Creepy futurist/author Douglas Coupland once wrote that in the 1960s, everyone dressed as if they were 35 years old—but that by the '90s, that age had dipped to 25. Alarmingly, it didn't stop there, and one wonders if Coupland—were he not currently embroiled in increasingly weird artistic pursuits—might not notice that in the few years since he made his point, masses of adults have taken to dressing like 15-year-olds: a trend that, if it continues, should by the 2010s center on sippy cups and purple overalls.
Men get partial credit for this descent—but puerile as it is, men's fashion is now less pointedly teenaged than women's. Flip-flops, board shorts, logo tees and scruffy hair are hallmarks of the contemporary men's look—but guys have a long history of resembling the homeless. The current surf hobo thing is but the latest devolution in their casual wear.
No, it is adult women in their 30s and 40s—particularly in Southern California—who have taken up the standard, and who now dress like teenagers. They are the new Teen Moms, a demographic that is pack-like in its affinities (crossover SUVs, satchel purses) and equipped with the financial capacity to indulge its most egregious whims. As we will see: elsewhere in the world, women with money—and women who dress as if they have money—may expend their shopping energies on classic jewelry and durable designer pieces. But not here.
Forget refined, elegant style and aging gracefully. The aesthetic raison d'tre for an enormous cabal of Orange County women is one of battle: of slaying each passing day with a fiery sword of Botox. For them, the next big trend has become less about the serene simplicity of a Ralph Lauren offering and more about what their daughters drag home. The new Teen Mom—clinging tightly to youth's untucked shirttails—has no qualms about pillaging cuts, colors, fabrics, brands and stores previously reserved for her female progeny, with their nubile bods and nascent ideas of attractiveness.
And she and her ilk are everywhere: grown women with adult lives and mature bodies, flitting through grocery stores and dog parks in hot-pink Juicy sweats, sequined tank tops scrawled with some declaration of foxiness, and pigtails. Bad taste taken to the next level, theirs is a situation rich in irony—the more pains middle-aged women take to resemble young girls, the more obvious their age becomes.
* * *
From the bottom up, Teen Mom wears a sort of "Barbie's Closet" collection of separates: a mix-and-match of items whose colors and textures resemble Target at Easter. Her footwear is either stilettos or flip-flops; shoes are usually sequined, snakeskinned, accessorized and brightly colored. Her jeans are, obviously, upscale boutique denim—tight of leg, sculpted of ass, low of waist. Her sweats are not sweats at all but tightly fitted velour pants in burnished shades of pink, purple, green or blue. Her miniskirts may be denim—in the tradition of the Cougar (the Cougar is but one or two genera away from Teen Mom)—but they are more likely short and ruffled: a style worn last year with Uggs by real, live teenagers.
On top, Teen Mom varies, but she maintains a fondness for some combo of tight-ribbed tank tops, T-shirts and zip-front hoodies. Enormous sunglasses and some form of gaudy jewelry—costume or real, so long as it looks cheap—complete the look. Which leaves only the hair: blond. It is rare indeed for Teen Mom to have hair that has not been colored very, very blond; on this style point, her clan's consistency is truly stunning. Think Amy Poehler as the dizzy, clueless teen queen mom in Mean Girls—a character intended as a Teen Mom parody. Yet, aside from one movie moment where a lap dog nibbles her presumably artificial nipples without her noticing, the character seems less an exaggeration than an absolutely spot-on tribute. Her straw-blond helmet, velour tracksuit, concrete tits—they're all here, in Orange County. But are her real-life counterparts in on the joke? Or do their Roxy tees somehow imbue Teen Moms with rock-star confidence or the fashion frisson moment of This is my destiny outfit?
It's not as if Teen Moms are physically ill-suited for their assumed wardrobes. Thanks to spectacular amounts of leisure time spent on workouts, grooming and ignoring food, Teen Moms are usually rail-thin, with cut and refined prison bodies. It can be incongruous: as I discovered yesterday in the line at Starbucks, the bird in front of me with the legs and ass packed into the awesome jeans, the teeny hoodie, the bleached-out beach hair, and the Quiksilver ball cap was not, in fact, in her senior year. Her voice, which I heard when she ordered her skim-decaf-whatever, belied her youthful outfit. But her face, which I saw when she migrated to the drink pickup counter, was ravaged by sun and age: deep lines cut across her cheeks and neck, screaming to be filled in by five extra pounds of middle-aged softness.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
* * *
Every generation of teen girl finds new ways to piss off her keepers—bralessness, ratted hair, Madonna gloves, genital warts, Dr. Martens—but generational payback doesn't work if Mom embraces your tight jeans and cropped tops. Your only remaining option is to outdo her, and today's teenage girl knows how, thanks to the likes of Mischa, Lindsay, Mary-Kate and Paris—especially Paris—celebrities who are actively sexual and look it, and are scarcely out of their teens. So she gets pedicures, carries purses, and aspires to heels and Ace bandage-length skirts—starting at an age when "style" should probably be more about what clothes are best for playing soccer.
Tina Fey's Mean Girlscharacter, the teacher, solved the problem for us two years ago: "You've got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores," she said in the film—in one of the most trenchant exchanges I heard that year. And everyone learned a valuable lesson, in less than two hours—but in real life, we're stuck with the teen queen Reginas and their psuedo-hooker wear. They're not going anywhere.
Thanks, Teen Mom!