The End Of Sex?
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Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Barbary Coast
(Apologies if this has already been posted, I didn't see it...)
What Stylish Young Women Are Wearing: More
By RUTH LA FERLA
Published: June 8, 2004
Her prom was fast approaching, and Alexandra Ruddy, a senior at Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles, was in a quandary about what to wear. She wavered briefly between two dresses, one a sexy, low-cut number, the other more demure, an ivory gown with a boat neckline and sweet cap sleeves. "I chose that one," Ms. Ruddy said. "It was more classy, I thought."
As she spoke on the phone, a hoot of laughter erupted in the background. "That's my mom," Ms. Ruddy offered. "She is saying that `classy' is a new word for a 17-year-old girl to use."
Maybe, but in recent months that is just the term that has been entering the vocabulary of American teenagers and college-age women to describe a shift in how they dress: exposing less skin; ditching the micro-minis, cropped tops and thong-baring jeans of previous summers. In the streets and in stores like the Limited and Quiksilver, these items are being replaced by demure knee-length skirts, high-waisted jeans, layered T-shirts and flat shoes, all paraded as a badge of hip.
A possible shift from strident sexuality to a more decorous look is also reflected in young women's choice of role models. Some who a year ago looked up to sultry stars like Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera have transferred their allegiance to sweet-faced new personalities, including Mischa Barton, who wears pert headbands and flat shoes on the television hit "The O.C."; Fantasia Barrino, the "American Idol" winner, who favors conservative trouser suits and sundresses; and the 17-year-old twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who are inclined to virginal calf-length dresses and buttoned-up jackets.
The devotion of teenagers to these celebrities sends a signal that "they want to be feminine and ladylike more than they want to be trashy and sexy," said Jane Rinzler Buckingham, the president of Youth Intelligence, a New York consulting company, which sends reports to clients like Levi's and L'Oréal based on surveys of teenagers in the street and via random telephone interviews.
Her latest report, to be mailed in August, indicates that "we are finding that there are signs of more covering up" by teenage girls, Ms. Buckingham said. "Right now, for many of them, sexy feels too vulnerable, too over-the-top, too cheesy."
Tina Wells, a partner in Blue Fusion, another youth-trend consulting company, notes the current teenage taste for knee-length skirts and dainty camisoles worn under denim jackets and seersucker blazers as evidence of a shift in the wind. Of 200 young women 14 to 18 polled by Blue Fusion last month, many said they had relegated risqué clothes to the back of their closets in favor of more modest looks.
Some trendspotters think a backlash may have set in after episodes like Janet Jackson baring a breast at the Super Bowl and the Paris Hilton sex tape wars. "Girls find them gross," Ms. Wells said of the incidents. "In a lot of ways, they feel that these things are being pushed down their throats, and there are some things that they would just rather not know."
Retailers are beginning to respond. Express, the mass-market chain, now caters to career-minded young women. "We've changed a lot of our merchandising and buying so it's not about little skimpy tops anymore," said Pam Seidman, a spokeswoman for the company. At Express, high-waisted jeans, blazers and T-shirts meant to be layered, covering the midriff, are outperforming last year's more abbreviated styles, Ms. Seidman said. "I think there is a certain femininity our customers crave," she added. "If they don't find it with us, they will move on."
Ed Burstell, the general manager of Henri Bendel, agreed that revealing fashions are "just done."
"I think things have reached a saturation point," Mr. Burstell said. Bendel's customers, many in their early 20's, are now purchasing jackets, a departure from last year. A more refined mood extends to accessories, too. "Last year, we were seeing belly chains," he said. "Who now would be caught dead in that?"
Teenage girls are likely to take their style cues from magazines like Seventeen and Teen Vogue, which are promoting a more discreet look.
Robyn Duda, 22, an events coordinator in New York, said her contemporaries are now more conservative. "But some of this is just fashion," she said. "Whatever is in the magazines, that's what we're going to wear. If the magazines are showing skin, we're wearing skin. If it's a jeans jacket with the collar up, that what we're wearing."
The concern with propriety suggests an effort by many of her peers to distance themselves from younger girls, for whom Malibu Barbie remains the last word in chic. "When you're seeing a 10-year-old with a belly ring, it's just not that cool anymore," Ms. Buckingham said.
In a post-Janet Jackson world, it seems, fewer women would wittingly risk the kind of scorn heaped on Alexandra Kerry, the daughter of John Kerry, when she wore a sheer dress to a screening at Cannes last month. "It could be that girls are trying to distance themselves from those bad media images," said Lyn Mikel Brown, an associate professor of women's gender and sexuality studies at Colby College in Maine.
Consider Melanie Lopez. On a class trip to Manhattan last week with her senior class from Carthage High School in upstate New York, Ms. Lopez, 18, wore a chiffon blouse that veiled her camisole and waistline. "We're getting a message, even in the media, that celebrities are being looked down upon for the way they dress," she said, "so a lot of us don't want to look like them. We're creating a style that's more unique."
Some, like Edwina Faulk, who strolled in Times Square last Friday afternoon dressed in a crisp fitted blouse that grazed the top of her hips, are using fashion to register their discomfort with the status quo. "Last year, a lot of women were wearing a lot of skimpy things because they have the body, they're going to wear it," said Ms. Faulk, who is 20. "But I don't like showing my body in something that's provocative."
Kristina Valencia, 19, a sales associate at the Quiksilver store on West 42nd Street, has likewise shied away from an overtly sexy look. "A year ago, my shirt might actually have been up to here," Ms. Valencia said, cupping one hand just below her bosom. But on Friday she wore an elongated, midriff-concealing camouflage shirt, the uniform of the store's sales staff. Over this she had pulled an even longer white T-shirt that veiled her belly. "I'm just more secure covered up," she said. Quiksilver, she added, has stocked up on longer T-shirts that cover the midsection. And en route to the Times Square store are jeans with a higher waistline, Ms. Valencia said.
Ms. Ruddy, the Harvard-Westlake senior, would certainly qualify as one of the chain's target customers. She said she has abandoned her skin-baring tank tops, relics of the days when she revered Britney Spears. "That look called for a lot more pulling down at your shirt and tugging at your pants," she said. "All that makes you really uncomfortable."
Some experts expect the trend to gather momentum, based on the age-old susceptibility of teenagers to peer pressure. Last month, Ms. Wells, the trend consultant, attended a prom at Winslow Township high school in Atco, N.J., as part of her research. "All the girls were parading around in their outfits," she recalled. "It was so interesting watching the popular girls stick up their noses at the girls who were showing too much skin."
One girl whose dress was slashed at the sides to expose a tattoo on her hipbone stopped the in crowd in its tracks, Ms. Wells said. "Two years ago, the other girls would have told themselves, she's being cool, like Britney Spears." Now, she added in a mock teenage drone, "It's like, Oh, my God, who would wear that?"
after all, it was you and me
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