by Beth Hammarlund
One of my favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire is the season three entry “The Wish.” In this episode, social queen bee Cordelia returns to Sunnydale High after being impaled by a wayward spike of rebar, but even worse, after being cheated on by her unpopular boyfriend. But even though getting dumped by a social pariah is about the most humiliating thing she could bear, she walks into the hallways with her head held high and wearing her version of the late ’90s power suit: a oxblood leather pencil skirt and jacket, complimented with thick brown eyeliner, a spiky updo, and brown-red lipstick. The look is incredibly severe and wildly dated.
Except for it’s not anymore. Because guys, oxblood leather? That is so fucking on-trend right now. According to what every fashion magazine is telling me, Cordelia’s leather get-up in “The Wish” is the ultimate ensemble to kick off the fall season. And the worst part is, even though I still think the look is laughable, I know that as I’m barraged with images and articles, my eyes and brain will eventually adjust and accept its chicness. Two months from now, you’ll probably find me scouring the racks at Opitz Outlet muttering, “There has just got to be an oxblood leather skirt suit around here somewhere!”
This is a depressing reminder of just how malleable taste is. Sure, you will probably always have personal favorites, as well as items that you will forever loathe. But when it comes to trends, it’s amazing how much our tastes can change in a matter of seasons, if not months. I remember talking to my friend Mike in elementary school, and we were discussing how over-sized sweatshirts and sweaters over leggings or stirrup pants were always going to be the “in” thing for girls. And, wow, could you imagine switching the proportions around? Tight tops and big pants? Ridiculous! We laughed out loud at the absurdity of such a look. Smash cut to 13 year-old Beth at a Warren G concert wearing a black bodysuit and jeans so baggy and low-slung on my hips that you could actually see the top of my bodysuit’s leg openings.
I’ve never liked cold shoulder tops (blouses with shoulder cut-outs), but as stylist celebrities and off-duty models are photographed pulling them off more and more, will I eventually give in? What if by the time this column is published I’m wearing a damn cold shoulder top?! What does that say about me as a person?
So how do you tell the difference between what you actually like and what you’ve been programmed to like? How do you know if something has finally grown on you or if you’ve just caved to the constant brainwashing? Is this further evidence that we’re nothing more than media sponges, soaking up ads and waiting to be told what to wear, where to go, and whom to listen to? I mean, I know advertising works on me. I always buy the toilet paper with the little puppy on the packaging because I’m afraid that if I don’t, the puppy will die. In a puppy mill.
I don’t know what our fashion future holds. For all we know, next year we’ll be hanging out in Starter jerseys under pinstripe overalls, wearing raver Dr. Seuss hats and trucker caps over our frosted permed hair and mall bangs, debating the style and podiatric merits of Uggs vs. Crocs. Anything could happen.
In an effort to convince myself that I’m not a product of an army of focus groups, but instead a free-thinking solipsist who believes that the world is nothing but a collection of my own perceptions, I’ve been thinking about fashion trends that I’ve always liked. No matter the season. No matter the decade. So here they are, my timeless classics: Black. Leather. Jeans. Rock Tees. Checkered Vans. Combat boots. Sequins. A poufy party dress. Beyond that, I’m nothing more than a slave to fashion.