Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Trip Down Fashion's Memory Lane

Susan Kandel is a former art critic for the Los Angeles Times. She has taught at New York University and UCLA, and served as editor of the international journal artext. She lives in West Hollywood, California, with her husband, two daughters, and dog.

Among the perks of living in Los Angeles are sun-kissed days, bumping into George Clooney at the dry cleaner, and mouthwatering carne asada. Among the downsides are smog and not enough bookstores. Among the befuddlements are busboys who whisk away your plate when there are still lovely bits of mashed potato on it; and (courtesy of Botox, Boniva and Bikram yoga) many --oh-so-many -- women of utterly indeterminate age.

You see them, with their perfect bodies and shiny hair, everywhere from Venice Beach to Silver Lake. It's a little weird, these 50+ fembots who looklike 16 from behind, sashaying around in their high heels and jeggings. A pair of which -- to my great chagrin -- I recently purchased.

What, you may ask, are jeggings?

These are a jean/legging hybrid made from cotton, polyester and spandex,which mimic the painted-on look of super-skinny jeans without compressing the internal organs and creating the dreaded muffin-top effect. The saleswoman promised me that with my brand-new jeggings, I could finallyachieve the elusive dream of eternal youth. Is this, however, what I really want? To join the army of the feminine undead, dressed exactly like their sixteen-year old daughters? Shouldn't the dignified among us be dressing more like our mothers -- in pantyhose, pumps and a nice, figure-flattering, A-line dress?

Perhaps the jeggings were a mistake. Not that I haven't made mistakes before. Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we, and visit some of myfavorite fashion faux-pas of the past.There was the purple suede fringed vest and matching mini I received for my10th birthday, selected to complement my mother's navy blue leather jacketwith purple suede cuffs and my father's Nehru-collared black leather jacket with purple silk lining (no, we were not performers; yes, it was the L.A. in the seventies; and of course we all had matching beads).

And the white, hip-hugging, lace-up, bell bottoms I bought at the May Company when I was thirteen, which my mother forced me to return because, being entirely see-through, they were not appropriate for school.

I remember the callus on side of my right index finger that developed from years of forcing up zippers on the tightest designer jeans I could squeeze myself into.

And the look on my younger sister's face when she visited me at the Alpha Phi sorority house at Berkeley half-way through freshman year, and saw me disguised as a preppie in a knee-length kilt, a cable knit sweater, and penny loafers.

I remember being twenty-one and deciding my hips were too big and the best way to camouflage them was by tying a sweater around my waist (a thin sweater, of course, the ideal material being either pima cotton or a silkblend), and color-coordinating it to my outfit as if it were a sort of nether-region scarf.

Oh, god, are we done yet?

No, we are not.I remember the Pepto-Bismol-colored, stretch lace, Little Bo Peep-inspired Betsey Johnson mini-dress I wore as maid of honor at the wedding of a friend who made out with one of the bridesmaids between courses at the rehearsal dinner.

I remember the summer I wearied of blowing out my hair and decided to wear a turban instead, thinking this made me look like the Bain de Soleil girl, especially when I wore my strapless jumpsuit and caked on the Guerlain terracotta bronzing powder to simulate a St. Tropez tan.

I remember my black rip-stop nylon parachute pants with the multiple zippers. Though these were originally meant for break-dancers, I wore them with stilettos, giving me the proportions of a balloon animal.

I remember bicycle shorts.

I remember stirrup pants.

Which, when you think of it, are merely jeggings by another name. Which means, yes --it's back to Mom jeans for me. Thank you, Jessica Simpson.


  1. Very funny =). And thank you so much for the trip down memory lane. I resemble quite a few of your remarks, I'm sad to say. Think think I can sum up most of my own fashion life in three little words: I am sheep.

    Thanks for the intro to a new to me writer, Stiletto Gang. I will be hunting up Susan's work post-haste!

  2. Susan,
    Great post. Thank God I live in the Midwest and can be a senior citizen who looks like one. Love your Cece Caruso books. Hope there will be another one.

  3. I wore a lavender hot-pants suit to a wedding in 19--72 maybe? Ah. It must have looked ridiculous..and I thought I was SO COOL.

    At least I wasn't alone. Hilarious, Susan!