Friday, May 28, 2010

How to emulate questionable 80s style

Earlier Drafts:
I last wore these oxfords in March

dress (Lulu's)
button-down shirt (Old Navy, boys' section)
belt (Anthropologie)
oxfords (Steve Madden via South Moon Under)

I admit it, I'm feeding you a dud of an outfit.  Actually, it's less of an outfit and more of conversation fodder.  I took it for a test run through the grocery store and Target, and I not only received backward glances and double-takes, but I also got one "You look like that girl from Dirty Dancing" comment.  Apparently frizzy hair and faded button-downs send a strong Jennifer Grey vibe.

Truthfully, the button-down was an afterthought on account of the rain.  The real point of the ensemble?  The shoes.  How exactly does one wear oxfords with dresses in an nonschoolgirl way, I wanted to know.  Answer: not like this.

Maybe you can help me figure this out.  What went wrong with my style choices?  How could I have worn the shoes differently?  I hereby declare this a no-holds-barred session, so critique away.  In fact, I'll speak for today's outfit and all 1980s-inspired fashion gone awry when I echo Pat Benatar: hit me with your best shot.

  • What's wrong with this look?  (Not a trick question.  Things really are wrong.)
  • Have you come across good examples of the oxfords + dresses/skirts combo?  Please share!  What qualities distinguish these as "good" examples?
  • Why do some looks survive post-decade?  How do media associations make a difference to a look's survival?
  • Are there some contemporary manifestations of 1980s style which you like?  Why do these seem more stylistically successful to you?


Kimberly said...

I don't know that I can answer the prompts, but in that first photo - you really DO look like Jennifer Grey! :)

The ensemble with the shirt is very cute, and I think the oxfords look fine with a skirt that is this short, and not too full.

Someone said...

My response, helpful or not: First, I think this outfit is a bit too drab to be really successful. To quote some 80s lyrics from The Clash: "you start wearing blue and brown, working for the clampdown" hints at the workaday nature these colors can have.

Second - well, I just don't like oxfords much, never have. I think their least successful incarnation is the really flat kind, worn with skirts.

And - 80s looks did *not* survive post-decade. They are a deliberate revival from the dead.

Marketers discovered, in the 1980s in fact, that older generations will buy what they remember, and that the younger generation will buy what they don't currently own - and this way, fashion doesn't have to make an effort at "new" to make sales.

What happened was, TV history finally got to the point where it could look back at a pop culture it had helped create. The show "Happy Days" was the first nostalgia show, and it made 1950s clothing interesting to a new generation. Ever since then, the fashion machine has manufactured nostalgia for the succeeding decade. Whoever is about 40-50 will see their high school fashions reimagined.

(Disney has learned to do the same thing, ALWAYS re-releasing older movies on a schedule that guarantees sales to the correct generation as well as indoctrinating ITS kids, priming for the next wave of resale.)

So, yeah, it's a marketing thing.

Scholar Style Guide said...

Thanks for the feedback, guys!

Someone, I had not considered how the color palette might work against me, but you raise an interesting point about its blue collar association. Still, some workaday-inspired garments - and their palettes - seem successful: overalls, jumpsuits, boots, rompers, and trucker hats come to mind. We could say much about the socioeconomic implications of these style choices. Like, what happens when so-called glamorati appropriate a workaday aesthetic?

I also agree on many of your points about marketing, and I acknowledge that capitalistic and artistic impulses collide - quite messily - in the realm of media. However, the idealist in me wants to believe that not all of our fashion choices can be reduced to marketing infatuation. Marx might tell me differently. :)

- Anne-Marie

Scholar Style Guide said...

Lol. Jennifer Gray. I love it.

I've never felt compelled to look into oxfords for myself, but I have noticed that they seem to look better to me when paired with another menswear-inspired garment. For example, I think the addition of the shirt on the left makes the outfit look more "put together" and intentional whereas the outfit on the right makes me think, "why those shoes?" Part of that might also be the bareness of the dress's top- I generally associate spaghetti straps with sandals, so the oxfords seem like a strange choice.


Kisa said...

I'm not sure I can answer any of the prompt questions either, but this post reminded me of one of my favorite fashion blogs -- one devoted to the Ann M. Martin's fabulous fashion stylings of The Babysitter's Club.

Katie from Interrobangs Anonymous said...

If you ever get a Dirty Dancing comment again, just look the commenter straight in the eye and say "I carried a watermelon."

I've been knotting oxfords under my bust lately, which is very dated looking but also makes my waist look teeny-tiny.

Christina said...

With the first look, I would probably lose the belt and trade for a shorter, more body-conscious dress. Since oxfords come up higher on the front of the foot than my go-to shoes for dresses, ballet flats, they shorten the leg a little and a shorter skirt hemline would help with that. Plus, accentuating your shape with a form-fitting dress would really offset the more menswear influenced shoes and button-down, which could be swapped even for a blazer, vest, or cardigan. Then I'd add some interest, either by having a bright color/fun print on the dress, or some scene-stealing jewelry.

I also believe that fashion isn't all just media's carefully calculated recycling. I think fashion is influenced by the current more than anything. Whenever we are at war, military influences make a resurgence. The 80's shoulderpads was a result of women trying to get respect and equality in the workplace. Most of the 2000's saw a lot of bohemian/hippie influences, and I think some of that came from the rise in oil prices and increased awareness of environmental issues. Then with permeation of the internet, allowing people to look at images from all sorts of decades, plus the recession, a lot more people are wearing vintage-inspired, thrifted, or workaday clothing.

So I guess what I think is that the reason some looks survive is because whatever made them popular in the first place still holds true. I don't think I worded that really well, but people wont wear clothes just because media touts it as fashion if it doesn't reflect how they see themselves or want others to see them. Looks that are successfully recycled tend to be ones with well-established associations with a lifestyle/ character that resonates with a lot of people based on current events.