Over the summer, Emma Watson sheared off all her hair, Lourdes Leon rolled out a tween clothing line, and Taylor Momsen wobbled around London in piggy-bank plastic heels. What does it mean for youth fashion? The message whispered up and down all the red-brick, pencil-scented school hallways suggests precocity is in—and promiscuity is out.
At the intersection in the Venn diagram of teen culture is Lourdes’ line Material Girl, featuring Taylor Momsen as its spokesgirl. Momsen is a star on Gossip Girl, the television show whose characters’ impeccable wardrobes are inspiration for teens and adults. While Lourdes is usually photographed in punk but somehow still demure styles, and Gossip Girl’s cast, carried by Blake Lively and Leighton Meester, has the polish of a Vogue spread, Momsen’s position as arbiter is a little suspect. The 17-year-old has made recent public appearances in bustiers, underpants, and the aforementioned shoes—clear Lucite pumps with coin slots in the platform soles (nevermind her bleached-out extensions and kohl-smeared eyes).
Gallery: Back-to-School Trends
Macy’s, where the Material Girl line debuted exclusively a few weeks ago, stands by Momsen. Adam Moon, the department store’s fashion director, told The Daily Beast, “Taylor Momsen is the perfect representation of what the Material Girl collection is all about... She is fearless, confident, and has a great fashion sense!”
Teenagers are seeing her influence, and any trend in that vein of risqué, a bit differently. Flora Collins, a 16-year-old student at Manhattan’s Chapin School, said, “Sluttiness is definitely out. That's why girls like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Momsen are losing popularity—they're just so trashy! You rarely see girls with tight clothes showing a lot of skin. If you wear tiny shorts, wear a longer top. Shirts are getting shorter and skirts longer. Neon leggings have kind of disappeared, which I'm sad about.”
From a cursory glance at a sampling of juniors departments, Collins’ observations appear to be spot-on. Micro-minis are macro-poufy or traditional A-line, hitting just above the knee, and the palette across the board is seasonally drab.
During last winter’s Fall 2010 shows, Chanel showed hyper-furry coats; Prada’s legs were covered in textured stockings and boots; and Marc Jacobs was awash in a sea of gray.
Because everything is eventually imitated, for the coming months juniors departments at various stores have stocked up on non-couture variations of furry jackets, nubby leggings and tights, and plenty of heathery separates. Other items parents should brace their pocketbooks and wallets for: leather jackets, flat motorcycle boots, idiosyncratic accessories, sinewy scarves, and a bit of plaid.
Norma and Mary Bryan Barksdale, 17-year-old twins in Mississippi, where the semester has already begun, say they have disparate senses of style but agree that a casual, sedate look will prevail this fall, citing Emma Watson as an example of what looks good. “Everyone is wearing simple, clean things—very toned-down, nothing shiny or sequin-y,” said Norma. Mary Bryan mentioned skin-toned lip gloss as a popular item, and both girls came up with a list of what’s hot and not: out are Ugg boots and bulky coats; in: Toms shoes, Converse sneakers, and strappy Birkenstocks (“not the ones with leather all the way across, though,” said Mary Bryan.)
Rounding out the what-to-look-for list is hair. Emma Watson’s pixie cut could inspire a league of new Twiggys, but, posits Collins, “With the popularity of Ke$ha and Taylor Swift, curls are coming back in.” The Barksdales also said that girls were wearing their hair “in loose curls, or just long waves.”
There’s always a period of trickle-down from the shows to the streets, but nowhere is it digested faster than in the wardrobes of younger generations, who are always borrowing, repurposing, and refashioning—and communicating via text, phone, and email about all of it. Moon said, “Today’s teenager is interested in fast-fashion. They see the newest trends on the runway, street-style or worn by celebrities, and they want to see it in our stores immediately. Our challenge is to constantly refresh our stores with new merchandise to meet this high-speed need, and our response is brands such as Material Girl.”
Appearing on-trend does not necessarily mean being a slave to fashion. Individuality in style, as with everything else during that finding-yourself age, is paramount. Tavi Gevinson, the 13-year-old wunderkind blogger, makes clear her respect for autonomy. One of her posts reads, “[Model] Hanne Gaby Odiele makes the Celine bag look like it's from a thrift store. That sounds like an insult, but I mean that she makes it look like a special find, not something from a luxury brand that's been praised by the most commercial of fashion magazines.” (Tavi did not respond to requests for comment.)
So whither the kids’ influences? Collins, whose “hands-down” favorite designer is Stacey Bendet of Alice + Olivia, says she looks for sartorial inspiration everywhere. “It's all about attraction to an outfit. I'll see models in magazines, characters on TV, or even my friends and ‘steal’ some part of an outfit, always trying to make it original of course.”
Natasha Colvin, a 14-year-old in suburban New York (and the daughter of this site’s President), cites Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus as popular icons. Though Cyrus has also taken some heat for a particular “ chola” get-up this summer, her style was originally innocuous, and Swift is perennially sweet. Colvin says, “I think my friends and I will be following trends like skinny light blue jeans, infinity scarves, long sweaters, wide-necked tops, and skinny tall boots.” All straightforward and unassuming choices, and certainly nothing to throw the P.T.A. into a tizzy.
Collins offers up a few other inspirations: “Character-wise, I love the costumes in Sweeney Todd. I've also been watching the TV show Pretty Little Liars and have been attracted to the girls who sing the theme song, The Pierces. They're haunting, melodious, and mysterious—definitely attention-grabbers and stylishly unique.
Says Moon, “Celebrities have a major influence on the fashion sensibilities of younger shoppers. Madonna and her daughter Lola [Lourdes’ nickname] are a great example of this. Madonna has been setting style trends for decades, and now Lola is a fashion icon in her own right.” With, no doubt, hordes of teens lining up to follow her every move.
Claire Howorth is the arts editor at the Daily Beast.