Random Thoughts / The bottom line on '60s symbols
I know that what comes around goes around as far as fashion is concerned. Designers are always rummaging in the closet of yesteryear and coming up with looks that have the taste of the past. It's a small enough taste to give a pleasant sense of nostalgia, but the look is always unmistakably modern.
The full-skirted cinched-waist imitations of '50s style we see now are really cute, but they remind me more of movies and TV shows about that time than the actual era, even though I am old enough to have first-hand memories of those days.
When I see fashion that harks back to the '80s, I wonder who would want to redo the unfortunate ensembles we wore then. Memories of my shoulder pads and frizzy hair are too painful too consider. Anyway, they say that if you actually wore the fashion in its original incarnation, you're too old to wear it now.
Nostalgic fashion has been amusing or adorable to me, but never emotional until now. I was leafing through a fashion magazine and saw a photograph that was so familiar it sent me back in time to my college days. The picture was of the latest style in pants. They call them "wide-legged," but these jeans weren't wide all the way up the leg. They fit tightly from the waist to the knee and then flared out in the shape of a bell. Just like the pants I wore in college. Bell-bottoms.
I got my first pair of bell-bottom jeans when I was a freshman at George Washington University. A Connecticut girl formerly clad in khakis, preppy Villager outfits, and stylish short skirts with lacy knee socks, this new type of pants was a complete departure. But bell-bottoms were about more than style to me. They were my moment of rebellion.
I felt daring when I bought them, brave when I put them on. These were not just jeans, they were the kinds of pants that hippies wore. I was a "wannabe" hippie. There was no way I was heading out to Haight-Ashbury, joining the drug culture, living in a commune, or making love indiscriminately. I didn't even want to wear granny glasses or flowers in my hair.
I had a nice boyfriend in pre-law, I liked clean bathrooms,and I was terrified of the drug scene. I could never really be a hippie, but there were a lot of things I liked about those rule-breakers. They were new; different from anything that had come before it seemed to me. They were cool. They were mine -- part of my generation.
In addition, those hippies were talking about things that I agreed with. Making love and not war sounded right to me. The hypocrisy of adults who preached values they didn't practice was something I wanted to challenge. I liked being part of a generation that thought such a challenge was possible. I too believed that we had the power to change the world.
I particularly liked the idea of protesting. Peaceful demonstration is a time-honored practice and one that I was eager to join. I wore my bell-bottoms to march on the administrative buildings of my college. Since my school was in D.C., there was something particularly moving about demonstrating in the shadow of the White House. We marched at night, thousands of us it seemed, and I felt part of something that was going to make a difference. I wore my bell-bottoms in solidarity.
And yes, the wide legs were a nice balance to my wide hips. When fashion and principles work together, it's a beautiful thing. I grew my hair and spent hours making it straight so the rest of my look was worthy of my bell-bottoms. I did not want to resemble those Peter-Pan collared throwbacks to the fifties who believed that we should do what the adults told us to do.
I'm still stuck in those days. While too many of my contemporaries seem to have become the kinds of people we protested about in those days, my politics haven't changed much. I've wondered if it was time to grow up and stop believing that anyone can change the world. However, when I saw that photo in the magazine of a heartbreakingly young model in her wide-legged jeans, I was brought back to those thrilling days when anything seemed possible.
Bell-bottoms may just be fashion now, but to me they are a symbol of my moment of youthful hope. I may be too old to wear them this time, but I'm not too old to believe the things that I did then.
Carol Randel's Random Thoughts column appears twice n month on Fridays.