"You can start a new style!" These words from my mother always foretold certain humiliation. She would utter them (with forced cheeriness) only after doing something irreparable to my hair or coming up with uncool clothing for me to wear to school. Clearly no new style was going to rise up from such fashion ashes as those.
But I guess one bad haircut came close. Mother hadn't taken into account the fact that the human head is not perfectly symmetrical, and she used the height of my ears to determine the length of my hair. Then, when she looked at me face-on, one side appeared longer. So she shortened it, making the other side longer by the ear-scale measure. So she shortened that side, going back and forth in this manner until little remained to shorten. That's how I got what may have been the first "punk" haircut - a couple of decades before any other kid had one.
In my teens I took charge of my own bad haircuts, but I still had style-starting clothes to deal with. One dress sported 44 buttons, placed so close together that most of them had to be unbuttoned for me to get into or out of the dress. Despite the directive, it did not start a new style.
And the light-blue canvas shift with the big zipper didn't start a new style, either, although it did create something of an incident. The inch-wide zipper ran the full length of the front of the dress and had a thick metal loop, more than two inches across, attached to the pull. One day a young man, assuming the zipper to be decorative, playfully grabbed the loop and yanked downward, yelling, "Ripcord!"
The zipper responded, opening the dress nearly to the waist. Fortunately, women's undergarments were many and substantial in those days, and I emerged with minimal embarrassment. Not sure I could say the same for him, though.
When the textile industry bounded into the world of synthetics, it opened new frontiers. No longer constrained by the limits of nature, my mother could have me start new styles in previously unheard-of ways. One particular dress epitomizes this epoch.
It was a long-sleeved belted shift, reasonably attractive except for the fabric - a simulated fur with "hair" more than a quarter-inch long, colored electric blue.
Mother insisted that I wear it to school and, of course, start a new style. "You never can tell...." she insisted.
All day long I got comments, questions, stares, and double-takes - and they weren't the kind of double-takes a 16-year-old girl desires.
In algebra class I settled into my assigned seat, thoroughly weary of fuzzy-dress jokes. Across the aisle, my friends Iris and Opal unabashedly scrutinized the dress. Iris feigned horror. "They've killed Babe the blue ox!" she wailed.
Opal gave Iris a comforting pat on the arm. "That's not Babe," she assured her. "It's too shaggy to be an ox."
Amid more merry speculation about what kind of critter the electric-blue fur had come from, Opal reached across the aisle and rubbed the hem of the skirt between her thumb and forefinger, commenting on what a thin hide the poor thing must have had.
Then she appeared to take a serious interest in the fabric, and I was glad to move beyond the animal-skin jokes. She turned the hem up to inspect the other side of the material. That's where she discovered a small, round burn-hole, a fabric flaw that my mother apparently had hidden in the hem.
Iris leaned in for a closer look. "What's that?"
"I don't know," I confessed.
The bell rang, and the room began to quiet down as we prepared to turn our attention to things algebraic. But Opal continued to ponder the origin of the little round hole until her moment of insight arrived. Just as the class became pin-drop silent, she stage-whispered, "I'll bet that's where they shot it!"
The blue-fur dress started, not a new style, but a minor classroom disruption. And I never wore it again.
People who know me today might marvel that I once placed such importance on the "cool" factor of clothing, because now I tend to wear whatever is handy and comfortable. I have clothes that are older than some of my friends. And if my outfits are on the uncool side? Well, you never can tell....
Maybe, at long last, I'll start a new style!