From the Swingin’ Sixties to the Grungy Nineties and Beyond: a Look at the Fashion in So Long, Bobby
I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fashionista. My wardrobe has remained largely the same since I was in high school in the mid-nineties (like Ella Newton) – I still wear my tried-and-true Chucks, of which I own pairs in pretty much every color, and I still have my old Airwalks, too, the soles painted with long-ago glitter (still got my Doc Martens, Vans, and Mary Janes, too. I’m a shoe hoarder). Even now, I’m most comfortable in a flannel and a band tee, with ripped jeans and my socks the only spot of color in my all-black ensemble. Aside from the occasional hoodie-and-legging combo, I dress exactly like I did at seventeen, and I’m not mad about it.
There is one key article of clothing from my high school days that I no longer wear, though, one that was key to my identity at the time: my military jacket. My grandfather, being a Navy man, wore green camo jackets all throughout the winter, which he obtained at the local surplus store, and sometimes he would pass one along to me. It was my every-day uniform in the halls of Jackson County Comprehensive High School: ripped, flared jeans or corduroys, tiny tee or band t-shirt, my favorite pair of Doc Martens with the flames across the side, and my beat up green military jacket. My favorite teacher, Mr. Richier, who is a Vietnam veteran, used to tease me about it. Like most oblivious teens, I didn’t see the irony of showing up to class to hear him talk about his wartime experiences while wearing some soldier’s castoff jacket. That jacket was my uniform, part of my identity, my security blanket.
I still have the jacket, but it doesn’t look very good on me. I kid myself that it did then, but I have my doubts.
The nineties were a killer time for fashion. Some might argue, but I believe it. Because everything was so casual, so laid-back, often thrifted or handed down, oversized, distressed and low-key, it made it easy to customize. Babydoll dress over a t-shirt? Fine. Tight sweater with JNCOs? Also fine. Choker and velveteen turtleneck with plaid cigarette pants? All with the baggiest, holiest flannel thrown over the top? Sure, why not? Everybody had their own style and aesthetic, and it was easy to fit in no matter whether or not you were too poor to shop at the mall, or if you had a strict parent who wouldn’t buy from the Delia*s catalog.
Ah, Delia*s. Was there a single girl my age who didn’t covet every single thing in that catalog? I’ll never forget the Christmas that I got the slate blue corduroy coat with the fleece-lined collar that I’d been coveting. It made me feel like a female Eddie Vedder in the best possible way.
That same year, I also got the brown sweater with the orange and mustard stripes that soon became synonymous with the nineties (I’m pretty sure the dude from Eve 6, or maybe it was the Toadies or Weezer made that thing famous in a music video). After moving overseas, when I came back, only one of my beloved Delia*s shirts remained, a hideous three-quarters-sleeve grape-colored monstrosity with teal stripes that I hated, but I hung onto that sucker until at least 2013 because it was from Delia*s.
Another part of my style: vintage. Now, I was a poor teenager, so I didn’t have the good stuff – no name brands or anything, no labels, but I knew how to snag a flea market find, and I had a number of cool things from the sixties and seventies. My favorite were my mom’s old band tees, but I also loved the Mary Quant look: bobbed hair, big eyes rimmed in black with impossibly long eyelashes, a pale mouth and an A-line dress in the funkiest cover imaginable. I even had a Mary Quant makeup book that I poured over in front of my little light-up mirror with the different filters (the nineties’ girl’s answer to Instagram).
After my grandma passed, I inherited her collection of perfumes, things she’d meticulously kept, though no longer wearable, from the sixties. Avon, anyone?
I loved how women in the sixties were as flamboyant or as understated as they wished to be; how they weren’t afraid of patterns, of plaid, of color, and how one’s outfit could be incredibly masculine one day and hyper-feminine the next. How the dresses were gauzy with movement and often had pockets! Paired with a thick pair of tights and some thigh-high black boots…forget about it. And P.S. – I’m wearing my grandma’s 1960s velveteen coat in the back cover photo of my book!
When I started writing So Long, Bobby I wanted to describe the clothes that Bobbi, Ella and Kasey wear, to not only give the reader a sense of time and place, but to invoke a feeling of nostalgia. When we look back on the time in which we grew up, whether fondly or with regret, those memories of pop culture moments and current events are always enhanced with memories of music, of food, of fashion. The things we listened to, the things we ate, the things we wore. Those little details are what give a book richness and depth and sets the scene. I want you to see Bobby Newton in her pink prom dress and scuffed white boots, as she crosses the dance floor arm-in-arm with Landrum Walton. I want you to see Ella Newton getting ready for a show in Seattle, throwing her friend’s babydoll dress over her tiny tee. I want you to see Kasey Newton in her aughts fitted tank top with lacy straps and cut-off denim shorts, her legs tanned from the hot Georgia sun.
So Long, Bobby is an ode to the bygone eras of our youth, to the things that moved and inspired us, the happy memories. For me, so many of those happy memories involved clothes.
Now: where do we stand on the JNCOs?