A decade of mostly forgettable fashion
By Debra D. Bass
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
That rocky decade of war, terrorism, global warming and economic catastrophe finally drew to a close. Such things aren't normally considered to have a profound effect on fashion, but fashion, like any art form, tends to reflect the period in which it is created. So the nutty amalgamation of attire that floated in and out the past 10 years is a reflection of the decade that was just as much as any news of the day.
Military conflict was said to have fueled the interest in buckles, boots, belts, epaulets and fitted jackets. Our growing concern over the environment spurred more eco-friendly fabrics and an interest in futuristic design aesthetics.
Is it a coincidence that designers and consumers sought comfort in post-World War II-inspired fashions and collections based on the clothing of the Great Depression era?
Automation now makes it possible to customize T-shirts (Zazzle.com), jeans (IndiDenim), shoes (Timberland), jackets (Ralph Lauren), ties and shirts (Thomas Pink) and jewelry (You Design We Create) from the comfort of your home and a computer keyboard.
CHIC GETS CHEAPER
Thanks to the "Project Runway" era and an active stream of DIYers setting up home boutiques on the amazing homemade shopping mall Etsy.com, consumers no longer had a take-it-or-leave-it relationship with cookie-cutter fashions.
This forced designers to adjust and work harder to make their products special.
And so we've enjoyed the rise of cheap chic.
Fashion drifted into a new era in which the social strata were leveled. For the first time, scores of high-end designers were clamoring to dress the masses, not just the celebrities and the socialites. We became the target customers of Vera Wang, Roberto Cavalli, Jimmy Choo, Norma Kamali, Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta and Comme des Garcon thanks to special collaborations with mass market retailers such as Kohl's, Target, Walmart, Dillard's and JC Penney.
This was the decade of high-low dressing in which it became more and more difficult to determine high from low. It made designers strive for more details and more luxury in their high-end lines, and it made lower-priced labels work harder to improve their style, fabrics and fit.
Overall, the decade has been a testament to the capricious nature of consumer whimsy.
How else can you describe an era with fashion so diametrically opposed that it swings from one camp pledging its allegiance to the Snuggie and rubbery slip-on comfort shoes and another holding fast to the 7-inch-high Jimmy Choo stilettos and Herve Leger's mummy-fantastic bandage dress.
SHOES LIKE BOZO'S
So let's start this recap of the decade's fashions with the most infamous fashion item of the decade:
Crocs — I've run out of words to malign this particular piece of footwear most notable for being dishwasher safe. Instead, I found this testament ... perhaps, "ode" would be a better word, that offers an explanation of just what made the rise of Crocs possible. This comes from writer Greg Beato who writes about pop culture in Las Vegas.
In an article called "Crocs on the Rocks," he wrote: "If Scott Seamans and his co-founders (of Crocs Inc.) had been Frenchmen, or Italians, or citizens of any other country where style is a major priority, you might not be reading this story right now. But they weren't. They were Americans, and in 2002, America was, more than anything, a country desperately in need of comfort. Battered by 9/11, frazzled by anthrax scares and Code Orange alerts, America wanted a shoe that provided more than just arch support. America wanted a shoe that nurtured it, cradled it, made it feel warm and safe and loved. While Crocs may have started out as a better boating shoe, they quickly became the bacteriostatic security blanket for our souls."
BEST AND WORST
And, now, with less ado ... the best and worst of the decade, in no particular order.
Flyaway dress — Known by many names, this unstructured sack of a dress (reminiscent of baby doll frocks) was flouncing down runways and supermarket aisles for the middle part of the decade. And maybe it was an homage to Catholic school girl modesty that also ushered in a period of wearing pants under dresses.
Poncho — I've tried to forget, but we all remember Martha Stewart's infamous prison poncho and the mini-craze that ensued.
Gladiator shoe — The Greco-Roman footwear came back with a vengeance, and it was more fierce than ever with studs and buckles and towering 5-inch heels.
Sexed-up Velour tracksuits — Suburban moms united and adopted a uniform of comfort that still made them feel like a woman. I blame Madonna for making this look cool. The results I saw shopping for produce at the supermarket were not.
Shapewear — We ditched the mainstream corsets long ago, but thanks to form-fitting clothes and a nation that's steadily gaining girth, shapewear that trimmed the waist, hips and thighs and butts of men and women were among the most successful clothing introductions of the decade. Thanks, Spanx.
Butt slogans — The most egregious and distressing trend of the decade for me was seeing girls as young as elementary school and as old as cougar walking around in fitted exercise apparel — or worse, pajamas — in public with something written large and bold across their butt cheeks. Tres tacky.
Oversize purses — Handbags exploded into the most glorious, ridiculously elaborate contraptions designed for everyday wear. Chiropractors got more patients.
Ugg boots — Some Hollywood stylist thought it was a good idea to pair these cold-weather genuine sheepskin booties with a miniskirt, and a disturbing inconsistency was born.
Trucker hats — This flash was all to do with Ashton Kutcher, and we're glad it's a footnote.
Graphic tees — For some reason, a men's T-shirt designer thought it was really hip to see how many symbols they could put onto one shirt. Crosses, skulls, thorns, roses, eagles and words like, "love kills" were really popular. We have another word, "overkill." Sorry, Ed Hardy.
Belts-a-rama — Wide, skinny, medium waist jewelry layered over button-down shirts, jackets, coats and sweaters. Michelle Obama is the poster girl for this look.
Black nails — Always a staple of the goth crowd. Black, or nearly black, nails became a staple for trendy cocktail looks that continues today in shades of red, blue, green and purple.
Spiky hair — Boys are mostly boring and conservative when it comes to fashion, but the silliest male-trend of the decade was that Bob's Big Boy hairdo (close- cropped on the back and sides with an inexplicable meringue swirl or Pee Wee Herman crest in front), followed by the overmoussed Calvin & Hobbes look.
Untucked dress shirts — We blame this on the men of "Friends" who gained weight and no longer looked so youthful and cute with a tucked-in shirt. Yes, I'm talking to you, Joey and Chandler. It gave men of all ages license to untuck, so menswear designers had to adapt and create shirts that were more fitted and shorter to look good untucked.
Thick-rimmed eyewear — It's chic to look geeky.
Chandelier earrings — It was a classic look of elegance that started the trend of bringing evening wear items into daytime apparel.
Onesie — The jumpsuit has made reappearances in formal, casual and now sleepwear. It's actually a great look ... if you're 120 pounds and 6 feet tall.
THE DUNGAREE HEAP
Lastly, denim deserves its own category because this decade, denim transcended all socioeconomic levels and became the most pivotal and beloved fashion element of the generation.
Destroyed denim — People snapping up denim that looked like someone dipped it in battery acid and ran it over with a car was a curious phenomenon.
Low-rise jeans — The main culprit in the rise of the muffin-top (soft waist tissue spilling up and over the top of your pants) and the whale tail (the unfortunate flash of a thong above the pants horizon).