“What would you call this dress?” I asked the salesgirl.
“I’d call It ... ‘Little House on the Prairie’ chic.”
“And that’s a thing?” I asked.
“It’s most definitely a thing,” she replied.
I don’t understand fashion. I would say I don’t understand fashion anymore, but the truth is I never really understood it. It’s just becoming more pronounced the older I get.
I looked down at the dress I was wearing. The tiny flower print. The ruffles. The poofy shoulders. It looked as if it should have come with a free bonnet, but nothing was free in this store. For some indescribable reason, I liked the dress. Perhaps it was because it reminded me of days when I’d stay home sick from school. Not the barfing part but the part where I got to snuggle up in my parents’ big bed all day long, watching little Laura Ingalls learn about life from Pa. The salesgirl looked at me, as if trying to decipher what I was thinking.
“Simpler times,” she said, nodding her own head as if she thought she’d said something profound.
I continued to peruse the store. There was a section of pure neon. Or I think it was neon; my eyes were seared by the sunlike brightness, and I had to turn away. Luckily, my gaze landed on a display of scrunchies — from the 1880s to the 1980s. What is happening here?
“What do you call this look?” I called to the salesgirl.
“Bodacious baby look.”
“You say ‘bodacious’?”
“Yeah, it’s, like, lit but current,” she replied. I’ve never felt so old.
I remember when styles from the ’60s and ’70s came back into fashion when I was in junior high. My parents were both excited and mortified. What did it say that the cool clothes of their adolescence were now adorning the current cool adolescents? It meant that enough time had passed that these items were back in vogue.
I borrowed my dad’s well-worn rainbow T-shirts from the Woodstock era. I borrowed my mom’s leather jackets. To my seventh-grade dance, I wore her beloved bell-bottom jeans that she had traipsed around Europe in during the mid-’70s. They ripped at the crotch, my skinny, prepubescent body putting more pressure on the seams than my mom had in her 20s. I couldn’t tell you what was worse, walking around school all day with everyone seeing my underwear poking out of the pulled seams or having to tell my mom I had busted her most prized possession from her pre-parenting days.
A few nights ago, my best friend from college sent me a text with a picture of her at a bar. She was wearing a Britney Spears T-shirt from Britney’s “Baby One More Time” days. It was accented by two slap bracelets on her wrist and a scrunchie in her hair. She proudly announced that she had seen all of these items on sale at Target but didn’t have to buy any of them because she had them at home in her closet. Benefits of being a nostalgia hoarder. Perhaps the real tragedy of the resurgence of boho-cool while I was in school was that my parents weren’t able to wear the clothes of their youth when they came back in style. The benefit of the loose-fitting clothes and pliable jewelry of my day is that they accommodate our postnatal, ever-changed, much older, slightly sagging bodies. Thanks, ’90s!
I rounded the corner, out of “Frankie Says Relax” and into the pure grunge that existed in tandem with the resurgence of hippie-wear in my teen years. Sweaters with intentional holes in the arms that had been sewn too long. Jeans with legs wide enough that you could easily hide a few friends inside when you only wanted to pay for one ticket at the movies. There — amid the plaid, chains and itchy, chunky fabric, I finally felt at ease in the store, despite the fact that it clearly had a time machine in the back storage room. There is something about looking at the clothes you wore when you came into your own.
There have been many times throughout my life when I couldn’t have told you exactly who I was or what I wanted. But the me who lived life every single day in flannel could have.
Maybe that’s the true meaning of “simpler time.”
I left the store with five full bags.