by Robin Grant
The second coming: bellbottoms become flares
It's that time of year again. Along with the stress of pricey textbooks and costly tuition on the student's budget, many of the more fashion-conscious students are being faced with another financial dilemma, the notorious Back to School Wardrobe. Indeed, it is time for those trend-setters among us to fill our carts at the drugstore with the latest fall fashion magazines, tune into Jeanne Beker on Fashion Television and turn our gaze to the runways of Paris and Milan. Behold: the most up-to-date tools of beauty are about to be unveiled. (That is, at least for the month of September...)
But, alas! What is it that troubles my sight, but a vast image out of Sine Spirito, a shape with the body of Kate Moss and the head of Cindy Crawford, slouching towards Paris, New York, and Milan to be born? (Hmm. She looks the same as usual. Except this time she's wearing this season's sequined strapless 1940s dress revisited with matching Revlon Glossy Finish lipstick and stiletto heels.) Yes, it seems what we have here, moving its slow, underfed thighs, is not in fact a product of the eloquent and prophetic poet W. B. Yeats, but of my own morbid and cynical imagination: the fashion industry and its advertisers' latest contortion of relative beauty.
See, I think that beauty and fashion are foremost relative concepts. In some African tribal communities, a woman sporting a large ivory disc inserted in her lower lip would be considered beautiful. A woman considered overweight by today's standards would have been admired as the ideal of the 18th century. And beauty or fashion is of course subject to the esthetics of its beholders. Even Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships, was never once described by Homer in The Iliad, perhaps for this very reason.
Sure, fashion can be fun. I have a friend with a collection of nail polish ranging from sparkling gold to black that lines the shelves of her medicine cabinet like a rainbow. She also has an eclectic collection of footwear that would make Imelda Marcos moan. But my friend, if a bit eccentric, is more of a sentimental collector than a slave to trends. She has her own unique style. Professors generally also have a unique style independent of current trends. In fact, for the most part, as a friend of mine sagely pointed out, they seem to have comfortably clung to whatever style prevailed the year they became professors. My point is, there is a very dominant subculture of successful and happy people who thrive in their polyester blouses and harem pants on the outermost perimeters of the latest beauty and fashion constructs.
Some of us, however, are not so lucky. Advertising has devolved from being product-based to image-based. This can lead some of us to view anything from clothing brand names to a person's facial symmetry as indicators of social status. And almost every one would like to be considered socially acceptable, if not desirable. Since many young people are often still searching for an identity and a mate, we are, by our very nature, sensitive to style and influenced by trends. For example, just two years ago I fell prey to platform shoes. I wanted to feel chic, but instead, stumbling about, my feet aching, I felt ridiculous. I soon chalked it up to foolishness and returned to wearing my hiking boots. Such lapses for me, I hope, are only temporary and experimental. For others, I fear, fashion and beauty may be a way of life.
Take for example those women who painstakingly spray each hair into place, who spend three hours at the gym to burn off a sundae, who glide through the TSC with the concentration of a model in a fashion show. Or those men who refuse to remove their t-shirts in hot weather because of the steroid induced acne on their backs, who lift barbells until the veins in their temples burst. Just how much of that energy could be used more efficiently to improve their grades or their personal outlooks on life?
Well, maybe I sound like some cranky old bohemian that sleeps in her jeans and refuses to wear deodorant. Well, maybe I am. But I'll own up: I do love sequins. But as I get older I find that my respect is deepening for those who appear to be gloriously immune to the spells cast by the fashion industry. Among the many statements that appearance can make, I admire most the people who appear healthy, comfortable, and unique. Khakis, crushed velvet, and chunk highlights will go out with the Spice Girls, but self-acceptance and awareness will always be lovely.