thought maybe this was just a bias born of my having been a teen in the 80s, but, when I began pulling this post together, it was clear: I still don't like 80s fashion. But I did have fun with this post. I hope you do too.

I would never have worn this dress in my teens. I probably would have called it preppy, and that did not fit my sense of who I was. As I wrote this post, I came to realize that my teenage hatred of certain fashions was imbued with a kind of loathing of femininity that ultimately hurt me more than anyone else. I didn't grasp that I could be feminine and fierce. But I get it now. 

I found this dress, now "vintage," for $20, so I thought, "Why not?" I honestly don't think it's all that flattering to my figure but it amuses me to wear something I would have eschewed in my younger years.  It's ironic, then, that, when I do wear it, I get a lot of compliments from people in their late teens and early 20s. I guess "retro 80s" is still a thing with the kids these days. 

It was also Easter and these Easter egg colours were fun for the day. I'm Jewish, and, aside from that, I don't like Easter much. I don't really "do" Easter. In fact, I find all those images of torture, death, and entombment quite triggering. So focusing on the spring colours and iconography of Easter helps.

So, 80s pastel it was. Girls who looked like this one were the norm in teen narratives at the time. They peopled movies and television shows, and adorned the covers of books that I, as a teen girl, was supposed to enjoy. I didn't. These narratives always portrayed a world and a type of teen utterly foreign to me. 

This is probably a big part of why I associated girls who dressed like this with a lot of negative stereotypes about femininity. 

They were, to me, first and foremost, privileged. 

Shoes: Ecco; Cardigan: MAK; Headband: Stylize; Dress, earrings, sunglasses, and bangles: vintage
I was not. Through my teens, Smother was in school and we were poor, very poor. We lived in some pretty awful dives, rats and all.

Pastel girls were sheltered.

I was not. For three of my teen years, I lived in a red light district. And, as you know, Smother was pimping me

Pastel girls were suburban.

I lived in the inner city. I've always hated the suburbs though, and always will. I'm a city girl.

Notice that I used an image of paint splatter to indicate an inner city setting? 

Remember 80s paint splatter? Yes, it was a thing.

I think it was supposed to suggest urban, artistic sophistication ... 

... a la Keith Haring ... 

... but it sometimes when disastrously wrong, as you can see.

Even my dress has a faint suggestion of paint splatter in the white stripes that are not, upon close inspection, completely white. 

But back to my snotty teen stereotypes about 80s pastel girls. They were, in my mind, quite possibly "churchy," in only the most negative of ways. 

Now this one is particularly fraught for me because my child pimping, heroin shooting, child raping Smother was in theology school to become a minister! 

Can you say 'hypocrisy'? Sure you can.

My classmates knew that I had this "churchy" element in my life and a few of the nastier ones started calling me Jesus Girl, something I knew I was not. It stung. 

I suppose, then, that it goes without saying that such girls were virginal, and proud of it. Here we see a pastel clad Mallory Keaton, of Family Ties, contemplating losing her virginity.

I never think that a virgin who is raped has lost her virginity. It must be something "lost" with full and free consent for it to have been lost at all. So, until I was fifteen, I was a virgin. 

But I did not hold my virginity dear. None of my friends - male or female - did. We were all very eager to lose it quickly, not, in my case, so much for pleasure, as for cool status. You could not be a cool virgin. Not in my mind. 

But pastel girls who weren't virgins weren't cool either because, I believed, their approach to sex was coy and cutesy. Ick! Such a vision of female sexuality was and is common. This advertisement is perfect example of that, with its creepy biblical reference to sex as forbidden, teenage fruit. Triple ICK! 

This was not for me! I already knew I wanted to own my sexuality, though I didn't really know what that meant. I knew it wasn't about being coy. Since I was being sexually abused, sexual pleasure barely registered as a possibility, but I did I did have a sense that I wanted to own my sexuality in a personally powerful, strong way. All of these possibilities remained vague and abstract to me until I was eighteen and I started dating women.

I never bought into the idea of virginity and purity being the same thing, but a lot of other people did, and that's what pastel girls were all about, or so I believed. 

This image of teen girls was another one that chafed me badly - because I looked the part, even when I tried not to. Then and now, I have a kind of "innocent" looking face that has made people assume things about me that aren't true. High school chums were shocked to see me smoke or do drugs. 

If they weren't so annoying as to call me Jesus Girl, they all said I looked like the Ivory Girl, another sickening example of the infantalization of women. 

Looking like the Ivory Girl was not a chosen mask. It was a mask I longed to shed. It hid both my free spirit and a world of suffering.

I was also endlessly told that I looked like Molly Ringwald in those completely unrelatable, suburban, John Hughes teen movies ...

... when I knew I a lot more in common with Judd Nelson's John Bender in The Breakfast Club.

My own femininity was at odds with how I perceived myself but I see now that was in large part because I'd internalized other people's notions of the character traits they believed came with femininity. It took me a very long time to understand that I could look and even dress in a feminine way and still be clear-headed, powerful, and smart. 

Jenilee Harrison on Three's Company
I wasn't the only one who associated femininity with stupidity. In the lesbian community in the early 90s I was often assumed stupid simply because I was feminine. 

And I knew I wasn't stupid. I'd been in a gifted program a few years earlier. I got great grades in school. 

And I always questioned both authority and the majority

Ironically, I prided myself on thinking for myself, even as I swallowed harmful stereotypes about feminine girls and women.

I did my best not to have a herd mentality ...

... and to march to the beat of my own drummer. Others saw me this way, frequently calling me things like "an old soul," and "a free spirit."

Whatever it was that a teen girl was supposed to be ... 

... it wasn't me. 

And that's enough about why I rejected "girly" fashion in my teens. Let's now dispense with the stereotypes and get to the fashion itself. 

Obviously, you've noticed the most dominant theme in today's post: pastel.

Pastels were not the only fashion trend in the 80s, but they were a powerful one, for all ages, from the very young... 

... to teens and young adults (and look, another assertion that women should remain like babies) ... 

... to adults ...

... to the middle aged and beyond. Yes, that's Gene Kelly on The Love Boat. God love him. 

I'm sure you've noticed, pastel stripes were particularly popular ... 

... but not necessary to be fashionable. 

And, despite the fact that I've been focusing on 80s pastels as feminine, they were certainly not restricted to girls and women.

Boys ...

Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as James Crocket and Ricardo Tubbs on Miami Vice 
... and men could and did wear pastels without anyone questioning their masculinity.  

The most famous example of this is, obviously, Miami Vice. It's easy to laugh at the show now. I do. But I remember when it first came out. It was an aesthetic revelation, entirely new. Even I, who tried to be aloof to such things, was dazzled by it.

John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, and Suzanne Somers on Three's Company
As in Miami Vice, pastel fashion was not restricted just to clothing. 

It showed up in everything from interior design ...

Angela Lansbury and Jessica Fletcher
... to makeup. Even Jessica Fletcher wasn't immune to its charms.

Check out her pastel, purple, eye shadow and light pink lipstick at Loretta's Beauty Parlour. I love Loretta's Beauty Parlour.

So, against my better judgement, when I wore this dress, I wore pastel makeup too.

It was really everywhere in the 80s, whether you were squeaky clean ...

Cyndi Lauper
... or a "weirdo radical."

Quick digression. This trend led eventually to what I call the "black eye look," yet another regrettable fashion trend ... 

... this time fairly obviously sexualizing the brutalized woman. This was not new. Nor is it now old. I've written about it before and I'll write about it some day. 

But not now.

Back to the pastels. I actually don't think it's a good makeup look for me. It can make me look washed out. It's not so bad on my eyes ...

... but it just doesn't work on my lips. With my pale skin, I feel like it kind of erases me. 

I've tried brighter pinks too and, unless they're a berry stain pink, they don't look good on me. 

But I didn't feel I could do an 80s pastel look without a frosted pink lipstick, like my early 80s crush, Heather Locklear. 

Of course, we all know that fashion trends are never just about colour or pattern. They're about an almost alchemical mix of a million things like cut, drape, texture, styling, and, of course, accessories. 

My dress is handmade. I managed to find the exact pattern used by the original seamstress, though it's so blurry, I didn't even realize it at first!  

The pockets are what first tipped me off. 

Mine had the same little bows on them but I took them off. Should I put them back?

The "sleeves" are an interesting touch. They're the only fasteners on the whole dress and hold it all together. You may recall that boxy, padded shoulders were hugely popular in the 80s; this design creates a slightly boxy look without the need for padding. (Yes, I know my slip is showing. It was a chilly day.)

The design is quite similar to the design of this top in my grade nine school photo. Do note my differently coloured, plastic earrings, and the "tail" in my hair. I thought these touches made me look "street." I can't even say that without laughing now. I actually was "street," but, man, I so didn't look it!

But back to the dress. The top is a bit tight. I feel smooshed in it, and that was not a thing in the 80s.

After the skin-tight everything of the 1970s, baggy everything was where it was at. 

Baggy looks were not just for teens either. Everyone wore them. 

You can see this in the slouchy pockets and full skirt of my dress. 

Of course I tried to twirl ...

... and of course I failed. 

This is mostly an excuse to show another image from The Love Boat.
Just as pastels alone did not make 80s fashion, stripes alone did not make 80s fashion either. They had to be arranged just so.

Generally, this meant that the stripes in the skirt would come to a point, and the direction of the stripes in the top would contrast with those in the skirt.

Check and check.

he exact designs changed over the decade, of course. Fashion is never static. The dress on left, for instance ...

... would be out of style in a few years, but the overall concept remained the same.

On to the shoes. As always, certain brands were big in the 80s. These are Hang Tens. Remember them?

My Ecco runner aren't quite right ...

... but they're very close. In every fashion era, women will grab hold of comfortable shoes and, ahem, run with them.

Aaand, for some reason, now seems like a good time to talk about 80s hair.

God help us all. It was HUGE!

My voluminous Jewish hair (aka Jewfro) was perfect for the 80s. To this day, all my high school chums remember my hair with great fondness.

However, in this photo shoot, I didn't wear my hair just right for the 80s. 

It's certainly big enough.

But it's not messy enough. This was the era when everyone wanted to look like Madonna.

The idea to tie, drape, and wear as much shit on your body ... 

... and in your hair as was humanly possible. I can remember wearing outfits that included three pairs of visible socks, two skirts, several belts...

What were we thinking?

Compared to all that, this style is positively sleek and 1960s ...

Sarah Jessica Parker
... and therefore all wrong. 

The earrings too are much more 1960s than 1980s but, in deference to Easter eggs, I just had to wear them ...

... just as I'd had to wear this outfit the day before. I actually like this one better but I've already featured this dress in a post so, for the blog, I went with something new (to me).

Now let's talk about the sunglasses. The colours are obviously a good match for the outfit ...

... but I feel the shape is more in keeping with the earlier 80s than my dress is. 

I could be wrong though. Jessica wore these beauts (with pastels, natch) later in the decade. 

Speaking of Jessica, wearer of all cardigans great and true ...

... I knew my cardigan was not quite right for my outfit either.

It nips in at the waist, which is flattering ...

Tempestt Bledsoe as Vanessa Huxtable
... but I should have worn a huge cardigan, preferably with padded shoulders.

Nipped waists didn't make a comeback ... 

...till the very late 80s, when, in my opinion, the fashion world started on the path toward regaining its sanity (though I wouldn't say these outfits are an example thereof). 

A note about this house. As I generally do, I tried to pose in front of houses that would have existed when my dress was new.

This one, built in 1963, has always had a special place in my heart. The house itself is so of its time, and the yard is amazing. It's hard to explain, but it's on a triangle of land, a lot of land by today's standards. The house is on the wedge part of the triangle, with the yard tapering to a point nearly a block away. It's surrounded by tall, deliciously shady trees, which may well have been little trees in 1963.

This is a home that has obviously always been well loved. 

The whole thing is old enough now to feel old-fashioned to a middle aged woman like myself.

Its well maintained, old school borders and trimmed bushes seem kind of quaint now but in a good way. 

The owner was working on his yard while we were taking photos, so I asked for permission to pose in front of his house. He told us that he was 80 years old, had lived in the house since 1963 ... and had just lost his wife of 50 years.

My heart broke for him. 

Yet, as we left, perhaps when he saw me on my scooter, he came after me and gave me a flower! His kindness broke my heart a little bit more. How could he even think of others at a time like this?

I hate to think of what will happen to his home when he leaves. I know what will happen, and I hate it. It's the same fate that will befall our own house when our landlords decide to kick us out. Our entire city is being torn down and rebuilt on a totally different, appalling, prohibitively expensive scale. When we first moved into this area, only three years ago, the corner behind me here had two small, single family homes on it. They're both gone, replaced by three huge, hideous, impersonal town houses. 

Beau and I try to filter these behemoths out of my photos for the blog, but it's getting harder and harder. It makes me want to preserve the bits of the past that still linger.

Even if they're bit from the 1980s.

(I'm sharing this with High Latitude StyleTina's Pink Friday, Adri Lately, Not Dead Yet, Elegantly Dressed and StylishRachel the Hat, Style Crone, Not Dressed as Lamb, and Fashion Should Be Fun.)


  1. Dear Charotte, you look amazing in this icecream coloured dress. It's realy perfect to my pompom sandals :)
    Thank you for linking up with tinaspinkfriday. XO Tina

  2. Headbands were certainly an 80’s staple! Yours looks great in your curly hair, and I love the touch of the tucked in gifted flower. Thank you for sharing with Hat Attack!

  3. Thanks for this great 80s memory lane. Great dress! You look great in these pastels. Thanks for linking up to Top of the World Style.