My mom always says there is only so much you can do with two arms and two legs. One thing I love to do is look at styles, how people dress and wear their hair, and how different styles seem to repeat themselves over time.
In 1988 big hair was in. In fact, if you were in junior high in 1988 big hair was essential. My hair, being naturally straight, chose not to follow the trend no matter how I tried.
All the really stylish girls had this big, sticky, curly hair like a foamy cloud around their faces. I longed to have my hair look like this, enduring sponge curlers, hair spray, crimping irons and perms that fell out after one wash. I never liked ratting my hair, but I realize now this was the one element missing from my styling regimen.
In seventh grade I played on the JV basketball team (I use the word play loosely here, more accurately I cheered from the bench). Our practices were held before school, giving us the opportunity to get ready together as a team in the morning.
One morning, my friends Alison Martin and Stephanie Davin asked if they could attempt to make my hair look curly and cool. I hesitated before allowing them to try — by this point I had given up on ever having big hair and had resigned myself to just enjoying big sticky bangs. But I finally relented, mainly out of curiosity.
These two had so much fun with my hair! As I walked down the hall with big Madonna hair I felt so chic. But when it came to recreating the time-consuming style I just didn’t have it in me, so the next day I was back to my straight, uncool hair.
Now if I had been born 20 years earlier I would have had hair to be envious of. My mom and my godmother, Connie, both had stick-straight hair parted down the middle. In the 1960s this was the grooviest hair imaginable. I would have fit right in. Plus, who doesn’t love bell-bottoms and leather-fringed vests? Compared to the billowy neon we wore in the 1980s the styles of my mom’s generation are sleek and flattering.
But the early 1990s — now there was a style I could do. Grunge. Remember grunge? Not just the music, which we trained ourselves to love despite its furious and non-melodious rant, but the style.
No makeup. Hair in whatever ratty bun or braid or whatever it felt like doing. Dirty flannels over baggy jeans. Or if we were dressing up and not being all hip and grungy then we might get fancy with colored jeans and matching jean jacket. Bright blue or magenta. I’m not really sure what happened to young people at that time, but this may have been a direct response to the overdone look of the previous generation.
By the time I was in college in the late 1990s clothes and styles were less angry and aggressive. My younger sister, Carly, was in high school at this time. I remember Carly telling me everyone dressed like a prep from Abercrombie and Fitch with polos and khakis and sleekly styled hair. It’s probably too bad I missed this trend, because learning to dress when everyone around you takes their clothes seriously is probably better training for adulthood.
Now that I’m an adult I just wear what I want to wear and look the way I want to look, and that seems to be the best option. No damaging perms or ratting, no ugly-on-purpose, not even any fringed leather. Just clothes that fit, that are professional, that I enjoy.
But when I look at young people around me I see kids imitating the 1980s — the feminine clothes, the carefully curled hair, the very tight jeans. I have even seen a few boys trying to peg-leg their jeans — they’ll get it right, eventually. Then when the girls catch on they can add some colorful baggy socks and Keds without laces and they’ll be really retro.
I wonder what my daughter will wear in 10 years? Will she and her friends be into some form of sloppy grunge, scaring us all? Or will it be some style we can’t even imagine. Who knows, there really is only so much you can do with two arms and two legs!
Walla Walla native Sara Van Donge is a middle-school dual language teacher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.