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Home > Blog > "Plaid is exploding" -- and what it means
Out of Our Minds
Monday, August 16, 2004 9:38 AM
"Plaid is exploding" -- and what it means
Anita Sharpe on Culture

The New York Times has weighed in again -- this time on the front page -- on the dramatic change in teenage fashion. Say it again: grunge and goth are out, khakis and crew-necks are in.

Companies like Ralph Lauren, J. Crew and American Eagle Outfitters are seeing sales surge. And it's probably a matter of days, if not hours or minutes, before the pundits begin heralding a new era of conservatism sweeping American campuses.

But I suspect the fashion shift speaks to something else. The kids buying these clothes were in their last years of elementary school or starting junior high on Sept. 11, 2001. Perhaps more than any other age group, their psyches were shaped by this event.

They saw the priorities of their parents and the world around them change. They saw that, at the end of the day, a sense of purpose and engagement are what matter. They saw that being a slacker is no way to go through the world. And this is the fashion statement of the newest generation.

(Or am I making way too much out of a plaid blazer?)


anita - 8/17/2004 12:26:36 PM
The hippies largely introduced the idea of dress = attitude. Think of a hippie and what comes to mind? Long-hair and tie-dyed t-shirts or penny loafers or three-piece suits?

Similarly, the gunge/goth look was adopted by the slacker movement.

Clothes communicate attitudes/moods more than anything I can think of.
Laura - 8/17/2004 12:01:28 PM
I think it's odd that you are equating clothes choice with attitude. Why does grunge mean slacker and J Crew mean otherwise? Wonder what the hippies of the 60s would say to that now?
michael - 8/16/2004 3:04:39 PM
I think you may be reading a little too much into fashio's impact on conservatism. Kids who shop at Ralph Lauren don't necessarily represent neo-cons, or any other type of cons, the same way goths don't represent a belief in the left. If Bush keeps going the way he is, all those kids will be wearing olive drab in a few years, anyway.
Robert - 8/16/2004 3:04:11 PM
Absolutely, the sudden hipness of plaid gives us pause to think! I agree that many teens probably look at the world more soberly than did their pre-9/11 peers and that this can inform some of their fashion choices ... but for now I'm skeptical that this is a huge driver of teens' consumer behavior, in fashion and elsewhere. As The Times noted, sometimes consumers (particularly in the age group discussed) change their behavior simply because, well, they can.

I encourage all of us to think more about the longer-term meaning of 9/11, and you're right to raise the issue of its impact here (I'm surprised The Times didn't). To the point of fashion, it's natural but not always too instructive to make too many assumptions about people based on the clothes they buy ... after all, in his press conference last week describing a somewhat unconventional and unexpected lifestyle, Gov. Jim McGreevey looked, um, pretty conventional and conservative.

So as much as I'm interested in marketing and human behavior and how the two connect, perhaps dots don't always connect. Plus, let's wait and see how many of the suddenly cool and styling plaid jackets are in the 80%-off bin next season. Who knows? That's what makes business and marketing challenging and fun!


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