Teen-age girls rediscover the joys of dressing the part

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the new film version of "Romeo and Juliet," the young heroine is every bit the girl, clad in simple, feminine dresses you might see well-off suburban girls wear to church.

On MTV, No Doubt lead singer Gwen Stefani leaves no doubt that she's very much a girl with an edge, from her short cute dresses to her doll-like makeup.

In ABC's "Clueless," high school girls Cher and Dionne prowl the

shops of Rodeo Drive in candy-colored little dresses and sweetened versions of runway fashions, such as clingy point-collar shirts and hip-slung flares.

On the streets, girls ages 13-18 still like their jeans and T-shirts, but more are steering from the genderless, baggy clothes of the past and turning to whimsical and feminine dresses such as those offered by Holly Sharp for GirlStar.

Yes, it's hip to be a girl and dress like one.

Experts credit girl images in the world of music, TV and film for this new girl phenomenon. More evidence: There are now more books devoted to being and growing up a girl, with titles such as "Why It's Great to be a Girl" by Jacqueline Shannon; the Riot Grrrls movement has resulted in numerous 'zines -- self-penned magazines about girl life that girls give to other girls.

Girls are delineating their femaleness with fashion, experts say.

"We saw, for a while, an air of androgyny, some of it part of the grunge movement," said Cynthia Bell, executive editor of 'TEEN magazine. "Girls were using the same fragrance, wearing the same clothing. A girl was sharing a boyfriend's shirt."

Power of women

Girls have become tired of dressing like boys, Bell said. "They're seeing the power of women in Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole and the Courtney Loves of the rock world, and hip groups such as Garbage. The world of music has an unbelievable influence, with its hard or edgy style."

Add to this list female musicians in bands such as Bratmobile and Bikini Kill, said Hillary Carlip, author of "Girl Power: Young Women Speak Out" (Warner, $11.99).

Mostly girl bands such as L7, Luna Chicks and Hole are promoting the idea that there's something good about the girl culture, said Pamela Ezell, assistant professor at Chapman University, who specializes in women's issues and film. "What they're trying to embrace is the idea that women can be powerful and equal to men in any field. Boys aren't the only ones who can have fun."

Looking like a girl is not just about looking different from boys. It's about looking different from women, too.

Girls such as Kelly Zeller, 14, and her circle of friends in Orange, Calif., say they're dressing like girls because they're not in a hurry to look like women. T-shirts, shorts and jeans are staples; they like to look for things that look more feminine at stores such as Wet Seal, Contempo Casuals and Judy's.

They associate dressing and looking like a woman with giving up a carefree existence.

"Why grow up now when you can still be a kid?" Zeller said.

"Some girls want to be older 'cause they want to be with older guys," said Katie Eldridge, 13.

"You can have all the fun you want before you turn 18," said Michelle Renner, 13.

Don't push

"Being a woman is becoming more serious and accepting that that homemaker-career woman role and other multiple, complex roles," Ezell said. "Which is probably why younger girls are retreating from womanhood. It's getting harder to be a woman in this society. It's important to have this division between being a woman and being a girl. Sometimes, some girls are pushed into growing up too quickly. There's something special about being 14."

The way the girls from Orange see it, girls don't wear suits for work. But women do.

Look no further than Hollywood to see the differences in how women and girls dress, Ezell said. A woman looks sophisticated,

mature and has a certainty to her personal style, she said.

"Jodie Foster has always had that serious way about her, even when she was a girl in 'Freaky Friday.' " Today, Foster has earned a reputation for being unflappably chic in Armani. Sharon Stone always looks like a woman, whether she's wearing a Gap " top or a Valentino gown. Even when Susan Sarandon is wearing kitschy, bright things from tongue-in-cheek designer Todd Oldham, there's no question she's a woman.

A girl tries on several roles, depending on what she thinks and feels, and comes across as having a playfulness. "Girls are cute," Ezell said. "Sandra Bullock is a girlie girl." Whether Bullock is wearing an evening dress or jeans, she exudes an air of the girl next door, Ezell said.

"Julia Roberts is a girl in her personal life and her screen persona. In the movie 'Pretty Woman,' she's made a hooker look good by making her seem like a nice girl."

Sometimes, being a girl is not a function of chronology.

"There's this whole new girl thing going on, and it's not about age," said GirlStar designer Sharp, 36. "When my 16-year-old daughter, Amber, and I go out, we're just girls, especially when we're shopping."

To be clear, there isn't one girl style. "For girls, part of the awareness of the girl culture is a willingness not to fit into the mainstream," Carlip said. "There are many different looks. The expressions are very individual by what they choose to wear."

And their fashion role models are as varied as the styles they emulate and often make their own.

A fashion spread in October YM magazine showed how to copy, on the cheap, the dress styles of several young female celebrities popular with girls.

Alanis Morissette had the "rocker-girl style," broken down into "black pleather pants, a fitted shirt in a standout color, heavy-duty engineer boots, vintage stain blazers, dark velvet jeans and worn-in leather belts.

Drew Barrymore had the "crazy girlie look," consisting of "bright V-neck sweaters, mismatched patterns, vintage dresses, psychedelic print minis, cool accessories like sheer scarves and giant pins, baby barrettes, maxi coats, platform shoes."

Brandy had the "totally trendy look," built with "graphic-print buttondowns, hip-hugger khakis, chunky suede loafers, bright satin minis, funky animal-print tops, quilted jackets, knee-high boots.

Much of the credit for the rise of girl style in stores goes to the 1995 hit movie "Clueless," a modern take on the Jane Austen classic "Emma." The show has since spawned a sitcom, new this fall on ABC.

"The movie 'Clueless' and the TV program really address that teen-age girl culture," Ezell said. "It's like a revival of the girlishness of Gidget and the girls of beach-blanket movies."

The girls of "Clueless" have a "youthful and virginal" look, said Mona May, costumer designer for both the movie and the TV sitcom. "It's great being a girl at that age -- the world is just opening up. They're not spoiled by disappointment. They look cute and sexy but innocent. You almost want parents to approve of their clothes. These girls are serious about fashion."

Pub Date: 11/28/96

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