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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Licentiate Column 03/03/11 - Teenagers

A good column topic is not easy to come by. Sometimes, it's a trend that gets disseminated. Sometimes, it's a 'how to wear' column. Sometimes, it's a mick-taking, joke-making, stick-shaking diatribe. This week, it's all of the above.

For the past few days, I've been thinking about teenagers. Not in a pervy way, of course (exception given to the male cast of Skins) but in a social anthropology kind-of-a-way. I almost want to go down to the park and study their movements, but I won't, because I could end up on some kind of register.

Being a teenager is a big deal. It's a slow moving behemoth that forms who you are through a careful blend of peer pressure, family tensions, hormones, exam stress and many a wardrobe faux-pas. It's a huge experience at the time, but it gets much smaller the further away you move from it. I'm twenty three and my goth years seem like a distant memory speck on the horizon.

For many adults, teens are unknowable, mysterious, elusive beings. Sublimely self-absorbed, aesthetically preoccupied, tumbling headlong into the ownership of their own lives and almost suicidally hellbent on self discovery; it almost seems like fun. Or it would be, if that view wasn't inaccurate, and highly patronising to boot.

While teen life isn't exactly an episode of a certain E4 youth drama, there is one thing that teens do like no adult, and that is express themselves through their clothes. Through youth culture, the fashion world has discovered and co-opted bobby soxers, teddy boys, beatniks, mods, rockers, hippies, preppies, punks, grungeheads, goths and emos, a fraction of a percent of the countless teen clans that have popped up over the past half a century. In truth, all adults want to dress like teenagers.

I saw two girls this week that were perfect specimens of such self expression. The first I saw out shopping with her friends. She was wearing a multicoloured, dizzily patterned, zip-up sweatshirt, a plaid shirt, a pair of black sequinned leggings and the most perfect battered Converse, accessorised with a wavy mane of hair that covered most of her face. She look awkward, but superbly confident. The other I saw trying to sneak into a nightclub with her friends. Her outfit was nothing special, but strapped to her feet were the most fabulous pair of clunky crimson wedges, wrapped with chiffon ribbon. She looked like she had strapped breezeblocks to her feet. She went where few grown women would dare. She looked great.

There's a lot that we can learn from teenagers, not least in how they dress. Here's a refresher course.

1) Throw your style prescription out the window and try new things. Remember, it's about the journey, not the destination.

2) If you're not sure about an outfit, try it on anyway. Some fashion disasters can make beautiful mistakes.

3) Don't be afraid to clash. Your clothes, that is. If you're out of your teens, you should probably avoid clashing with your parents.

3) You can be an individual but still be part of a group. One source of motivation behind youth subcultures is the desire to stand out but also fit in - to assert one's individuality, but be part of a movement. So don't worry that your choices might isolate you; after all, the world is far too small for you to be the only one dressed like that.

Anyway, teenagers have probably been dressing like that well before you thought of it.