Summer down time for the teen-age school crowd is running short and cramming has already started for that first-day-of-school test. That's the tough one, the day when the new class sorts itself into the clueless and the cool.
"Clueless," this summer's teen movie hit, addresses these very fashion insecurities and pokes good fun at those clothes-crazy years. It is also homework for high-schoolers who want to know what's hot. The far-fetched farce revolves around Cher Horowitz, a spoiled little rich girl with good intentions. Cher is the ultimate fashion victim, but she does know her clothes -- she programs her wardrobe on a computer, lives to shop and favors curvy designer ensembles.
"This is the most influential young fashion movie of the year," says Teen magazine's fashion editor, Bonnie McAllister. "As if!"
"Hell-O!" Let's get real for a minute.
"Of course the average teen-age girl isn't going to buy into those extremes shown in the movie," says Ms. McAlister. "What she will do is strive for a more finished look by paying closer attention to her hair, makeup and accessories. Girls will adapt some fun ideas from the film, but fit them into their own lifestyles and school dress codes."
Meanwhile, in the same ZIP code but different venue, teens are still taking notes on "Beverly Hills 90210" and checking out Tori Spelling's slip dresses, baby barrettes and cropped sweaters that her character Donna clings to.
Sitcoms set styles. Even "Brady Bunch" looks from the '70s are back and picked up on reruns. The latest model is a slightly neurotic Generation X-er named Rachel, played by Jennifer Aniston on the new NBC smash show "Friends." The baby T-shirts, A-line skirts, skinny ribbed tops and long floral skirts she and her friends favor are sought by teens, as is her much-copied shaggy haircut.
That's all screen fantasy, but there is the reality of the schoolyard. A few years back, when kids were killing kids for athletic shoes and leather jackets, school systems were forced to set dress codes that looked to the safety of their students.
While most Baltimore elementary schools have adopted a successful uniform policy, an exclusionary dress code has been established for city secondary schools. In the handbook that goes to parents and students, obviously "inappropriate" apparel restricted, and that includes sportswear with elastic (such as sweat pants), real or imitation fur or leather clothing, large earrings, obvious precious jewelry like gold chains or rings, miniskirts, shorts above the knee, tank tops or undershirts, hats. Backpacks must be kept in lockers unless made of see-through material like plastic or netting.
Baltimore County has no system-wide dress code and each public school is left to formulate its own guidelines. For example, at Carver Center for Arts and Technology, a countywide magnet school, assistant principal Joe Freed encounters an eclectic mix of student fashion statements. "We don't make specifics like hats or backpacks an issue because we like to encourage student creativity, which often shows itself in their manner of dress -- as long as it's not inappropriate."
One accessory seen in "Clueless" that you won't see in the schools is the cellular phone that Cher and her friends keep handy at classes, parties and the dinner table. Possession by a student of electronic devices such as portable phones or pagers is prohibited by law in all public schools. Only in Hollywood.
Justin Higley, 14, used to wear "hoodies" a lot in middle school, but now that he'll be starting Baltimore City College in a few weeks, he must comply with his new school's code, which restricts hooded shirts. Justin plans to sport the coolest brand name apparel. Going the label route can be costly, however. Justin says that although he likes some of the "Tommy [Hilfiger] stuff" it's often out of his price range. He shopped the Nike outlet in Perryville to stock up on T-shirts and sneakers, which he'll wear with his baggy Boss jeans come September.
Designer name dropping is the trend among young males these days. Emil Wilbekin, style editor of Vibe magazine, attributes the rise of brand-consciousness to hip-hop, the urban culture that embraced name brand sports apparel like Fila or Nike, as well as the tony designer logos by Polo, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss and Guess?
"Wearing the labels that cater to preppie, upper-middle-class buyers is sort of an aspiration for kids. It obviously costs to attain these clothes which in turn brings kids instant status," says Mr. Wilbekin. "Although they'll rarely dress head-to-toe in one brand, kids will put their own spin on it by how they mix it up and choose to wear it," he says.
A Nautica jacket, Tommy T-shirt, baggy jeans and Nike Air Max are on J. R. Gallison's "gotta-have" list before going back to the Western School of Technology in Catonsville, where he'll be a junior. J. R. is proud of being label-conscious. "I just like knowing I have the real thing and that I can get it," he says.
That's a far cry from the grubby street style that came out of the Seattle music scene a few years back. Whatever happened to grunge?
Andy Cohen, owner of Reach for the Beach, the cutting-edge young sportswear shops, says "grunge has finally cleaned up its act. The kids are now into a classic golf look, particularly in shirts with polo collars." They're seeing the same changes at Vibe. "Less baggy and more tailored golf-inspired clothing -- particularly Lacoste polo shirts, plaid pants and golf caps -- go hand-in-hand with this whole preppie craze," says Mr. Wilbekin, "and that is being mixed into hip-hop to techno jock." Think Star Trek meets the soccer team.
Where does that leave that street and skater style over-size, low-riding jeans that make kids look as though they're drowning in denim? "Now that the look has trickled from the streets to the 'burbs, it's everywhere," says YM magazine fashion director Rondi Cooler. The newest "big" pants are cut to look five sizes too big although they are made to fit the waist to prevent slippage. The big-pants idea is also catching on with the girls, says Merry-Go-Round Enterprises president Frank Tworecke, who also sees them buying into '50s retro shirts and "ringer T's" -- T-shirts with a contrasting band at collar and sleeve cuff.
In addition to shape, shoes are also going in a new direction. The hottest sellers at Reach for the Beach are Vans and Airwalk sneakers, which have taken center stage over the Doc Martens, says Mr. Cohen. From vinyl to AstroTurf to suede and patent leather, there are so many new kinds to choose from, one could start a whole sneaker wardrobe," says Ms. Cooler.
That's where the techs and preps separate. Nike and Fila are doing spacey sneakers with alien green transparent soles. Timberland is still kicking in with the work boot. What really counts, however, is that these shoes have a good attendance record in school.
ON THE COVER
Styling by Suzin Boddiford
Models: Ria Snyder and J.R. Gallison/3 Weat Casting
Dawn Simpson/Nova Models
From left: His zip-front shirt, $20, shirt, $8.50; Jingo pants, $48, all from Merry-Go-Round. Backpack, $45; cap and Doc Martens from Chat St. Her jumper, $34; turtleneck, $19; purse, $18, all at Contempo Casuals. Thigh-highs, $12.50 at Nordstrom. Loafers,
$12 at Payless Shoe Source. T-shirt, $10; skirt, $17; cap, $8, all from Rave. Contempo Casuals denim vest, $30. Mary Janes, $70,
Where do you fit in? Find the look that best suits you.
* Preppie: re-colored plaid, jumpers, heeled loafers, thigh-highs, pleated skirts, berets, turtlenecks.
* Retro: Twin sweater sets, skinny pants, low-slung jeans, A-line dresses, bowling shirts, daisy prints, newsboy caps, vintage finds.
* Mod Squad: Hip-huggers, ankle boots, A-line skirts, smiley face T-shirts, black and white, patent leather, wallet chains.
* Techno Jocks: Racing stripes, over-sized skater kid pants, shiny fabrics, stretch nylon, zippers, quilted ski looks, sweatbands.