Thursday, March 03, 2005

The ‘80s strike back: wear the fashion, ditch the attitude

By Natalie West Criss
Assistant Editor
Metro Business Chronicle

Ascending an escalator in a department store recently, I looked down at the formal wear in the Juniors Department. The racks, newly stocked for Prom season, were bursting with polka-dotted ruffles, bright hues and metallic fabrics. I remember these, I thought. I scanned the section looking for a dress similar to the one I wore to Prom 1987: spaghetti straps, solid beads and sequins for two-thirds of the length, then a burst of tiered, asymmetrical ruffles. It was a festival of fuchsia.

Looking back at it then (and down at it now from the second floor of McRae’s), it all seems ridiculous, but the fashion was representative of the time. We were decadent in our layers, optimistic with our color palette, powerful in shoulder pads, serious in menswear-inspired fabrics and up-and-coming with all that hair. It was all about us. Just ask L’Oreal ®: we were worth it.

What does this return to the eighties mean? Are we about to raise another generation of yuppies? I sure hope so. At least we aspired to something. Wealth was a good thing, not a mark of greed. Success was a goal worth working toward, not a given. Charity was a product of benevolence, not guilt. Even our generation was identified with the highly recognizable “ME” as opposed to the ambiguous, apathetic X or Y that followed.

There is a prevalent attitude of entitlement among today’s youths that goes beyond self-esteem. Having a cell-phone is an inalienable right. Texting, chatting, file-sharing and email are necessary modes of self-expression, without which they would become mute. Technology is as necessary as air and not to be held over disobedient heads as a privilege. They have cars and credit cards, but no jobs, no identity, and no aspirations. Their parents are, surprise, my Prom-mates.

Perhaps we over-corrected. It has been a given in generations past that parents wanted more and better for their children, but the understanding was that those parents would raise them with the means to go out and get it when they flew from the nest. Today, I hear well-meaning fathers say of their sons, “I don’t want him to have to work as hard as I did to get this far.” Well, maybe he should. Perhaps, by not requiring an effort, we are robbing our children of the ability to conquer the world. Why do you think they come back home to live after college?

So what place does this have in a business column for women? I’m glad you asked. Guess who’s coming to an intern program, college classroom, work-study, or summer job near you: kids clad in ‘80s fashions with ‘90s values. Like gold lame’ on a fat roll, it will get your attention, then you’ll just want to quickly look away.

Do the world a favor. Mentor these kids.

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