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It was in with grunge, out with panty hose in the 1990s

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, June 4, 2012, at 12 a.m.

When my retirement date was set for June 29, a fact I’m still having a difficult time getting my little brain around, my editor suggested I take a look back at the fashion trends I’d reported on during the past 32 years. Looking through photos taken since 1980 has been fun, although at times excruciating. Did I really feature that outfit in the paper, or worse yet, did I wear it? Yes and yes. There’s one thing fashion has proven to me: In time your eye gets used to a look and wham! You’re wearing it.

It would be safe to bet that you’ve said out loud, “Good grief, I would never wear that.” Then a few weeks or months later, you’ve got it on.

An exception to that would be the grunge look in the ’90s. I could call it a trend, but never fashion. Torn jeans, T-shirts, flannel shirts, and all of it loose-fitting. High school administrators did their best to enforce a dress code but in most cases were unsuccessful.

Women were concerned with other trends. Many women put their panty hose in the lingerie drawer and left them there. Some business execs insisted women wear hosiery to work, but many gave up, especially when they went to a more casual dress code. Perhaps it all started when “casual Friday” came into being. It was a slippery slope that a lot of those with authority slid down. I’ve had many, many calls from women asking if they had to wear hose. I remember one woman called who said she was 70 years old and never, not ever, in her life did she expect to see a woman wearing an evening dress without hose. “Her dress was beautiful, her shoes were beautiful and her legs were not,” she told me. Now, there are women of all ages who say they will never wear hose again. But remember, ladies, never say never.

Men quickly realized “casual” didn’t mean jeans and T-shirts. Khakis and a collared shirt were usually required. But the women had more difficulty. They had their work clothes and their weekend clothes. The weekend clothes weren’t necessarily appropriate for the workplace, which left a gap of the elusive “casual work clothes.” And some women continue to struggle with what to wear on Fridays. Some have to deal with it on a daily basis.

In the ’80s, the logo was very important, especially on accessories. It was all about the “status piece.” But as the ’90s advanced, conspicuous consumption brought disapproval instead of envy. Remember all those outlet stores popping up all over the country? At first, it was fun because it was merchandise that was left over at the end of the season, or it was overruns. But when companies saw what a big audience they had, they started manufacturing cheaper merchandise especially for their outlet stores.

And of course the ’90s brought shopping via television. Yes, one glittering item after another being offered until it was sold out. The home shopping hosts became familiar to those who watched and bought by the hour. The other day, I saw Bob Mackie on one of those shows, and he described a T-shirt as “serene.” What? It made me sad to see a famous designer peddling T-shirts with his label in them. But then, the shirts sold. Every one of them.

Back to the ’90s. The good news: Shoulder pads were getting smaller. Peplums put the accent at the waist on some short jackets. But as the ’90s progressed, the jackets went long, really long. Long cardigans and knit ensembles were nearly as popular as suits. You know Hillary Clinton must have been smiling because the pantsuit showed up big time in every price range.

When the electronics craze kicked in – laptops, electronic organizers (remember the PalmPilot?) and yes, cellphones – the woman in her power suit owned them all. My friends and others continue to make fun of me for using (gasp) a datebook with actual paper pages.

One of my favorite items from the ’90s: the pashmina. Every color you would ever want was available, some with texture, but the best were the heavenly soft ones made from the softest wool from a certain type of sheep’s underbelly. I did a story on pashminas, and I think that’s what I remember.

The early ’90s had some carryovers from the ’80s, such as jumpsuits. Females learned it was not good to get behind a jumpsuit-wearing woman in a restroom line.

Suits were important. Everyone owned at least one pair of jeans, and dresses were falling out of favor. And slowly but surely, the grunge look faded. It was gone in time for the hip-hop, your-pants-are-falling-down look to hit the nation.

Make your reservation!

Tickets for the 8th Annual Sisterhood of the Divine Makeover Luncheon are available by calling 316-945-8779. Ticket price is $40. The luncheon is 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 23 at the Wichita Marriott. Invite nine friends for a table of 10 and get one ticket free. Not only will you see the two women and the mother/daughter team who have had head-to-toe makeovers, you will have the opportunity to win an on-the-spot makeover. Also, you can win a door prize, drink a Bellini, receive a fun goodie bag, shop from a wide variety of vendors and know the whole time that you’re helping Dress for Success help hundreds of local women as they prepare to thrive in work and in life.

Reach Bonnie Bing at 316-268-6246 or bbing@wichitaeagle.com.

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