Rumors was more the soundtrack to my childhood, but
my ears certainly perked up as "Tusk" appeared at the
beginning and end of this week's The Americans pilot, a show I didn't even know
I would be interested in (I watched it twice and it didn't annoy me, something that often happens when I watch a show alone and then a second time because I happen to be in the living room when it's being watched again).
Who knew "Tusk" meant so much to so many? It has
appeared on Facebook from "friends" who've never indicated any
interest in Fleetwood Mac, a search on Twitter while watching the show brought
up plenty of tweets composed of no more than five characters: Tusk! In addition
to the recap, Vulture has a post devoted to the song. (I also stumbled upon
I have mixed feelings about the '80s, and I somewhat
regret bemoaning their resurgence in the '00s because that only led to the '90s
coming on strong post-2010 and that's far far worse. The thing is '80s means
something narrow and specific to a segment of the population that was too young
to remember them first-hand (I did not become a legal adult until 1990 so it's
not as if I'm full of rich knowledge of the era, myself, but I probably have a
good ten years on the '90s nostalgists.). There were complaint comments in the
recap that the styles were wrong, no big hair and Madonna.
Um, 1981, when this show was set, was not about that.
All first years in a decade are cuspy, still resembling the past. 1981 looked
very '70s, just as 1991 wasn't radically different from 1989 style-wise. Now
that it's 2013, we should know how the teens differ from the early aughts (ugh,
I kind of hate that nickname) since we've had two years to transition. I'm
still not sure, though.
There is clothing and home decor from 2003 that's
still in my life. I don't think I'm less style conscious because I'm older
(just an argument some might make); I'm just not offended by the sensibility of
a pillow, candlestick holder, winter coat or cardigan that are ten years old
(shoes and pants are trickier).
But the Guess jeans Kerri Russel was wearing did not ring true to me one bit. Jordache would've made more sense for a big name jean maybe. Guess was founded in 1981 and didn't get famous with its iconic ad campaigns until later in the decade. Claudia Schiffer wasn't the face of the brand until 1989, which blurs together in my mind with Anna Nicole Smith's early '90s ads.
So, I was only nine in 1981. But if there's
anything grade school girls are experts at, it's fashion–or at least knowing
what brands are cool and the detriment of not owning them. Guess played no role
in my coveting ever.
I have no way of knowing how regional the style
trends were that are imprinted on my brain. Obviously TV commercials and
magazine ads existed (though I don't recall a single one of the following
brands ever being on TV–maybe in teen mags?) but it's not as if there was the
universal sharing of trends that's opened up with the internet and eommerce. In fact, the
internet really let me down while trying to track down examples of all of the
jeans that were hot shit in my 1981 world. At this point you'd think there was
a niche site for everything, but I could find scant evidence in images or words
of popular clothing from the suburban Northwest.
Brittania and Esprit were easy to find and likely
national, Genera and Benetton came a little later. I'd like to say Fiorucci
meant something, but that's a brand I've come to know with age and moving to
NYC. No one in Gresham, Oregon wore Fiorucci.
This is what I know:
Lawman. Apparently this brand still exists (?!)
or has been retooled, which makes it hard to find older examples, keyword searching-wise. Even the ones described as vintage
'80s on Etsy are not the styles I'm thinking of, but are more Western and have
a big fat leather label on the waistband. This was by far the most influential
brand on my grade school years. I wasn't allowed to have a pair of
"designer" jeans until fourth grade, 1981, and Lawman was what my
first had to be. They were crazy expensive at $32 and the only pair I ever
owned. (I've discussed this before, how clothing was so much more cost
prohibitive pre-'90s. $9.99 Old Navy and Target stuff didn't exist.) That's
$80.83 in 2013 dollars. To this day, my mom and grandma can't agree on which of
them bought these jeans for me. It was a landmark occasion. And a traumatic
one. I couldn't fit into sizes in the children's department at Meier &
Frank, so I got to go to the cooler older person store, Jean Machine, but it
wasn't cool that I had a 30" waist. That's about a contemporary size 10.
They were painter pants, which I can't find a photo of anywhere. There were numerous styles.
One with no pockets on the butt and stitching that came to a V at the knees on
the outer legs. I distinctly remember that this multiple V's on the back
pockets version, unflattering
on this Etsy model and probably on anyone, especially anyone with hips, was called "tulip."
They are described as a size 29 XL, for reference. XL now is like 34. You'd
wear them with Nike Cortez.
Guess may not have been a NW thing in '81, but
Nike, based in a Portland suburb, was always a HUGE part of youthful sartorial
longing. I got one new pair a year. I never did get the lavender and white
combo of my grade school dreams until I found a pair in my exact mildly
difficult size 9.5 at an East Village
flea market in the late '90s–with the extra sexy striped laces, no less. I
never ever wear these, not so much to preserve them but because I don't really wear tennis shoes. (Bizarrely, there's an all-lavender pair in size 9.5 on eBay right now and I'm half-tempted to buy them.)
A. Smile Gelati. Recognizable by the triangular tag with a pastel ice cream cone. There were pants, as well as the
more famous colorful tie-back overalls. I honestly can't remember if mine were teal or
purple (it blurs with the pair my sister had) but I do know that in sixth grade
I hemmed a too-long pair (instead of doing a cool roll like the girl above) so they
came well above my ankles and everyone called them "high-waters" or
yelled "where's the flood?" But this was middle school, not grade
school, when kids are more hormonal and crueler.
Normandy Rose. No photos, but mentioned here. These came in all sorts of colors,
not just denim. They were just jeans that had a rose appliqué. This story of a
mom who tried making a homemade version for her daughter who rejected them is
heartbreaking (but no, imitations would not do). I had a weird pair that were
pleated and pinstriped, if you can imagine. Pleated jeans with no pockets are a
nightmare on a chunky figure, which is why I can't buy into any revival. I do
give props to all the young fatshionistas who wear crops and pleats with no
compunction. One, two, of many examples. It's a different era.
Sara Jeans. Also impossible to search because there
is a Playboy model named Sara Jean Underwood. These cost even more than Lawmans
and were dark denim with silver threads woven through so they sparkled. These
were slutty jeans for girls with big feathered hair and foundation lines
between their face and neck. There was an older girl whose name I can't
remember who got on at the bus stop at bottom of the hill who owned these. And
no, I'm not calling her a slut. The only reference to them is in the comments on a page about
San Franciscos. Technically San Francisco Riding
Gear. And a little more late '70s, I think. I never owned them, but I definitely remember buckle-backs. These are men's jeans, by the way.
Dee Cee. They also made a lot of pants, painter
pants, carpenter pants, whatever you call them, in candy colors. I never had a
pair of these either. Why that style with lots of pockets and loops was
popular, I have no idea. If you were really cool, you'd have a plastic comb
tucked into one of the many pockets. Ok, this is only brand so far where I've
found a broader geographic reference, i.e. New Yorky. It looks like they were a thing
in 1979 in New York and sold at Canal Jeans (r.i.p.) which seems about right
that they would be big two-to-three years later in a west coast suburb.
Off subject, but apparently, there was disco, or rather a "literary discoteque" called the Library
during this era and no denim was allowed. Clearly, Manhattan was a different
It now seems clearer how many of these brands are western,
and maybe never trickled beyond borders, a phenomena I doubt occurs in the US
anymore. (There was a definite regional brand called Seattle Blues, but I was
never interested in those jeans because Seattle had no cachet.) This person (on
an Angelfire site, of course) name-checks San Francisco, Lawman and A. Smile
and appears to be from Oregon. This 1981 ad for a Lawman jeans sale "including
the favorite painter pant" is from the Bend Bulletin, also Oregon. The
Etsy store selling the one pair of Lawmans I could find, as well as the one
that had a pair of A. Smiles, are both based in Seattle. And nearly everyone on
this comment thread about San Francisco Riding Gear mentions Washington or
Did jeans play a major role in your early '80s life? Which brands did you long for? If you tell me Guess, I guess I'll believe you.