What's hot in Ocean City this summer -- besides the weather?
Red jeeps. Rolled-up cut-off jeans. Riding the bus.
Not to mention girls in tie-dyed bathing suits and boys with long, flowing ponytails motoring down Coastal Highway, the hypnotic beat of the Doors blaring from their radios.
"People are definitely into '60s stuff," says Bart Hopkins, who has worked at O. C.'s Endless Summer surf shop since 1984. "Neon's going out and there are more earth tones and funkadelic, tie-dyed looks. And people are more environmentally aware. It's very late '60s."
Along with the '60s redux, here's what's going down in Ocean City this summer, as the Fourth of July weekend marks the start of the full-blown beach season:
The fabric is a subtle and durable cotton-Lycra blend. The colors are soft -- aqua, royal, salmon and fuscia, or floral prints. But (thanks to Madonna, probably) prominent busts will be the most important thing in women's swimsuits this year. Swimsuits haven't had this much boning, underwire and structure since, well, the '60s.
"It's very '50s and '60s," confirms Jeannette Cowan, women's clothing buyer for the South Moon Under chain, who says elaborate bras are popular in both one- and two-piece styles. "There is a lot of emphasis on the chest and bust."
"It helps the younger girl who wants to look bustier as well as the older woman who wants to flatter her figure," explains Stephanie Meehan, buyer for O. C. Rags. Bikinis and other two-piece suits also outsell in Ocean City swimwear that covers the midriff, according to Ms. Meehan.
"Women who might wear a one-piece swimsuit by the pool at home feel they can wear a two-piece when they come to the beach," she says. "We also sell more two-piece suits from July on, when people are more tanned."
No amount of sunbathing can make most people ready to put on a thong, the string bikini that leaves the wearer's bare assets fully exposed. Though South Moon Under carries a few of the skimpy suits, Ms. Cowan says they aren't really selling well, possibly because you can't wear them after 5 p.m. in public in Ocean City or in establishments that sell liquor.
The '60s also are influencing what women wear on dry land. Everywhere in Ocean City this summer, young women are sporting rolled-up, cut-off denim jeans. Ms. Cowan says this item, borrowed from the early '60s, is now known as the "Dirty Dancin' " look because of the movie that introduced it to a new generation. Also big are shortalls, or shorts with overall bibs (on which the impossibly cool leave one strap open and hanging).
Men are wading into the ocean in stretchy nylon volleyball shorts, says Kirk McBride, menswear buyer for South Moon Under.
"They're a great pair of shorts," he says. "They're amphibious. You can put them on and wear them all day, in and out of the water."
The shorts come down to about mid-thigh, and Mr. McBride says the really smart guys are wearing them in bright -- but not neon -- colors.
"They're still selling tons of neon down on the boardwalk," he says. "But we cater to a more sophisticated buyer."
Sixties nostalgia is influencing some book sales, says Brian Hendricks, owner of Bookworld on First Street and the Boardwalk.
"Anything about Jim Morrison -- books, posters, stickers -- flies out of here," says Mr. Hendricks, who notes no age limit in the revived popularity of the late lead singer of the Doors, a phenomenon no doubt fueled by Oliver Stone's hit film.
Bookworld's other hot reads this summer include "Heartbeat," the latest by Danielle Steel and "Secrets of the Morning," the final work by V. C. Andrews. While those two authors are taken to the beach almost every summer, Mr. Hendricks says this year's vacationers are just as excited about a newer trendsetter -- Martin Handford, whose "Where's Waldo?" illustrated game books currently hold three of the top five spots on the New York Times' list of best-selling "Advice, How-to and Miscellaneous" books.
"They're higher priced, so not everyone actually buys them," Mr. Hendricks says of the Waldo books, which retail for $12.95, compared to less than $5 for a typical paperback. "But everyone loves to come in and look through them."
Besides murder mysteries, family sagas and romantic adventures, Ocean City librarian Andrea Schlottman says Kitty Kelley's Nancy Reagan biography is "the most heavily reserved book I've seen in years." Eric Lax's bio of Woody Allen and books that cover Ocean City history also are circulating heavily among readers, she says.
"The only book I can really say is selling great is 'The Burden of Proof,' " says Cindy Dennis, manager of the Book House in the Gold Coast Mall. Scott Turow's follow-up to the blockbuster "Presumed Innocent" was published in paperback this spring and now is perched atop the New York Times' paperback best-seller list.
Although no one but Mr. Turow has really moved books off the Book House shelves so far this summer, Ms. Dennis says she expects the season to have a happy ending: New releases by two perennial big sellers, Jackie Collins and Tom Clancy, are expected the end of this month.
THINGS TO DO
Take the bus. And chill out.
Whether it's environmental concern (again, very '60s) or frustration with traffic and parking (sorta '90s), Ocean City's "Take the Bus" promotion seems to be sinking in. Ridership has doubled this summer, since the resort adopted a ride-all-day-for-a-dollar policy.
The June bugs, recent high school grads who flock to Ocean City in early June, also have made bus stops trendy. Any summer night, drivers might see scores of kids hanging out on Baltimore Avenue bus stops.
But the bus comes, the bus goes and the teens stay put -- unless, of course, it's time for a joy-ride in their red jeeps, which one unscientific tally says is the official vehicle of the 1991 summer beach season.
Sunshine House's Blair Rhodes, longtime surfer and purveyor of what's hot in Ocean City, says the real trend this year is to not follow trends.
tTC He points to his shop's booming sales of the Stuucy surf clothing line ("functional, comfortable clothing that doesn't make any fashion statement") as a barometer of what people want.
"People in general are just really mellowing out," he says. Even surf boards are longer, so surfers don't have to work as hard (!) to ride a wave.
While he observes that Ocean City's younger crowd seems to be into reggae and the music of the Grateful Dead, natural-looking hairstyles and funky, '60s-style clothing, he offers a warning to people who want to imitate what looks hot.
"What's trendy and what's cool are totally different things," he says.
Dig it, man.