My boyfriend keeps insisting that the ’80s are over and the ’90s are on their way back. My heart leaps when he says this — I fear it means stone-washed jeans, neon colors, high waists and scrunchies, for I remember well the eyesores with which I had to fill my Barbies’ closets with. But the ’90s comeback he’s predicting is that of counter culture — the (much ignored by me) arena of male fashion: grunge.
I shake my head. “Too recent.”
“It’s been 12, 16 years.”
He’s right, but I am not yet ready for the return of fashions I can remember. My lack of MTV before 1993 was a nice buffer for me until now.
Long hair. Ripped jeans. Flannel. Plaid. A general appearance of greasiness which fails to denote destitution or homelessness only by the general youth, health and coolness of those sporting the look. Just when I was beginning to believe the designer hype about the return of tight jeans to the wardrobe of the mainstream male, the hipsters decide to loosen up.
Indeed, as I started to scan crowds, I found a profusion of plaid shirts and long hair, big pants and careless T-shirts among the male population. Maybe not always together on the same person, but it’s only a matter of time before the long-hair boys and the ripped-plaid oversized shirt boys converge.
It’s interesting to me that grunge was at its height during the first Gulf War. More interesting to me is the amount of military-esque gear prevalent on this campus, where anti-war sentiment has notoriously reigned. Long, officer-style navy blue, black and green coats adorn male and female Obies across campus. Army green purses, camouflage backpacks and canvas messenger bags are slung on many an Oberlin shoulder. Aviator-style jackets and leather bombers are abundant with the recent warm weather, and combat boots of all brands and calf-lengths are as common as snow.
Both the militarized and the neo-grunge looks are distinctly masculine in their incarnations, even when sported by women. While one projects irony and the other projects apathy, they both seem to scream out an “I’m tough” vibe, or at the very least, “I’m an English/politics/art history major who’s totally up on gender politics but I’m tough, believe me.”
I can’t help finding these contrived incarnations of Oberlin masculinity both hilarious and charming. I know that I shouldn’t pick on the boys, especially when so much of what I wear is completely ridiculous (a billowing black coat with some dead white animal on the collar whose original form I cannot fathom, snow boots in the rain, fake glasses, and a quirky by all appearances hand-knit hat that I actually paid for at a store I loath) but I can’t help it. The trends of those other than ourselves always seem to be more absurd than our own.
So: long hair, plaid, coats for the trenches. I’m not sure what it all
means, but grunge your hearts out and stop those steel-toes, Oberlin boys.
It’s pretty entertaining.