For real-world styles, see the Daily Journal’s March 14 Spring

For real-world styles, see the Daily Journal’s March 14 Spring Fashion section.

By Carolyn Bahm

Daily Journal

Usually the only time someone gasps in a clothing store is when she sees the prices. (All right, sometimes it’s the unflattering rear view in those merciless three-way mirrors.)

This week, the gasps, giggles and wrinkled noses came when a handful of merchants in the Mall at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo examined photos of international runway fashions.

“Oh, my goodness,” was quickly followed by a shuffling to the next photo and then, “Oh, my GOD!”

Fashion shows in Rome, New York, Paris and London typically display runway style extremes that would never make it on the street, all said. This spring was no exception. The “statement” looks ranged from see-through blouses without modesty-protecting camisoles to candy-striped neon catsuits and boneheaded hats studded with fish skeletons.

Even some of the ready-to-wear styles touted for the real world don’t hit the mainstream tastes: One designer mailed out photos of a brooding male model in a polka-dotted silk shirt, satin double-ring belt and tight black pants.

Why do designers proudly display these expensive freaky fashions?

Making a ‘statement’

Haute couture, or high fashion, is there simply to make a statement, most merchants said. Designers are mouthing their heartfelt sentiments, as well as what they think people want to hear.

Brian Hurd, manager of Gadzooks, said today’s runway looks are designed to shock and make a name for the designer. “It’s strictly for the public to wonder.” He laughed. “I think it’s meant to confuse.”

Brave people also make the leap to these eye-popping new looks.

“The thing is, people will wear them,” said Lezlie Hudson, manager of Stuarts. “That’s how trends start, and people do get trendy. Everyone wants to stand out in a crowd, and if fashion helps you do that, people will do that.”

Music videos and flamboyant movie stars also pump up the sales volume of outlandish attire, Hudson said.

So, what’s the statement?

The extreme runway “statement” looks are harping on the peace-and-nature themes of the ’60s and ’70s, several retailers said.

“Retro, very retro,” said Norma Pettigrew, manager for Lane Bryant.

The beyond-the-pale haute couture trends are muted for retail wear: Stores are already sporting clothes in bold geometric patterns of stripes and polka dots, sun motifs and close-fitting silhouettes reminiscent of earlier eras.

“Zippers are back in. Tops are close-fitting to the body,” Pettigrew said. “The Jacqueline Kennedy sheath dress is back in, very retro in navy or black with bright jackets for accents.”

She compared a few fashion show photos and pointed out a recent shape shift. “See how close to the body everything is? We’ve had the big clothes and the hip-hop look with pants bagging down to the ankle. This is taking you just to the opposite direction.”

Even the looser styles in retail today are more fitted than ever before, with higher waistlines, shorter jackets and more body-skimming shapes, Pettigrew said. She gestured to a nearby rack of dresses with high Empire waistlines. “Even this style is closer to the body and not as free flowing as in the past.”

Pettigrew explained, “I think we want to have a neater appearance.”

The aging baby boomer generation doesn’t seem to mind the shapelier fit, said Martha Gunner, manager and buyer for Reed’s. “People are physically fit and they’re willing to show the fact that they’ve got a good figure.”

Stefanie Benson, assistant manager for J. Riggings, commented on her customers’ reactions to the latest styles, “If it looks ’70s, it’s, ‘Ooh, old hippy stuff!’ They want it.”

Fashion picks and pans

A few Barnes Crossing mall retailers commented on selected spring runway fashions:

– A spartan wedding dress fronting a massive peace symbol: “She’s making a peace statement, a back-to-earth statement,” Hudson said.

– A stylized sun dotting an evening gown in bold colors: “The sun and peace symbols are symbols of trends in thought,” Hudson said.

Gunner said the sun symbol, other fashion motifs and even the clothing colors also complement today’s home decor. Her assistant manager and assistant buyer, Sissie Craft, recalled talking with a shopper who had attended Tupelo’s recent furniture market. She asked, “What’s coming up in home fashions?” He gestured to the store’s racks and shelves and said, “You know. It’s already in here.”

– A totally sheer blouse worn without any undergarments, topping a fluttery multilayered skirt: “Sort of a free, back-to-nature look, really breezy, almost ‘butterfly’ looking,” Hudson said. She explained the fashion statement, “Fashions allow people to express their own personality, a lot of times in ways they can’t do verbally.”

She suggested modifying the look for evening wear by adding a delicate camisole or even an opaque bra, ˆ la Madonna. (Because of the revealing blouse in the original fashion, the photo is not reproduced in this newspaper.)

Tracy Justice, manager of Fashion Bug, said, “Sheer things pretty much are ‘in’ this year.”

Craft raised her eyebrows at the photo and said, “Very European.”

Gunner laughed and said, “We are so traditional down here. It would take 10 years for that to make it here.”

– A neon-bright diagonally striped jumpsuit: “For the extremely daring,” Hudson said after a long look at the photo. “I think it allows people to know they have freedom in the way they dress, even if they don’t take it to this extreme.”

Craft paused and then said, “Well, diagonal stripes are in.”

– A plastic dress modeled on a telephone keyboard: “It’s more of that ‘moddy’ stuff,” Pettigrew said. “We had all that funky stuff back then, numbers and geometric designs and all that. You remember those vinyl minis and the go-go boots we wore with them?”

– A man’s silk polka-dotted shirt with tight-fitting black pants: Benson wrinkled her nose and said, “That’s the fit. People are getting more of that ’70s look. It’s like something Greg Brady (from the Brady Bunch television show) would wear.”

Gunner said, “Well, honey, here we are. This is very ’60s.”

Craft nodded and said, “Very Beatles.”

– A freeform hat bristling with reeds and fish bones: Gunner rolled her eyes and said it reminded her of the old saying, “Guests are like fish: After three days, they start smelling.”

In a more serious vein, Craft said the design is reminiscent of the African-American influence in high-fashion hairstyles, freeform and artistic.

– A red, purple and green hat composed of a tangle of feathers and netting: “Very Victorian,” Craft said.

Gunner commented, “That looks like something my mother wore.”

– A coil of straw dotted with small feathers, resembling a barbed wire hat: “Well, that looks like the crown of thorns,” said Gunner, making a Biblical reference.

– A hat made of netting stretched over a large hoop: Gunner said, “Very ’20s. This is very Ziegfeld Follies (an early variety show with musical comedy).”

– A hat sprouting multiple frond-like tubes: This one got a universal, “Oh, no. No, no, no. What were they thinking?” from all viewers.

Maybe it should just be called “Eek!” chic.

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