STRANGE as it may seem, I used to be a dedicated follower of fashion.
It was a long time ago now. I have two wardrobes in my house. One contains the kinds of shirts, ties and trousers you’d wear for an office job, all gathering dust at the moment. The other is where the 1980s went to die.
But one item from that decade for which I retain a great fondness are a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses.
I was first impressed by them when I saw Tom Cruise wearing a pair of the more expensive Ray-Ban Clubmaster shades in the film Rain Man. Mine were cheaper but bore a certain resemblance to his.
I remember that trip to the cinema very well. I was 17 and had taken this girl who, I suspected, was a bit too posh for me.
It was our first date and turned out to be our last. Every time I phoned her afterwards she was in the bath. I couldn’t figure out why she seemed to need so many.
But my attraction to Ray-Ban sunglasses did develop into a long-term relationship. It’s been going especially strong for the last few months and I expect it to last.
Temperatures may be dropping and nights elongating – but there’s still enough bright sunshine around for sunglasses to be necessary. So I don’t leave home without them.
It soon became clear that I wasn’t the only guy won over by Tom Cruise’s shades. They seemed to appear everywhere. In the same era, boxer shorts took over from Y-fronts. Everyone who was watching TV in those days will remember the ad for Levi 501s starring Nick Kamen.
He enters a laundrette, takes off his T-shirt and Levis – to raised eyebrows and scandalised sniggers – and sits there as they wash, wearing only his white boxers.
I always wondered what happened to his white T-shirt. If it was in the same load as his jeans, wasn’t it bound to turn a shade of blue? Others wondered where they could get a pair of boxers like his. Sales of Levis and white boxers both soared as a result. Nor was the impact confined to men. Among the countless media reports about Kate Middleton was one claiming she’d had a picture of Prince William on her wall in her teens. But a friend from the time denied it and said her only teenage poster was of Nick Kamen.
It can take only a little exposure for fashions to spread swiftly around the world.
Take the “Rachel” haircut. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I remember a lot of girls and women who used to sport perms.
Then in an April 1995 episode of Friends, Jennifer Aniston’s character Rachel Green first appeared with long, straight locks. And 11 million British women admitted trying to copy her hairdo.
Hair-straighteners became common, and dangerous. I burnt my fingers badly after picking one up, wondering what it was.
Could fashion trends have a greater significance? The American economist George Taylor thought so.
In 1926 he put forward a theory called “the hemline index”.
He suggested that the strength of an economy was reflected in the length of women’s dresses – and specifically that hemlines rose along with stock prices.
In good times such as the “roaring 20s” shorter skirts were in vogue. But after the Wall Street Crash and the subsequent global depression they lengthened again, almost overnight.
Miniskirts were popular in the “greed is good” years of the 1980s, but went out of fashion after the stock market crash of 1987. The thinking is that periods of economic growth lead to new ventures in other areas, such as entertainment and fashion. But when times get tougher everyone plays it safer.
There may be something in it, but it wouldn’t be the most sure-fire indicator of how to invest your life’s savings. We see fashions in language too, of course. Two of my personal linguistic pet hates are the phrases “fit for purpose” and “going forward”. People hear these, think they sound clever or sophisticated and copy them – and so they spread like wildfire. Trying to eradicate them would be as difficult as trying to extinguish the actual wildfires in western America.
We’re all influenced by other people’s fashion choices. It’s inevitable and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Wear boxers if you’re more comfortable in them. Sunglasses are an eminently practical safety measure, particularly if you’re driving in this weather.
Their slightly hostile anonymity can make anyone look cool, even my dad.