Carleen Houldsworth will be walking tall in the halls of Regina’s Thom Collegiate next week. With three-inch platform shoes, a bright ribbed shirt, brown leather vest, bell-bottom pants and four gold rings on her fingers, the five-foot, seven-inch student has enough image ammunition to take on Grade 12. She is a confirmed fan of “retro-chic”—also known as Houser style, after a type of dance music—fashions that revive fads from the late 1960s and early 1970s. But she admits that it can be hard to pull off the latest look in Regina. “Fashions always come later here,” sighs Houldsworth, 17, who recently joined three friends in an eight-hour trek to Calgary for a shopping spree. ‘Toronto ends up looking more modem.” Most of the year, she spends at least half of her McDonald’s earnings—about $300 per month— on clothes, but that percentage jumps in the pressurized mn-up to school. “Everyone,” says Houldsworth,
“wants to come back with a fresh look.”
For Canadian teens of means, rifling through racks for cool clothing is part of the annual ritual of returning to classes. This year, the back-toschool selection ranges from color-co-ordinated hip hop gear to frilly frocks and shirts that harken back to the days of Edwardian dandies.
Although T-shirts and jeans retain some status as fashion staples, it is the wackier wear that sends many students into stores. They reach for crochet vests, lime-green stacked running shoes and orange crushed-velvet dresses and jackets.
Let parents preach about timeless classics. Kids want clothes that are truly different—designed to become obsolete within a season or two. In many cases the clothing matches musical tastes: reggae fans wear the bright colors and caps of Jamaica, while those favoring gmnge rock sport ski tuques and plaid shirts. What is similar, though, is the price: students can easily drop hundreds of dollars to put together a single outfit. “A lot of details go into each look,” says Louise Tupper, who oversees six outlets of LA Express and Suzy Shier in Nova Scotia. “If you want everything, it can start to add up.”
It can also raise nagging questions about priorities.
While some students hold part-time jobs to help their financially strapped families, others earn discretionary income to keep up with the latest clothes—working long hours that some educators say would be better spent on studies. Parents and teachers also grimace at the more rebellious fashions: black leather, tom denim and T-shirts bearing obscene messages. “Anyone who shows up in a Tshirt that’s suggestive or inappropriate is sent home,” says Dan Boyer, who runs student activities at LaSalle Catholic Comprehensive High School in suburban Montreal. “The time they spend changing is made up in detention.” But while educators allow that certain looks can send a negative message, they insist that fashion reflects a deeper problem.
“Fashion can be the ticket into a certain group,” says Gary Littie, principal of Vancouver’s Sir Charles Tupper Secondary MTT . School, “and some groups hold up mediocrity as the norm.”
BUILDING A HOUSER STYLE
Short Twiggy cut or long and straight; often dyed.
For that pouty bee-stung look.
Striped, ribbed, lace-up. Think sexy yet wholesome; watch reruns of The Brady Bunch for guidance. Leave shirt untucked, unless you have a groovy belt.
You can never have too many.
Preferably vintage and as loud as possible.
Designed to be unflattering on adults.
Must be at least three inches high, preferably higher.
To many students, of course, such debates seem about as relevant as inkwells. Clothes count—the barrage of glitzy advertising says so, and so does their parents’ own preoccupation with appearances. The only question is what to buy—and the answer may differ from region to region. “Quebec is quite different,” says Julie Girard, The Bay’s national buyer for girls 7 to 14. “They’re willing to pay higher prices for more quality and a more European look. On the West Coast, denim is very strong; they like a casual look out there. In Toronto and the rest of the country, they’ll buy anything.”
Geography, however, is far less a factor than music in determining the galaxy of teen styles that many adults find so mystifying. Hip hop fans, who often listen to rap music, sport oversized baggy pants ($30-$50), matching football or basketball shirts ($35), baseball caps ($10-$30), high-cut running shoes with the laces often untied ($100-$200) and leather knapsacks ($60-$120). ‘You never use canvas bags,” says Marcus Heron, 18, who is entering Grade 12 at Bramalea Secondary School in Bramalea, Ont. “And if you don’t wear baggy clothes, you’re not hip hop.” There is also the Roots look, whose fans may listen to rap music but generally prefer reggae or funky dance tunes. In addition to bright-colored and often tight clothing, the Roots style features a lot of fake gold jewelry and flashy accessories.
In contrast, grunge dressers prefer the waif-like look of puton poverty—which can cost a bundle to achieve. With shapeless print dresses ($45-$75), torn jeans ($25-$50), faded denim vests ($30-$40) and plaid shirts ($45), such teens mimic styles of underground bands like Seattle-sprung Nirvana. To the untrained eye, grunge fans can look almost identical to certain retro-dressers—the kind who wear vintage clothes or Birkenstock sandals ($80-$110) and may be found at concerts of the 1960s band, the Grateful Dead. That, in turn, should not be confused with the look of the Housers, who, when not stepping back into early 1970s gear, often wear $40 silk shirts and $90 blazers. “We look more dressy,” says Patrick Nguyen, 17, a Grade 12 student at Toronto’s Central Technical School.
“It’s not even close to grunge.”
In any look, footwear can take a big bite out of teen budgets. Well-heeled young shoppers can spend $120 to $200 on cowboy boots, Dr. Martens leather lace-ups or assorted brands of high-tech running shoes—including ones with soles that light up when you walk. Of course, faced with limited funds, many students simply buy the basics—in shoes and everything else.
For between $25 and $60 an item, they can purchase striped tops, plaid shirts and colored denim jeans that are both trendy and relatively affordable. And many seem relieved to avoid even that much clothes-consciousness. Michele Sarta, 16, who is about to enter Grade 11 at Pope John Paul II Secondary School in Scarborough, Ont., says that attending a school where students must wear a uniform “takes away some of the pressure.” But even then, she adds, “you can pla; around with jewelry or shoes.” In an age of fashion statements, the re sourceful teen is hard to silence.
Shaved at sides and twisted on top, or completely shaved like Michael Jordan’s.
HIP HOP STEP-BY-STEP
Baggy with a sports-related logo on front. Only wear hood at night or at parties.
Basketball or football crests. Usually not baseball and especially not Blue Jays-the colors are uncool.
Critical accessory. Buy leather, keep empty and carry around all day.
African colors, left undone.
BOXER SHORTS, JOGGING MM IS: Wear underneath for effect and extra padding to keep the pants up.
Several times too big for your body.
High-cut, expensive and kept looking as new as possible.
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