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December 19, 2013 7:19 AM   Subscribe

From Retronaut, please enjoy these stylish selections from the 1990 J.C. Penney Christmas Catalog. Come for the Beetlejuice pajamas, stay for the "ice-washed" denim overalls.
posted by Rock Steady (120 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
What does it say about a decade's fashion choices when the only examples here that have stood the test of time are the Batman and Superman PJs?
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:31 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


No One expects the Spanish Inquisition!

edit for dumbassness
posted by ShawnString at 7:31 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh god my eyes
posted by elizardbits at 7:33 AM on December 19, 2013


Honestly, I kind of long for the days when everything was oversized and comfy. Now it's all skinny jeans and tucked-in shirts.
posted by xingcat at 7:33 AM on December 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oh the high waisty pleaty pants. So studly!
posted by antiquated at 7:34 AM on December 19, 2013


SHOULDER PADDED LEATHER JACKETS WHY

Are those men wearing cavariccis, someone make them stop
posted by elizardbits at 7:34 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Holy crap I remember going through this and circling all the stuff I wanted because that's what we did back then. I'm dying of nostalgia here. Metafilter has slain me.

Not gonna lie if you got me those Hulk Rules or Beetlejuice pajamas right now I'd wear them all the time.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:35 AM on December 19, 2013


1980 Sears Catalog for the aging Xers among us.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:37 AM on December 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


The most interesting thing to me about these images is that they're from nearly 25 years ago but the prices are roughly the same that one would expect to pay today for comparable (but contemporary) pieces at a store like JCP or Target.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:38 AM on December 19, 2013


I would love some high-waisted pleated tapered pants. I keep hoping that they'll come back and get mass produced. And I personally am rocking a fade even as I type.

Honestly, the JCP catalog wasn't exactly a bastion of high-fashion even in 1990 - most of that stuff would have read as pretty frump-tastic at the time, though frump-tastic variants on then-fashionable things.

Big shoulderpads and a wide cut make a really different silhouette - I wonder if it will ever come back. It's difficult to wear well unless you're super-skinny, and we're not in a super-skinny era.
posted by Frowner at 7:38 AM on December 19, 2013


Wow, it's like Zack Morris and AC Slater might step right out of those pages.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:39 AM on December 19, 2013


The guy on the left in this image might be the coolest guy ever. Jeans with the seam down the front. Why?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:40 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure I owned every item of clothing from the page marked ABC Purple.

I regret nothing (especially since there are very few pictures of me from the early 90s.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:41 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


For a deeper look into the fashions of bygone years (and for all of us oldsters), I present the 1975 Sears Wishbook. I had one of the football bedspreads (who knows, it may still be floating around in my parents' house).
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 7:41 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


The question is not "why?" But "why not?"
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:41 AM on December 19, 2013


None of this was really hitting home for me until I got to the girls' clothing. I was only like four in 1990 but I still remember some of the hilarious clothes I wore. A standout was some sort of long-sleeved shirt with a fake vest made of brocade attached to only the front of it, with copper buckles somehow involved. I also definitely had some Tweety-emblazoned overalls. And a fanny pack.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:47 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


You guys laugh, but that camouflage fanny pack will come in very handy after the weather apocalypse.
posted by radicalawyer at 7:50 AM on December 19, 2013


JC Penny was way too upmarket for us - no wonder I don't remember the Beetlejuide pajamas.

Which the 13-year-old version of me would have killed for, not to mention the 36-year-old version of me now.
posted by Katemonkey at 7:51 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was 10 in 1990. I remember hating girls' clothing and thinking it was dumb even then, when it was current. So I tomboyed it. Everything was Lisa-Franky or neon-beachy.
posted by Windigo at 7:52 AM on December 19, 2013


So, apparently page 73 (J) is where Perry Farrell got the inspiration for his music festival the following year.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:52 AM on December 19, 2013


oh my god i forgot the age of pastel
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:56 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The kid in the karate pose in the satin Hulk Hogan robe is absolutely killing it. Although in 1990 it would have been a toss-up for me between that and the amazing Ninja Turtles PJs.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:56 AM on December 19, 2013


These look really great to me. Not in a 'I'd wear them now' way but in a 'That's what was hot wen I came of age' way. I met my wife at roughly this time and she and I looked like these pictures (but less model-y) and this takes me instantly back to that time. She looked amazing in those goofy clothes. I hope she thinks the same of me. I've never cared too much about what's in or out of fashion but this makes me realize there was a weird time that I can instantly relate to without ever having a realization (now or then) that I was a part of it.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 7:56 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I 100% owned those Ninja Turtle slippers. And I rocked them.
posted by Twain Device at 7:56 AM on December 19, 2013


"… the at-home comfort of oversized ice-washed demin Fashion overalls"

I can't believe we did this, people.
posted by Kabanos at 7:57 AM on December 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Honestly, the JCP catalog wasn't exactly a bastion of high-fashion even in 1990 - most of that stuff would have read as pretty frump-tastic at the time

I was coming in to make a similar point. I was in high school during this time and I don't recall overalls for guys or female snowbibs being things that were worn with any regularity at all by kids of the era. My guess is you could probably find a 2013 clothing catalog of "affordable" fashions and find similarly embarrassing items.
posted by The Gooch at 7:58 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, I remember the late 80s, a time when even young men were expected to wear Mom Jeans.
posted by Naberius at 8:00 AM on December 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Man, the high tops. I miss those. But not the tapered pants, because I am built entirely incorrectly for those. (Same for the current trend trend of skinny jeans.) Are puffy headbands going to make a comeback. I had drawers full of them.

Here's a Sears catalog from 1935 and Spiegel catalogs from 1963 and 1966 for comparison. (Self-link)
posted by PussKillian at 8:01 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the first things I did when I started dating my husband (1994) was make him get rid of his acid-washed jeans.

He still gives me grief about them, every once in a while. "They were so comfortable!"

I just shake my head.
posted by Lucinda at 8:02 AM on December 19, 2013


Also the Tropical Bedspread picture is how I remember my aunt's entire house looking throughout the 90s.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:02 AM on December 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Came for the stretch jumpsuit, stayed for the Taz sweatshirt that says "LET'S FART"
posted by Think_Long at 8:04 AM on December 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


(I should clarify that I owned a number of things not just from the JCP catalog but from the JCP clearance catalog - I remember one particular semi-cropped striped pullover, some vests and a pair of button-fly jeans. We were not especially well-off when I was in my teens, and those items were pretty thrilling. Things turned around a bit a few years later and I was able to buy a few things from the GAP and one Christmas I got one of those big J Crew wool roll-neck sweaters. I always had to decide - do I space my "nice" clothes out through the week (my school was affluent; we were not) or do I wear the crisp oversized white Gap shirt with the JCrew rollneck? (With the shirt collar popped just a little so that you could see it over the sweater neck, actually, and a pair of skinny-for-the-nineties jeans.)
posted by Frowner at 8:09 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the first things I did when I started dating my husband (1994) was make him get rid of his acid-washed jeans.

Those jeans you like are back in style. (To borrow another phrase from the early 90s.)
posted by entropicamericana at 8:10 AM on December 19, 2013


Clinging to the Wreckage: Not in a 'I'd wear them now' way but in a 'That's what was hot wen I came of age' way. I met my wife at roughly this time and she and I looked like these pictures (but less model-y) and this takes me instantly back to that time.

Yeah, I know what you mean. Sharon Stone wore almost the exact stretch jumpsuit from this catalog in Total Recall, which definitely got 14-year-old Rock Steady thinking about some things.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:11 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm still waiting for ultra-wide-leg jeans to come back. I have a friend who didn't wear shoes for most of summer 1996 because her feet were always hidden inside her jeans.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:13 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Those jeans you like are back in style.

What (doesn't) work when you're 25 really DOES NOT WORK when you're 44.
posted by Lucinda at 8:13 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I refuse to accept 1990 as "retro". Bah.
posted by octothorpe at 8:13 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Seriously though I need those metallic dresses.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:14 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Came for the stretch jumpsuit, stayed for the Taz sweatshirt that says "LET'S FART"

Good to know I wasn't the only one who saw that.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:14 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love the two thirteen year old boys yukking it up by the fireplace as one drinks a coffee. It looks like they're cosplaying Seinfeld.

Also, the man alone holding the tiny, fluffy brown dog. "He looks fine, the clothes look fine, but it'll look better if he holds a tiny dog."
posted by rue72 at 8:17 AM on December 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


I just found an IN-CA-REDIBLE Benetton sweater in a resale shop, circa my own heyday of saving up for that sort of thing. It's, like, the Proust Time Travel Sweater.

Can't wear it outside of the house though. No amount of self-bullshitting is convincing my frontal lobes that I don't look like a priceless tool.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:18 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


octothorpe: I refuse to accept 1990 as "retro". Bah.

We are now the same distance from Nevermind that Nevermind was from Abbey Road.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


It's so easy to LOLfashion. The clothing industry has to convince us, on an ongoing basis, that last year's clothing is just not acceptable anymore, because, well, fashion. In 1990 everyone was laughing at the excesses of the 80's, oh, disco, ha ha ha. In the 70's it was all about getting past the 60's. And on and on.

Is there any decade whose popular fashions don't look silly and pretentious to us now? I'm not talking about Hollywood--I mean the stuff sold by folks like Penney's.

Time is an interesting filter.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2013


I refuse to accept 1990 as "retro". Bah.

That's because 1990 was 10 years ago, right?...RIGHT???

*weeps*
posted by littlesq at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


The word "fart" was kind of edgy for 1990. I bet it would have given dear old Barbara Bush the vapors had she ever deigned to flip through a Penney's catalog.

We are now the same distance from Nevermind that Nevermind was from Abbey Road.

SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP
posted by entropicamericana at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


You can get old issues of New York magazine on Google Books now - including all the ones with gift guides for tony Manhattanites from 1984.
posted by mippy at 8:20 AM on December 19, 2013


I dunno, 1940's fashion still looks pretty damn classy to me. THAT look would be super cool to come back in style. Like in Blade Runner!
posted by littlesq at 8:22 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm still waiting for ultra-wide-leg jeans to come back. I have a friend who didn't wear shoes for most of summer 1996 because her feet were always hidden inside her jeans.

Interestingly, I think those derived from Northern Soul styles fused with hip-hop - I mean, they were large and wide, but they were also very flowy, which is a Northern Soul thing, and they seemed initially to have some connection to that whole N. England dance scene. Note the photo here - I remember wishing for vintage Northern Soul pants back in mid-late nineties because the ones I could get locally just weren't wide enough.

It's an interesting look for men, too - basically a split skirt.

I really miss the nineties. At least I appreciated some of the good times I had while I was having them.
posted by Frowner at 8:23 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, they have the Argos catalogues for 1984 anf 1985 on Flickr. For non-Brits, Argos is a 'catalogue shop' where you go in, flick through a physical catalogue, write down the code numbers of what you want, take it to the till, then wait for it to be 'delivered' from the stockroom - there are rarely actual products on display in store. So, it's basically in-person mail order.
posted by mippy at 8:24 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one that thinks most of the 1980 catalog menswear is cool and relevant?
posted by oceanjesse at 8:24 AM on December 19, 2013


Not to fart on anyone's parade, but I'm pretty sure Dizzy is saying "Let's Party."
posted by BeReasonable at 8:28 AM on December 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


This man is very serious about fresh chicken.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:28 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I dunno, 1940's fashion still looks pretty damn classy to me. THAT look would be super cool to come back in style. Like in Blade Runner!

But forties fashion used to be considered frumpy-crazy in, say, the sixties or even the seventies. (In the seventies, it was 20s/30s that was fashionable; and in the sixties even that was a fringe taste - I remember seeing a documentary about the Cockettes and how they could, like, pick up silk velvet thirties evening dresses at Sally's for fifty cents.) There's an interesting little aside in the scandal-mongering Lagerfeld-and-Saint Laurent bio The Beautiful Fall about a fashion model who in the early seventies would dress in fifties New Look suits - and everyone thought that was just the kookiest thing they'd ever seen and good thing she was so beautiful. Whereas now, of course, the official line is that the New Look is beautiful, artistic, etc, and actual New Look dresses are ridiculously expensive.

Twentieth century modes of "retro" are themselves a historical artifact, though - you start seeing real "retro" fashions in the twenties, when there was a fashion nostalgia for the Victorian Era. (And right before the war, Chanel was producing evening dresses with modified bustles - that was the trend.)

Anyway, I always wonder whether fast-fashion and casual have finally broken the retro trajectory - will the fashions of the nineties really get turned into canonically "beautiful" vintage the way those of the previous decades have? Or has the shift in production and consumption changed that enough?
posted by Frowner at 8:29 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sophie1: This man is very serious about fresh chicken.

Manos?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:31 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that 40s fashion saw a revival in the 70s, and 50s in the 80s - I had a few teen annuals from the 80s which tended to feature fifties aesthetics, pictures of James Dean and Monroe etc.

In the UK at least, the 70s were revived in the 90s - look at how Pulp dressed back then. I remember as a teen in the 90s thinking about how bland the decade seemed in comparison to others, how there seemed to be no distinctive style like the 80s, nothing we would look back on in ten years and think 'that's a 90s look'. And of course, I was proven wrong. Teen stores here have been doing grunge and '90s styles' for a couple of seasons now, and kids who weren't born then are wearing the floral prints I thought were vile and sofa-like at the time. I was well into 80s fashion/music/culture as a teenager in the 90s, because it was barely remembered and seemed so unusual and interesting. It's weird to think that the 90s seem that way now.
posted by mippy at 8:32 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was born in 1990.

This is what the world looked like to me as a baby.

For some part of my mind, anything that is not this differs from the norm.

This somehow explains everything and nothing all at once.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:32 AM on December 19, 2013


Not to fart on anyone's parade, but I'm pretty sure Dizzy is saying "Let's Party."

Yes we know

It sorta looks like it says 'fart' which is funny

No one is suggesting that JC Penny actually sold a fart shirt
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:33 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I didn't like the 90s much while I was in them - quite a few awkward teen years going on there, and that would have been much more bearable if home internet was as common then - but I find myself enjoying 90s throwback things now. 90s sitcoms and fashion/lifestyle publications are really interesting to me - kind of what my life would have been like if I'd been 25 and in New York, rather than 13, chubby and in a crappy redneck-like town in NW England.
posted by mippy at 8:34 AM on December 19, 2013


No one is suggesting that JC Penny actually sold a fart shirt
I could not find a picture but does anyone else remember the Fart shirts that had burn holes in them? That must have been the eighties around the same time as Foam bricks for throwing at your TV.

AH Revenge of the nerds..... BUT that could have been sold at JC I know I bought mine at Sears
posted by mrgroweler at 8:36 AM on December 19, 2013


showbiz_liz: No one is suggesting that JC Penny actually sold a fart shirt

They did have a "Don't have a cow, man!" shirt in there, which wasn't far off from "Let's Fart!", based on the reactions I got to my Bart Simpsons t-shirt.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:36 AM on December 19, 2013


I remember as a teen in the 90s thinking about how bland the decade seemed in comparison to others, how there seemed to be no distinctive style like the 80s

Exactly. Hear, hear. I was just about to make a comment like this one, but I'm glad that you got there first, mippy.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 8:38 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


No one is suggesting that JC Penny actually sold a fart shirt

I don't know, given their current situation, maybe that would be just the ticket?

A whole line of fart-themed wear. Sperry Fartsiders!
posted by Think_Long at 8:38 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, of course, just what is revived varies. Everything that the fashion kids today are reviving as "grunge" is (with very minor exception) actually what we would have considered boring and risible back in the day, certainly not what anyone who had any pretensions to hipness would have worn (with the exception of flannel shirts, but they're a cultural universal). What's being revived as nineties isn't high-fashion or avant-garde fashion - it's the tack-ball mall fashions (hence the florals). I think a lot of that stuff has been repurposed in pretty cute ways - it looks better now than it did then.
posted by Frowner at 8:38 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oversized ice-washed demin Fashion overalls is my gay best friend.
posted by word_virus at 8:39 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


They did have a "Don't have a cow, man!" shirt in there, which wasn't far off from "Let's Fart!", based on the reactions I got to my Bart Simpsons t-shirt.

Oooh gosh, remember all those late eighties/early nineties pop cultural moral scandals? Bart Simpson - so transgressive! "Black Bart Simpson" shirts - just a sign of PC thuggery by a bunch of oversensitive types! Madonna! (I mean, how many Madonna scandals were there? Lots.) Those kissing-gay-couple safe sex posters on the buses in Chicago that were so rapidly taken down! So many of those scandals were basically "we are really upset that people who are not conservative middle-aged white straight men have any ability to produce and distribute culture whatsoever, and especially that they have any ability to comment on the pop culture we produce and distribute, which no one should ever question".
posted by Frowner at 8:42 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


uncleozzy: "I'm still waiting for ultra-wide-leg jeans to come back."

Not to mention three-legged jeans.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:45 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Getting some of this stuff at a Good Will and flipping it on e-bay would probably net some serious dollars. Especially those draping leather jackets, anything in adult size that has a logo or a cartoon character on it, the baggy sweaters or the metallic dresses.

The other day I saw a girl walking around campus wearing a tartan print knee length dress, a too-short distressed leather jacket with springy seams (do you know what I mean?) a "NIRVANA" t-shirt, and big clunky boots. She could've been a blossom extra.

I routinely see mom jeans on people under 23, numerous giant ugly suspender get-ups, and plain timberlands worn over tapered jeans with the tongue all floppy. When someone wants to wear a band shirt to show affiliation with past music, they're not usually picking Zepp, they're usually picking some 90s grunge band or classic rap act.

I'm also outside of DC, which I've see is slightly behind in terms of other cities that serve as fashion bellwethers like New York. So I have to say that if you hate this look, then you're probably in for an unpleasant surprise in the next few years.
posted by codacorolla at 8:46 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I work on a college campus and mom jeans are everywhere. everywhere. Why??
posted by Think_Long at 8:48 AM on December 19, 2013


Oooh gosh, remember all those late eighties/early nineties pop cultural moral scandals?

Benetton ads come to mind. Which I always assumed were produced by a middle-aged straight white man ad agency in an attempt to tap into that movement, but actually not - they hired a photographer and told him to do what he wanted.
posted by mippy at 8:49 AM on December 19, 2013


I would love some high-waisted pleated tapered pants. I keep hoping that they'll come back and get mass produced.

High-waisted pants have definitely come back in style - some of them skinny, some tapered. I don't know if they've fully caught on in the mainstream in a way that would mean mass productions but I say give it a few more years.

I remember just a few short years ago being horrified at the thought of peplum coming back in style and now I love it.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:51 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I work on a college campus and mom jeans are everywhere. everywhere. Why??

There is a girl in my office who is about 24 and dresses like a 50something housewife from 1989. Every so often she catches me staring at her high-waisted pleat-front pastel polyester pants and slip-on leather keds in abject horror and she just cracks up really wildly.
posted by elizardbits at 8:53 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I found a huge haul of the old Spinnerin knitting pattern books at an estate sale about a decade ago. I really should scan all of them. Every one of them is a study in 1960's cultural tropes.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:57 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


13-year-old me was less focused on catalog shopping and more into begging my mom to buy me Keds because everyone in school was wearing them and knockoffs weren't going to cut it. (Never got 'em. Couldn't afford 'em.)
posted by Kitteh at 8:58 AM on December 19, 2013


There IS something sort of fun about dressing in ridiculously ugly/insane clothing and daring people to have a problem with it. But then the people who are brazen enough to do such things wind up being trendsetters, and then the ugly/insane becomes mundane... so then the truly hip and fashionably unfashionable are forced on to a new frontier of weirdness. Thus, mom jeans.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:00 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also the Tropical Bedspread picture is how I remember my aunt's entire house looking throughout the 90s.

90s?!? My aunt is wondering why she can't find a spread like that in stores now!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:05 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


High-waisted pants have definitely come back in style - some of them skinny, some tapered. I don't know if they've fully caught on in the mainstream in a way that would mean mass productions but I say give it a few more years.

But it's the pleats that are the thing - and pants fit is so tricky for me that I require true mass production so that I can choose from a number of pairs. I've tried vintage and I've tried men's and I've only ever had one pleated pair that worked as I wished it to, and then they tore beyond repair.

A sad aspect of retro: there are some things you can only wear as an insouciant 20-year-old, because if you wear them when you're in your thirties, for example, the world cannot tell the difference between someone dressing like a late eighties housewife because it's fun and someone dressing like a late eighties housewife because they have no taste at all. I have tried and tried - honest - to deal with some of those great oversized nineties blazers, but I don't look on-trend; I look like someone who bought clothes for their first "real" job back in 1996 and never replaced them.
posted by Frowner at 9:06 AM on December 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Way, way back, back when I was gangly and pretty and had a mullet as long and curly as a duck's penis, I was recruited by the CEO of a local modeling agency, who, as I handed her a handful of change and a bag containing a six-inch Jack Special sub across the counter of Pal Jack's Pizza, asked me a surprising question.

"Thanks. Hey—just out of curiosity, what's your pants size?"

"My what?"

"Your pants size. What's your inseam?"

My eyebrows went up, just a hair.

"Thirty. Well, actually twenty-nine, but they don't make 'em that size, so I have to hem everything."

"You ever think of modeling?" she asked, and I just laughed, then realized she was serious.

"Modeling? Sheeyeah. Why?"

"What are you—eighteen or nineteen?"

"Eighteen."

"Here, let me give you my card. I run the Rose House of Beauty and we do local fashion fairs and I think you'd be good."

I took the card and giggled like a claymation pastry mascot.

"Me? Who would want to see me on a runway?" I asked, coquettishly, and still entertained the thought that a well-dressed black lady of about my mother's age was barking up the entirely wrong tree.

"You've got great hair, you got short, fat legs, and a nice black ass," she said, and I went completely silent, because my hair was a constant struggle, my stumpy legs meant I had to alter everything so that my pants would fit, which sucked when the fashion of the day included extra longitudinal seams that were a bitch to stitch over on my Singer without busting the thread and/or needle, and I couldn't even properly parse the commentary on the nature of my ass. "We love guys that are all long like you for modeling, because it shows off shirts and sweaters and looks good from below."

I sort of chuckled, unable to process it all, but a week later, I was working part-time for the Rose House of Beauty out of a run-down storefront in Riverdale, Maryland, with an 8x10 on file and after I'd been drilled on walking, turning, gestures, stops, and thoughtful pauses, I was sent out to model at a suburban Montgomery Wards Fashion Fair. I stepped out from behind the curtain in espadrilles, insanely high-waisted jeans with accent stripes that merged in the crotch like taxiways at an airport and darts at the rear that sculpted my backside into a manbustle, and a blue muscle shirt covered with netting, grommets, and way more seams than seemed absolutely necessary.

I strutted out, did a turn, sashayed back, turned, and lowered my Wayfarers in the standard male modeling gesture that says baby, I'm gonna fuck you reeeeeal good, and slipped through the curtain.

"Work the walk, Joe," my boss said as her assistant pulled a Cosby sweater over my head, which left my mousse-crusted hair almost intact. "More ass, but not gay ass."

I worked that walk.

Yeah, here's my black ass, y'all.

The clothes were, as to be expected, horrible, but I'd often get to keep them, so I somehow managed to be marginally trendy in the mid-to-late-eighties and the early nineties despite being poor and a congential doofus.

I got my GED, got into college, and worked my way through college doing never less than three jobs at once, and as I thickened up with age and collegiate dietary foolishness, my time with the Rose House of Beauty waned. The agency went under not long after and I haven't seen Rose, the CEO in twenty years, but I've kept some of the most extreme clothes out of some lingering warm feelings about a time when I could step out on a runway, do my signature walk, and show my black ass in its best light, albeit displayed beneath a sweater crafted by a knitting machine with a an emotional problem.

"Uncle Joe, can we borrow some ugly eighties clothes for party?" my niece asked, and I went down in the basement to find something acid-washed and mortifying to horrify my young niece's friends, and in deference to the eye-rolling that would result, did not go on about my glory days as a Montgomery Ward Fashion Fair model for the Rose House of Beauty and how my ass was once good enough for a black guy.

"Don't mess 'em up," I said. "They might come back in one of these days."

I now look enough like my dad that people who knew my dad can't stop remarking on the resemblance, and I will not be modeling anytime soon, but I've held onto one thing.

Telling this story to a Canadian comedian friend of mine and my then-it's-complicated at Toronto Pride years ago, I was annoyed at quite how incredulous they were about the whole thing, though I understood the skepticism.

"Well, I can still do my signature walk," I said, with a bit of pride.

"Let's see it!"

I got a little sheepish, looked around at the dense heaving crowd in the Black Eagle, then rallied my nerve.

I stepped out from behind my imaginary curtain by the bar, substituting my own internal soundtrack of my old modeling theme song, "You're So Strong," for the tiresome standard bar burblemusic, strutted through a sea of bears to the turnaround, did the stop-with-a-chin-stroke, raised an I'm-thinkin'-'bout-fuckin' eyebrow, did the sexy-fingernail-check, wheeled around, and strutted right back, pausing for that one last look, which I had to mime, as I wasn't wearing Wayfarers, and clomped back to the bar.

"Of course, it works better with the right outfit," I said, and my then-it's-complicated just rolled his eyes and grinned.

"You do sort of have a black ass," my comedian friend said, and I took that as a great compliment from a man who masturbated his way through Amistad.

These old lives were all a long, long time ago, and god we dressed like assholes, but you had to be there.
posted by sonascope at 9:08 AM on December 19, 2013 [46 favorites]


Ho, ho, holy shit.
posted by banwa at 9:09 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe I shouldn't say this publicly, but I'd wear a lot of this stuff. This is the stuff that makes me feel like Macklemore when I find it.
posted by cmoj at 9:10 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is the stuff that makes me feel like Macklemore when I find it.

This is the stuff that makes me sad that I ever paid actual money for this crap new when I see it in the "rejected by refugees" bin at the thrift store.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:22 AM on December 19, 2013


Metafilter: a mullet as long and curly as a duck's penis
posted by Chrysostom at 9:31 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just saw this elsewhere on the site - actual pictures taken in an actual shopping mall in 1990.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:40 AM on December 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Smoking in a mall. Out of everything that's the most unimaginable, for me.
posted by codacorolla at 9:48 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


actual pictures taken in an actual shopping mall in 1990.

That was a MeFi FPP once ... and I'm still reasonably sure that kid (in the second picture, now) is me. I even asked my mother--she, of all people, should be able to identify me--and she thinks so, too.

Super, super creepy.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:50 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know, right? When you see pictures of people smoking in places that are unimaginable to do so in now, it blows my mind.
posted by Kitteh at 9:52 AM on December 19, 2013


Sometimes the past really *is* past.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:56 AM on December 19, 2013


sonascope, you are the best at stories.
posted by St. Sorryass at 9:59 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]



Just saw this elsewhere on the site - actual pictures taken in an actual shopping mall in 1990.


I think a key change from the eighties (because most of those photos are really eighties photos - certainly, by the time I graduated from HS virtually all that stuff was totally passe in suburban Chicago) is the current preference for hair that is not treated to create a curly texture, also the preference for hair that is less visibly treated in general, and the preference for softer-texture styling products. There are a couple of pictures in there where people have longer, less stiff-looking hair and those people really do look almost contemporary, despite the silhouette. (Also, layering hasn't been a thing since then - I remember a big moment for me in HS was when I realized that "all one length" hair looked classy and upscale (we were poor, relatively, and I was desperate to class-climb) whereas layers did not - this would have been about 1990.)

In general, I'd say there's not much of a preference for volume compared to the eighties/early nineties. Even oversized things now aren't padded or puffed; the shoulder is either cut at the shoulder or it's in a drapier fabric to reduce bulk. Also, colors are a lot darker and there's less contrast - many of those outfits are "a very light color and a very dark color", which isn't something you see as much now. I do like the black/white/blue scheme.
posted by Frowner at 9:59 AM on December 19, 2013


When you see pictures of people smoking in places that are unimaginable to do so in now...

As the movement to ban public indoor smoking grew and more and more places became off-limits (say mid to late 90s) I asked my dad where "back in the day" were you NOT allowed to smoke. He said, well, the church usually wanted you to stub out your smokes in the back before heading to your pew and in the intensive care unit at the hospital, but that one was because of the high oxygen environment meant there was a fire risk. After thinking a long time on it, other than those two he couldn't really come up with anywhere else.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:08 AM on December 19, 2013


> We are now the same distance from Nevermind that Nevermind was from Abbey Road.

Actual conversation I had recently:

Friend who is the same age (40) as I am: I saw a 12 year-old girl wearing a Nirvana shirt the other day. What's up with that?
Me: Remember when kids would wear Doors t-shirts when we were in grade nine? Same thing, dude.
Friend: SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:08 AM on December 19, 2013 [14 favorites]


Speaking of photos taken in a mall in the 1990's... during a deep urban exploration run through the stripped parts of the old Windsor Park Mall in east San Antonio... I found five old photo albums... full of promotional shots, event shots, and advertisement displays...

It's a damn gold mine. I need someone to help me archive them for I have no scanner...

If anyone is in San Antonio or Austin and willing to help... me-mail me.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 10:09 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Santa doesn't bring me those Beetlejuice pyjamas, I'm going to be forced to stop believing in him.
posted by dotgirl at 10:19 AM on December 19, 2013


Man, that pastel tropical bedroom set is totally visual shorthand for " soft core porn with lots of feathered hair starting in 3.... 2...... 1"
posted by The Whelk at 10:21 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I also definitely had some Tweety-emblazoned overalls.
None in our generation escaped this.

I'm sort of torn now between buying a "Christmas wrap" and becoming a sharpshooting bandita roving the Wastes or flagging down Genderswap Doctor Who and visiting the Francophone punk wonderland of France, 1902's 1990, where I can be the kind of journalist I've always dreamed of. The kind who goes on adventures and has an "Oh hoho" laugh and gets all the good puns and has a sword-cane and a foolish male academic rival to constantly one-up and wears duck hats. So many duck hats. I grieve for this glorious world of yesterday's tomorrow that isn't here today.
posted by byanyothername at 10:29 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


One problem with rocking 40s looks for me is that the period accurate ties tend to be short and loud and fugly as hell.

Also as you age and become less roguishly dashing it quickly just turns into retired Irish farmer.
posted by The Whelk at 10:36 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think those "Christmas Wraps" are surplus costumes from The Handmaid's Tale, which also came out in 1990.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:43 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's something to consider. Look how many of the clothes in those pages are "Made in the USA."
posted by twjordan at 10:56 AM on December 19, 2013


Look how many of the clothes in those pages are "Made in the USA."

How would you know?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:59 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Card Cheat: I think those "Christmas Wraps" are surplus costumes from The Handmaid's Tale, which also came out in 1990.

I was going to say I got a very Gileadian vibe from that page!
posted by Rock Steady at 11:00 AM on December 19, 2013


Also as you age and become less roguishly dashing it quickly just turns into retired Irish farmer.

I happen to think my flat cap, twill pants, and sweater vest go nicely with my middle-aged paunch, thank you very much!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:00 AM on December 19, 2013


I panicked in Dublin and bought a white knit wool sweater cause I wanted to blend in.
posted by The Whelk at 11:01 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


As the movement to ban public indoor smoking grew and more and more places became off-limits (say mid to late 90s) I asked my dad where "back in the day" were you NOT allowed to smoke. He said, well, the church usually wanted you to stub out your smokes in the back before heading to your pew and in the intensive care unit at the hospital, but that one was because of the high oxygen environment meant there was a fire risk. After thinking a long time on it, other than those two he couldn't really come up with anywhere else.

Gas stations.

Also, my mom worked retail when I was a kid (from the late eighties on) and I don't think she could ever smoke inside the actual store. Then again, maybe that's just as an employee. You could definitely smoke in the mall her store was in. Of course, we usually kept it classy by waiting for her out in the parking lot, where you can still smoke at that mall to this day. Not that it's especially pleasant but at least they have ashtrays.

Oh and also, because she worked retail, she could hide all the nice clothes in the back until they had to get priced down, and then she would buy them on sale, and with her employee discount. I was always a very well-dressed child.

There was a graffiti dress with a big zipper down the front that was a real favorite. My "cool" outfit in sixth grade was a gigantic flannel shirt over a turtleneck, with jeans. Of course, my "nerdy" outfit that same year was the same turtleneck and jeans with a vest. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I had no taste and/or a thing for flannel.

What happened with vests, anyway? For a while, they were all over the place. Remember that polar fleece zip-up vest fad in the very late 90s? Maybe around 2000?
posted by rue72 at 11:08 AM on December 19, 2013


Still in fashion, says Metafilter's own mathowie.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:12 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that 40s fashion saw a revival in the 70s, and 50s in the 80s - I had a few teen annuals from the 80s which tended to feature fifties aesthetics, pictures of James Dean and Monroe etc.

Actually, there was a lot of forties in the 90s, too - I remember a particular photo shoot (someone unlikely - Marc Jacobs?) where it was intentionally a wartime look with wooden platforms and very long hair up in one of those "no haircuts under rationing" styles. And those little dresses that everyone had were sort of 30s ditsy floral with 40s cuts. Also, I still have a great pair of suede flat platform sandals which are straight-up forties style and I got them at Steve Madden (Steve Madden used to make somewhat fancier shoes, too). They're really lovely shoes - a good-enough suede, wide straps, black. I haven't been able to bear to part with them even though I don't really wear women's shoes anymore.

I tend not to think of the 70s as a decade with a lot of forties revival per se (although I suppose once you get into the late seventies there's some crossover with punk and a whole WWII-era thing). I know for sure that Deco and the thirties were the big influences on high fashion through the middle of the decade (Karl Lagerfeld collected high-end Deco, for instance, right up until the mid-seventies when he sold it all in one fell swoop and moved on to that Miami stuff) and remained popular for a few more years. Glam is very deco. And consider Biba - the big Biba department store seemed like a perfectly good idea in the mid-seventies, even though it proved to be a disaster.
posted by Frowner at 11:20 AM on December 19, 2013


Still in fashion, says Metafilter's own mathowie.

The dream of the 90's is alive in Portland, etc, etc, etc.
posted by pianoblack at 11:28 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Y'all laugh, but I have seen young things take any decade and rock the hell out of the clothes of that era. You gotta be young and sassy, but it all works.

Except jumpsuits. Only Elvis and Dianna Rigg ever looked good in a jumpsuit.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:45 AM on December 19, 2013


All hail the Chess King!
posted by dr_dank at 11:47 AM on December 19, 2013


I just had a flash, triggered by all this talk of horror-couture, that there's a panel once intended for the AIDS Memorial Quilt neatly folded up in a drawer in my closet because of terrible fashion. It was for a friend who helped me at exactly the right point in my life, and in my hipness in the early nineties, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to fashion it out of yellow acid-washed denim and charcoal acid-washed denim. While I think my design, using the silhouetted tracery of power pylons on the top of a nearby mountain where my late friend and I had important conversations, is sound, every time I pull it out, unfold it, and take in the splurchy trauma of jaundice-yellow mottled denim, I cringe at the thought that it very nearly became his memorial in the sea of sorrow. It's just an awful-looking thing, and a waste of many, many hours of careful hand work.

In lieu, I tell his story whenever the opportunity comes up, and there lies in my closet the textile equivalent of a sponge-painted styrofoam headstone with floral wallpaper borders as a reminder that acid-washed denim must, too, never be forgotten.
posted by sonascope at 12:11 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


...stayed for the Taz sweatshirt that says "LET'S FART"

Hey, when was all that Bill the Cat merchandise hot? 80's? 90's?

ACK!
posted by Kabanos at 12:37 PM on December 19, 2013


I honestly can't remember what we were all carrying around in our groins that required such pleats.
posted by sourwookie at 12:43 PM on December 19, 2013


One needed room to conceal one's codpiece from Levar Burton.
posted by sonascope at 12:51 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gas stations.

Also, my mom worked retail when I was a kid (from the late eighties on) and I don't think she could ever smoke inside the actual store.


Funny you should mention it, I asked him specifically about gas stations and he said nope (for example). Also, the late 80s hardly qualifies as "back in the day" when you're talking about the mid 1990s.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:54 PM on December 19, 2013


Yeah the 90s/early 2000s had that Swing Revival for a couple years where people started wearing zoot suits and being smug about how swing music and dancing was so superior to what we have now, then it vanished just as quick as it came.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:12 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Y'all may want to check out this AskMe about obscure one-hit-wonders from the 90s.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:55 PM on December 19, 2013


A guy I know got fired from his mid-'90s gig at a gas station for smoking weed on the job, so I know that was generally frowned upon.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:11 PM on December 19, 2013


Dear god that and the mall photos link was a flashback to high school. My junior prom photo looks like something out of this. I know because my junior prom photo is in my wallet right now. I took it out and compared it. What the hell were we thinking.

Yes I carry my high school junior prom photo with me everywhere. That cute chick standing next to me in the picture was nice enough to marry me. I have never seen a good reason NOT to keep the photo in my wallet.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:46 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dude, no pressure, but I've never come across a better chance to say this online:

Pics or it didn't happen.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:26 PM on December 19, 2013


The 10th Regiment of Foot - most the descriptions in the catalog mention where the clothes were made. Crazy to think that just 25 years ago we still had plenty of manufacturing in the USA. pre-NAFTA...
posted by twjordan at 8:22 PM on December 19, 2013


The 10th Regiment of Foot - most the descriptions in the catalog mention where the clothes were made. Crazy to think that just 25 years ago we still had plenty of manufacturing in the USA. pre-NAFTA...

That was also the time when the Marianas Islands and Samoa were at peak production. As a US dependencies they could put "made in USA" labels on their clothes. They would ship in tens of thousands of Chinese and Philippino workers and pay them Chinese sweatshop wages and lock them into the "dormitories" to make the final assembly stitches to items manufactured elsewhere just to put that label on. Seriously.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:01 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh my god.... Mission (UK) shirt. '80s Mallgoths!
posted by Mezentian at 5:24 PM on December 21, 2013


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