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‘80s fashion (02/29/2012)
By Frances Edstrom

Have you ever made a serious fashion mistake? Buying a Nehru jacket, or a Rudi Gernreich monokini (remember the topless swimsuit — for women?) absolutely counts as a fashion mistake. Most of us make lesser mistakes, but mistakes nonetheless. Oh, say, lime green stretch pants, a sweatshirt that says in big letters on the front, “I’m with Stupid,” you know the sort of thing. Those mistakes sit in our closets until we get rid of them in a fit of cleaning madness.

But have you ever made a serious fashion mistake that you subsequently gave to the Winona County Historical Society and that is now going to be featured in an exhibit?

I have.

The 1980s was one of my favorite decades. I had no wrinkles, no gray hair, no aches, no pains, three kids, a husband, a house, the first new car of my life, and big shoulder pads. I had lots of really big shoulder pads. I had shoulder pads in dresses, jackets, sweaters, coats. I think I might even have put shoulder pads in t-shirts and nightgowns.

Dynasty was on TV, and although I never got into it, I really got into the fashions. I loved the way Linda Evans looked in her shoulder pads, so I became the Linda Evans of my block in Winona. Most clothes came with shoulder pads in them, but you could buy foam rubber shoulder pads to wear under clothes with no shoulder pads, or with shoulder pads that were deemed inadequate. They just sat on your shoulders, looking like little football pads, ready to transform you into a Dynasty star.

Big shoulder pads, I thought, minimized the size of my derriere. But in order to keep that derriere within the bounds of acceptable, I and all my friends took aerobics classes. That was an opportunity to make a fashion statement, as well. Our teacher, Linda Lowther, was also a great seamstress, and sold us leotards in crazy patterns (some in a cool thong design) which we wore with matching tights and coordinating leg warmers.

With those big shoulder pads, you had to have big hair, or you looked like a pinhead. Big, big hair. I never could muster the Dolly Parton-Morgan Fairchild-Farrah Fawcett hair, but mine was pretty big, and curly. The shoes were important, too. If you had enormous shoulders, you couldn’t be short, or they’d mistake you for a coffee table. You had to wear spikes, little skinny spike heels with pointy toes, and they had to coordinate with your outfit. Definitely. For “chillin’” you could wear your Doc Martens, accompanied by tight jeans with maybe a zipper or two running up the legs.

Now, to the point. When my daughters returned from college and were speaking to me again, they made it clear that my closet was harboring more 1980s stuff than was appropriate for a woman of my age (and closet size). They dragged me kicking and screaming into the late ‘90s and then into the new millennium. They finally convinced me to purge the closet, but I just couldn’t part with some of my favorites, so they said it was okay to give some of the more “representative” stuff to the Historical Society.

I bravely filled my back seat and trunk with the clothes. I called Jodi Brom at the WCHS and asked if they accepted such things. She hesitated, but said she’d take a look. They were short on storage space, she said, by way of hinting that the stuff better be pretty special for them to give it a home. When I opened the trunk in front of the museum, she looked in and said, “Wow!” I knew I had her hooked. She took everything ‘80s off my hands, and promised I could visit it now and then.

I thought the next time someone else would see my ‘80s wardrobe would be after I was dead. But no such luck. In their fashion exhibit — “Instruments of Fashion” — which runs from March 1 through April 22, lucky visitors will see perhaps the biggest fashion mistake of my life. It combines all the best (worst?) of ‘80s fashion — big shoulder pads, formless body, garish neon colors, freeform and geometric patterns — into one absurd jacket. When I went to visit it on Tuesday, I thought to myself, “What was I thinking?”

I remember the jacket, but also remember not wearing it very often. I always go for bright colors, when I actually look better in beige and taupe, so the jacket didn’t fit my wardrobe very well. I probably wore it with a pair of black stretch pants with stirrups (oh, shiver!)

The fashion exhibit also features a program, “Fashion Trends of the Mid to Late 19th Century” on March 8 at 7 p.m. with Vickie Wendel at the History Center. She will trace the impact society, politics and etiquette had on what we wore, sponsored by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.  

I’m glad she’s not getting into the twentieth century, or she’d say, “Now here is an example of the 1980s, which were already pretty tacky, taken to the extreme…” 


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