On Saturday, I threw my daughter and two of her teenage friends into the back of our Honda CR-V and drove them UpIsland for some thrift shopping. The kids these days are reviving millennial fashion, which means droopy cargo pants that sag — revealing the waistband of borrowed-from-the-boys boxer shorts — and puddle on the floor, swallowing whole their puffy white sneakers.
I’m glad the girls are finally getting into thrifting, relieved my daughter has stopped asking me to buy her sweatshop fast fashion — a.k.a., tawdry junk — from the Chinese discount-clothing websites like Shein and AliExpress. (I’m also glad she has drawn the line at puffy white grandpa sneakers. Nobody in this household needs to wear marshmallow-shape New Balances, even if the cool surfer girls of Amagansett have boldly gone that route.)
Most wanted at Island Thrift in Medford and Savers in Holbrook on Saturday were jeans with the ultra-low rise that Alexander McQueen dubbed “bumsters” when they came around the first time in 1995, specifically, “distressed” jeans with embellishments — signature embroidery, a filagree of beading — on the rear pockets. Millennial fashion was all about embellishments and filagrees. Believe me, I know: I was a senior editor in the fashion mines at Vogue all during the gilded age of logos, labels, gold-initial doodads, and dangling keychain-and-charm “customizations.” The girls ran around, pumped up on iced chai lattes, exclaiming with delight (“Sick! These are so sick!”) when they found a pair of jeans that would reveal the top of the butt crack when they bent down. “These were worn by people who had a ‘tramp stamp,’ “ said Nettie, who is 14, proudly demonstrating her knack for the languages of antiquity.
They heaped their chinos and denim into a shopping cart and raced through the racks. Trying to keep up, I maintained a running commentary about ye olde fashion lingo of the late-20th century — “Whiskers,” I said, were the lines of fading radiating from the crotch on distressed jeans. “Kick flares” were jeans that were tight over the thighs and knees but then belled out just over the ankle — but they had little interest in a history lesson.
The secondhand clothing in these massive resale shops is bought in bales, I believe, purchased from the charity organizations that collect donated clothing in those massive green-metal bins you see in parking lots behind the bank or grocery store. Being officially old and not even of this century, I was disappointed to see how recent the vintage was on almost all the clothes in Savers and Island Thrift. When I was a teenager in the 1980s, and well up into the 1990s, you could count on scoring true vintage from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s when you went thrifting. Granny and granddad wardrobe treasures were what you sought. More than once, in my youth, I brought home from the Bargain Box or the Riverhead Salvation Army a nipped-waist tweed jacket from the 1950s, or sick 1960s red rain slicker, and found a used Kleenex stuffed into the pocket by the old lady who had worn it last. At Savers and Island Thrift, the acreage of endless hoodies and tees all seemed to date to the last 10 or 15 years. Older-sibling castoffs from Land’s End and the Gap, not grandma castoffs. Vintage is dead.
Indeed, the cycle of fashion ground to a halt in the late 1990s, I.M.H.O. (as we cringey, out-of-style moms still like to say). The clothes you find in Savers or Island Thrift could be worn today without being recognized as old or looking at all odd. Fashion has ended. If you don’t know what I mean, imagine a 1920s flapper revealing her rouged knees in a shapeless and corset-less gamine Chanel chemise as she turned up to a time-traveling garden party in 1900. Someone would have called for a doctor! Or, imagine a 1977 punk rocker with a green mohawk and bondage pants from the Sex boutique turning up for class at East Hampton High School in the year 1967. Arrests would have been made! But dress a carful of teenage girls in secondhand kit from Savers and Island Thrift, and her classmates can’t even tell that her outfit wasn’t manufactured yesterday.
I have theories about why fashion ended with the last millennium, and have bored my friends on this topic for decades, but I’ll spare you, reader.
After Greek salads at the Metropolis Diner on Route 112, on the ride home, I tried to tell the girls about my New Year’s Eve, the night the 1990s ended and the new millennium began. It was spent in London at a very inebriated dinner party thrown by a friend of a friend — a trendsetting style-zine writer specializing in vintage 1970s glam-rock fashion — who lived near the Thames, close to the London Eye ferris wheel. We had dinner and then, as midnight and the new century drew close, stumbled down the stairs to watch boozily from the bank for the pyrotechnic “river of fire” that was supposed to roll up from Tower Bridge to Vauxhall at a speed of 775 miles per hour. But there was no River of Fire. The fireworks were sent up by the barges, but fizzled out in the fog, a series of sad white puffs and flashes. What a bunch of dolts we were, I tried to tell the girls, dancing on the brink.