Fashion fads are like any fad, really. Some of it works. Some of it doesn’t. And you don’t know which of those two categories the one you’re participating in now will end up falling into until enough time has passed for society to gain some perspective. Before you dive into the latest trend, though, keep in mind that for every pair of blue jeans or high top sneakers, there are a million things that don’t stand the test of time. So if you want to actually enjoy looking at pictures of yourself years from now, take a lesson from the following disasters…
10. Zoot Suits (1940s)
In the 1940s, zoot suits symbolized rebellion and individuality for the minority youths who wore them. So much so, in fact, that they actually rioted when the government tried to ban them, arguing that the absurd amount of fabric required for their manufacture was depriving the Army of valuable war material.
Cool facts! You know what’s not cool? The zoot suit itself. Look at this goofy monstrosity and mock it.
9. Rompers for Men (1970s)
The ’70s are a good decade to illustrate the following point: the more a new fashion trend deviates from the standard jeans/t-shirts/dress, or skirt/boots or sneakers/tailored jacket look, the more likely it is to not stand the test of time.
Variations on the classics likely won’t be too embarrassing down the road, but wild departures like the wide-collared onesies for grown men advertised in mid-’70s fashion mags will likely force you to trash any and all photographic evidence you ever partook.
8. Shoulder Pads (1980s)
If brevity is the soul of wit, then just enough clothing worn well is the soul of fashion. Maybe that sounded better in my head. The point is: women in the 1980s did not understand this self-evident truth.
Shoulder pads and bat-wing sleeves and other gratuitous add-ons to shirts and jackets that simply did not need them were ridiculous perversions of the more subtle 1940s shoulder pads, because everything in the 1980s was a ridiculous perversion of something. That was part of the fun. It’s also the reason no one who lived through that decade will ever admit it in public.
7. Mullets (1980s)
“Business in the front, party in the back?” Try “thank you for the application, but we are not hiring right now.”
We will say this, though: few could’ve imagined that the mullet, popularized by Irish rock star and liberal philanthropist Bono, would end up on the scalps of beer-guzzling Appalachians who soak their feet in kiddie pools. How did this happen? We don’t care enough to find out. But we imagine it has something to do with Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot giving the look a blue jeans appeal and country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus taking it from there. Quite a storied history for one of the most regrettable, worthless hairstyles of all time.
6. Hair Metal… Everything (1980s)
Men dressing like women might come off as rather woke now, but we promise you, social commentary and LGBTQ rights weren’t even on the radar of the chauvinistic, Sunset Strip slime balls who teased out their hair and smeared on the makeup to rock out to Bon Jovi in the mid ’80s. The women were just as bad. For a few months in 1986, the skies above Los Angeles were 40% Aquanet. Whole species of birds were endangered. Nirvana didn’t kill hair metal, the EPA did. We have a million of these.
But nobody said it better than Tommy Lee, who you probably know from his thoughtful contributions to The Economist: “Just because we are wearing lipstick doesn’t mean we can’t kick your ass,” he once quipped. The other members of Mötley Crüe all laughed. We did too.
5. Bang Parentheses (1990s)
We really tried to find the proper name for this dorky looking mop of a haircut, but “bang parentheses” will have to do. It really is a perfect description. It’s the haircut famously sported by Jonathan Taylor Thomas from Home Improvement and some of the kids from Saved By The Bell. Leonardo DiCaprio wore it too, around the time Titanic was released.
Now it lives on in those haircut idea books at the salon your local Karen goes to. When you first saw them in there, you thought maybe I could pull this off. Now you think, how the hell has no one thrown this book out yet?
4. Excessively Baggy Clothes (1990s)
Maybe the current trend of slim fit, tailored clothing will one day be seen as an overcorrection, but nobody can look at poncho-sized T-shirts draped over jeans that were four sizes too big and honestly think it looks as cool now as it did in the mid ’90s.
It’s a wonder anyone could even function when they had 40 pounds of fabric to wrestle with just to find their wallet. Hang on. We know it’s buried in here somewhere. Sir? Can you hold this fistful of shirt while we look? Thanks.
3. Frosted Tips (1990s/2000s)
Which trash can did we toss mullets and glam metal coifs into? Don’t empty it yet, because we’ve got another atrocity to deposit, courtesy of yet more cute musicians who deceived the public into thinking that you too can look as hot as Justin Timberlake by simply bleaching the top half of your greasy hair spikes.
Is there a way to tell people who do this, without breaking their hearts, that they look less like a cute member of a late-’90s boy band and more like they’re heading to Flavor Town?
2. Soul Patches (1990s/2000s)
Cute guys might sport frosted tips, but bad boys had soul patches. Guys with motorcycles and cigarettes. Guys with leather jackets and hot girlfriends. Guys who listened to cool bands like uh, Crossfade (heh) and Nickelback (snicker). Guys who are now fat, bald and goateed, who wear sleeveless Tapout shirts and shades indoors, and who yell at their kids at the gas station while their wife smokes in the pickup.
Honestly, though, the biggest question we have regarding soul patches, which are so small it hardly seems worth the effort to maintain and trim them, is “why?”
1. Trilbys (2000s/2010s)
God help us. Sometimes fashion trends fail so spectacularly, you don’t even need hindsight to see it. Now before we continue, keep in mind that fedoras and trilbys are often-confused cousins, not twins. Fedoras are the wider-brimmed, classic Hollywood-era hats you’ve seen paired with chiseled jaws and suit jackets. We have no problem at all with the properly applied fedora. Trilbys, on the other hand, have no fashionable utility whatsoever. They weren’t even slightly cool, at any point in time, in any part of the world.
In fact, they’re so uncool that it makes everyone around the wearer embarrassed, as if future anthropologists will spot one while digging up an ancient shopping mall, and think all of us wore wolf t-shirts and tried to seduce uncomfortable women by bragging about our sword collections. For the sake of our collective dignity, please deposit your trilby in the nearest wastebasket and beg for forgiveness.
BONUS!: Clear Shoes (2010s)
We’re not sure how these got on the list. They will be cool forever.