In Fashion, Sincerity Is the New Irony 

Styles from the '80s are still hot, but now more people mean it.

Any astute trend-watcher could predict at least one caption in next year's Berkeley High yearbook: "Dude, the '80s called. They want their clothes back." In truth, '80s styles are kind of late-2005 — dating to when the Wolf Pack unleashed its "Vans" single, causing checkerboard slip-on shoes to suddenly come back in style. Leggings, mohawks, jean jackets, ballet slipper flats, sheepskin boots, Asics sneakers, faux fur collars, and neon colored-anything were quick to follow. While '80s clothing hovered on the edge of fashion back then (everyone was stunned to find that pink hair streaks and bangle bracelets could actually look cute on teenagers), it has slowly percolated from the rap videos and the Enyce magazine ads to the big-box retailers. And now that most of these trends are mid-cycle, they have also been imitated, satirized, and made ironic — particularly in the seen-it-all Bay Area.

But on Telegraph Avenue, where Hot Topic and Wet Seal compete with sneaker boutiques and mom-and-pop smoke shops for your hard-earned dollars, just about everyone who walks by is sporting some pre-packaged look from the '80s. Most pervasive are the Uggs sheepskin boots — cloddy, flat-footed things with wool lining and rubbery, synthetic soles (the name says it all). They actually came back in style a few years ago and won't seem to leave. Around UC Berkeley you'll see girls pairing Uggs with whatever they found on the dorm room floor that morning: jeans, sweater dresses (another recent comeback), gym shorts, sweatpants, pleated skirts, and tights (nearly all of which qualify as bad ideas).

The other big teenage girl trend of 2007 is skinny jeans — i.e., tapered, spandexy-things that usually come tight enough to give a flat-booty chick an ass. "I only own skinny jeans, actually," said UC Berkeley freshman Lizzy Ávila, who also wears fake Keds sneakers with her "I Love New York" shirt and lip piercing. Long hair, leggings, and slip-on flats are back, too, said her friend Sara Elizabeth Salas, another freshman who wears leggings with jeans shorts, a fur-collared puffy jacket, and, on one recent afternoon, a lime green American Apparel T-shirt. The leggings are très 2007, Salas assured, adding that she wore them last year and got a lot of sideways glances.

Their male counterparts sport retro sneakers, including Air Jordans, shell-toed Adidas, Chuck Taylors, the ubiquitous slip-on Vans, and Asics (whose slick Japanese offshoot, the Onitsuka Tiger sneaker, goes for about $80 a pair). Twenty-two-year-old UC Berkeley senior Husain Mishargi hoofs around town in Starbury basketball shoes. "There's a basketball player Stephon Marbury, and he started his own shoes with Ben Wallace. They sell them exclusively at Steve & Barry's. Fifteen bucks," Mishargi said. "His whole thing was like, he couldn't afford shoes when he was little. He was on Oprah, I think."

Mishargi's friend, 21-year-old Nick Locicero, couples rugged outdoor sneakers with mismatched socks — "one I got from Target, and one from Costco," he said, adding that, jeez, "I can't believe I know this stuff." Locicero's jacket, a clearance item from H&M, has a cool flair collar to protect him from inclement weather. "It's like a built-in wind resistor. I think people use this for smoking, but I don't smoke. Well, I don't smoke cigarettes."

Of course, you can't write about fashion in 2007 without acknowledging the prevalence of hip-hop, which has brought such things as princess-cut diamonds and rose-gold grills into the popular domain. But not everybody has enough ends to buy the custom-made grill or spangly diamond-stud earrings worn by East Bay rapper Kafani (who resembles a Christmas tree when he's fully suited and booted). Nineteen-year old producer and Adidas store clerk Josh Diggs (aka J Diggs, aka Lil' Diggs) opts for a cheaper version: cubic zirconium earrings that could easily pass for the real thing.

But in hip-hop, flossin' ice is just the tip of the iceberg. Besides those provincial "Bay Area Represent" T-shirts (a relic of the now-defunct hyphy movement), the biggest fashion item of 2007 is the multi-colored hoodie, popularized by Ecko Steelo, Sean John, and Triple 5 Soul. Available in various colors and paisley, cartoon, dollar sign, or gold chain prints, these lightweight fleece jackets are a brassier version of a hoodie that enjoyed fleeting popularity in 1992. Fourteen-year-old Far West High School student Kwame Nitoto scored his skull print hoodie at Hot Topic. He pairs it with Vegas Adidas, which have a pin-up girl logo on each side and lucky 7 shoestrings. Nitoto's whole ensemble combines the urban hip-hop look with styles cribbed from punk rock and skateboarding culture (hence the bright-colored shoelaces and Hot Topic skulls), creating a hybrid that's become enormously popular since 2004, again thanks to rap acts like the Wolf Pack and Mistah FAB.

Nitoto isn't the only one appropriating punk culture and presenting it in a more polished, commercialized form. Mohawk and faux hawk hairstyles have an on-again off-again presence in popular culture, and right now they appear to be on. Locicero sports a Mohawk with snazzy blond highlights, while 25-year-old Rockridge bookstore clerk Ill Nippashi combines hers with fake Clark Kent glasses, a tailored cardigan, and black suspenders. "My other fake glasses got stolen, so I cut my hair on a whim," Nippashi explained, adding that the Mohawk was an improvement on her former hairstyle. "It was a severe part and like, completely like, that weird hair helmet thing. You know what I'm talking about? Sort of growing out, really kind of sleazy John Waters-ish," she said. "Without the glasses, the severely parted and slicked hair wasn't good."

Most people who sport regurgitated '80s styles do so with utmost sincerity, even when they have a sense of humor about it (Nippashi describes her look of the season as "post-punk dandy"). Then there's the Mama Buzz Cafe clientele. Oft characterized as a flagship for the "hipsterization" of downtown Oakland, Mama Buzz is so ironic and so self-consciously cool that, in fact, the irony gets ironized. Take the crowd gathered there on a recent Wednesday afternoon: 22-year-old West Oakland painter Jennifer Burgos wears beer cap earrings, camouflage slip-on sneakers, a red puffy jacket, and a shirt with a taco and French fry logo. Her friend Gage Boone — a 23-year-old artist and couch surfer — wears frayed jeans, a big studded belt, and earrings inherited from his grandmother. Twenty-three-year old creative writing student Tika Hall wears a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bandanna, sweater sleeves, and a Timbuktu bike messenger bag with a patch from her friend's band. "Vitamin Piss," she explained. "It has a giant dick on it. I think it's funny."

There's definitely a Mama Buzz Cafe "look" that riffs off of current trends — the punky studded belts, Timbuktu bags, band patches, puffy jackets, and camouflage sneakers — and puts them back together in a way that implies "Look, I just don't care, okay?" Some cafe dwellers would like you to think they got dressed in a Dumpster ("I picked everything up off the floor and put it on," said Burgos; "I like my shoes because they have buttons on them ... they're really crappy quality," said Hall). Others, like Boone, ascribe a greater meaning to their ensemble: "Sometimes I create personas that are kind of a joke, and looking at, like, trends and, like, being kind of satirical, I guess," he explained.

If he meant to satirize a hipster — albeit a metrosexual hipster with a penchant for wearing grandmother earrings — then he's pulling it off really well. Then again, satire is just soooo last season.

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