Tiny Flowers on Rayon

I saw my first ironic navel piercing the other day. It was stuck in the middle of a retro-90’s outfit that involved a cropped purple lace top and some high-waisted black jeans—and something else, but I don’t know what. I had to look away.

Alicia Silverstone, early adopter.

Back in 2007 i had nice chat with a stranger on the subway about fashion. She was about my age. We both could sense the impending movement of the 90’s revival into the mainstream. It was palpable, really. And while certain women I know (ahem, Chelsea Starr), nailed this moment with impeccable accuracy and effortless aplomb, acheiving an ironic, self-consciously sexy interpretation of the Matte Era with breathtaking ease, I knew I could never follow suit.

I would have killed for Janeane’s dress.

I’ve loved my secretary dresses, my tiered coral prom dress, my hip huggers, platform shoes, 2nd wave feminist t-shirts, but I could not, will not, go back to the 90’s.

I’m from a family of anachronists. My sister can tell you why the triangles on the cotton print of your dress suggest that it was made in 1943 rather than 1938. She and I spent years scouring the largest salvation army in northern california. When eva and i started thrifting in the early 90’s, there were still 1940’s cardigans, not in bad shape, handmade, tiny, with self-buttons. There were still pucci bras!

We’d take the loot home to our mom, who’d give us a sartorial history lesson: ”oh we wore those like this…no like this! no, you would never have worn it with those shoes!” And then once the clothes went on, there was an inevitable pained groan as i sauntered by in my father’s belt, my high-waisted white twill flares, my “a woman’s place is in the house…and the senate” t-shirt.

Now, as the 90’s aesthetic wanes for the second time in my 34 years, I understand her response. It was so, so embarassing for her.

From the Fall '11 Urban Outfitters Catalogue.
The model on the left is wearing a t-shirt that says "Nirvana", which was a band in the '90s, or something?
Because really, who wants to see a teenager wear what you wore, ironically? Teenagers are already terrifying. I think when i’m 65 I’ll still be afraid of teenaged girls. We all feel awash in shame when we see 15 year olds prancing by in the same ill-chosen costumes we were once so proud of. They are fearless, strange, awkward. Deliberately ugly or clumsily sexy, but never elegant.

The process has changed, though. It’s unfair (and i should probably be embarassed) but I feel compelled to judge the reprocessed, too-easy reprise. When I was a kid this stuff stank. It was too big, had to be cut up and put back together. It was off-putting, a lot of the time. But vintage clothes aren’t sifted out of foul-smelling bins any more.  They smell great. And they have floral patterns. Lots and lots of floral patterns.