Fashion victim: Style snoop gets a dressing-down at the mall

THE FLIPSIDE

August 18, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff Writer

In its short yet highly acclaimed history, The Flip Side has emerged as one of the giants of fashion reportage, with such publications as GQ and Women's Wear Daily now regularly taking their cues from this space.

Building on that tradition, we drove out to the White Marsh Mall recently, shouldered our way through the requisite throng of sullen, Marlboro-smoking youths at the entrance and visited many of the stores, including Just Shirts, where we caused a bit of a scene by demanding to see a pair of twill pants. (Sales clerk: "I told you, pal: we sell just shirts!")

Later, kicking back with a big gob of dough and salt from the Pretzel Pub, we filed this Q&A report on what the well-dressed teen-ager is wearing back to school this fall:

Q: What's the look for girls this year?

The look? Frankly, we at Flip Side had never heard the term before.

So we wandered into Marianne and posed the question to store manager Tina Conte, who was doing something or other to a rack of sweaters.

Folding them, maybe.

"I'd say the grunge look is still in, the hiker look," Ms. Conte said. "Jeans, denim shirts, over-sized jackets. Everything that's plaid is really hip."

Everything that's plaid is really hip -- there's a sentence you never read 10 years ago. But plaid is cool now. So the pouty mannequins in Mariane's window wear plaid dresses, denim vests over plaid shirts with leggings, plaid jackets over ripped jeans.

Later, Barbara Butt, manager of Claire's Boutiques, blames the whole plaid fad on, of all things, Catholicism, which would probably make a lively topic on talk radio. ("Jim from Catonsville, you're saying the pope has something to do with these kids wearing plaid?")

But all Ms. Butt means is: "More and more kids are going to Catholic school. And plaid is what they wear in Catholic school."

Well. As our visit to Marianne neared a close, Ms. Conte pulled something from a rack and said: "These are big, too." Amazingly, it turned out to be a pair of denim hip-huggers.

Well, it was all too retro. Gasping for air, we lurched from the store in a cold sweat, as the hip-huggers evoked frightening images of chunky, Janis Joplin-wannabes sitting next to us in third-period trigonometry back in 1969.

Q: What's the look for boys?

A: The beauty of being a boy in today's educational system is that, not only are you not expected to be able to point out Canada on a map, but you're basically allowed to arrive in homeroom with an outfit seemingly fished from a Goodwill bin.

Lou Anderson, sales clerk at Structure, delicately calls this "the layered look." Sweater vests, over long-sleeved flannel shirts, over thermal undershirts, worn with torn jeans . . . the whole effect fairly screams: Employed at a logging camp.

No Fear T-shirts with their in-your-face inspirational messages ("You'll Never Steal Second With Your Feet On First") are also huge.

"No Fear has taken off, it's out of control," said Reach For The Beach assistant manager Justin Gillies.

Then, showing the natural cynicism that could signal an upcoming career in journalism, he added: "It'll die out like everything else."

(Curiously, at Merry-Go-Round, the two mannequins in the store window wore grunge-like outfits along with -- this is true -- cardboard TV's over their heads. No, we didn't ask.)

Say, what's new in body-piercing?

Not much. Apparently, there are only so many fleshy outcroppings and orifices on the body that will accommodate a tasteful hoop or stud, and today's young people have just about used them all.

Besides, who hasn't jabbed a ring through his or her eyebrow at one time or another?

Back at Claire's Boutiques, Barbara Butt reports that Dream Catchers earrings are hot sellers for both sexes, despite this bizarre imprint on the package: "According to Indian folklore, Dream Catchers can capture many of life's forces that descend upon you while you sleep."

At the Flip Side mansion, we prefer to use a fly-swatter.

Q: What does the well-dressed student wear on his or her feet?

Hiking boots are big with both sexes, Nike and Reebok cross-trainers sell well to boys, retro-style low-cut canvas sneakers to girls.

We were about to pop into a Thom McAn for more info, but were shaken by the sight of a couple wearing matching "I'm With Stupid!" T-shirts and decided to move on.

Q: Anything new in headgear for young people?

A: Perhaps the most alarming development is the popularity of the so-called "Blossom" hats, named after the dippy girl-coming-of-age series on NBC.

These are denim hats with a flower attached to the upturned brim, although the total effect is to leave the wearer seemingly poised to make a giddy, Barbie-like pronouncement such as: "Gee, math class was sure hard today!"

For most boys (and lots of girls), baseball caps are still the headgear of choice, with the the Nike "Swoosh" caps displaying college nicknames among the most popular.

In our best old-fogeyish voice, we approached Judson Kerr, 24, the manager of Footlocker, and asked: "Is the cap still worn backward or what?"

Mr. Kerr was nice enough not to roll his eyes and call security. Instead he patiently explained that it all depended on what part of the hat the wearer wanted to show off.

"Oh," we said, suddenly feeling the need for a comfortable rocking chair and warm quilt around our shoulders.

Our visit to the mall ended at Champs, where a skittish assistant manager recoiled from our notebook as if it were a Glock 9mm and said: "We're not allowed to talk to the press."

It's probably good advice. Besides, the line in front of the Pretzel Pub had cleared out nicely and it was time to call it a day.

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