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The Look of the Moment

How I Overcame My Aversion to Sorority Chic and Learned to Love Khaki
By D Magazine |

I HAVE LIVED MOST OF MY LIFE AS A Fashion Don’t. When short was in, I was out. When minimal was it, I was buying Lacroix knock-offs. Thus, I fully expect to open the Morning News one day and find my picture in one of those “Fashion! Dallas” features where the subject is so poorly turned out-the hemline, all wrong; the heel, too high-that her face has been blacked out to protect her identity. There I’d be. The Fashion Don’t.

And yet, given the opportunity to switch places with a Fashion Do, I would politely decline for two reaions. One: The expense. Who needs a Chanel suit with a matching, interlock-ing-CCs handbag when the same amount of money can buy you a week-aid for two at the Crillon in Paris? The second: Chutzpah. Adopting the look of the moment requires a willingness to recreate yourself twice a year (once in the spring; again in the fall). I’m still working on the first version.

None of this dawned on me until I pledged a sorority at the University of Texas (a couple of lifetimes ago) and found myself faced with the prospect of adopting the look of the moment. I failed spectacularly.

The look of that particular moment consisted of a uniform made up of pastel-colored button-down shirts (heavy on the starch); assorted Lacoste polo shirts; penny loafers and Topsiders; plaid sundresses from Ms. Brennan’s (a preppy outpost just off campus); several pairs of chinos; and-here we have the key to the whole look-a khaki skirt.

Khaki: strong, sensible, stout.

The yellowish-brown twill fabric finds its way into uniforms of every shape and size. Even today, when I see somebody dressed in khaki pants, they look like a sorority girl, if not a Boy Scout or a member of the military. The British wore khaki in India. My gym teacher wore khaki in RE. Khaki is to the uniform what taffeta is to the bridesmaid.

And yet, for spring, it’s at the heart of a look that eschews the uniform.

I can still remember the day-20 years ago-I was first introduced to the khaki skirt. It’s a moment that happened to coincide with the moment I realized I was not cut out for the life of a sorority girl. During the week of rush parties, when we opened the Chi Omega house to hundreds of rushees, virtually everyone wore some version of the uniform: a khaki skirt paired with a light blue, bright yellow, or pale pink button-down, and penny loafers.

Everyone, it seemed, but me.

Dressed in a rust-colored, gauze skirt with a white eyelet peasant blouse, flat sandals, and a choker around my neck, I looked like Emeralds to Coconuts in a room that was clearly Harold’s. The assistant rush captain, quick to notice, pulled me aside before the first party began and asked if I wouldn’t mind changing into something more appropriate.

Hard-pressed to think of anything more appropriate for a late-August day in Austin than a peasant blouse, gauze skirt, and flat sandals. I declined her offer.

With minutes turning into seconds before the arrival of a houseful of would-be Chi Omegas, she grew visibly anxious. Finally, we reached a compromise. She agreed to let me attend the parties out of uniform, and I agreed to lose myself in the crowd. It wasn’t easy.

Twenty years later, imagine my sur-prise-imagine the assistant rush captain’s surprise-to discover the khaki skirt and peasant blouse co-existing in the same season. My nemesis and my alter ego at the center of two trends that sit at opposite ends of the fashion spectrum.

At one end: “Utilitarian.”

At the other: “Hippie chic.”

One end: ponchos and hooded parkas in bright colors and luxurious fabrics; slim-and full-legged capris that stop anywhere from the ankle to the knee; holster bags and waistpacks.

The other: hip-hugging denim pants and skirts; embroidered floral tops and Mexican peasant blouses; scarves as headgear.

The two might never have crossed paths if not for the season’s insistence on combining form and function. For spring, designers have, at last, given up on imposing one impossible point of view. There is no look of the moment, no single uniform, Instead, spring is a season of separates, forcing those who naturally gravitate to a look to develop a personal style of their own. To, in other words, take that ankle-length silk organza skirt at one end of the spectrum and pair it with a halter from the other end. Pair a navel-baring drawstring skirt with a sweater set.

Spring ’99 may well be remembered as the season “ergonomie” made its way into the fashion lexicon, with labels from BCBG to Chanel and Gucci offering ergonomically fashionable footwear. Indeed, the luxurious side of fashion meets its practical counterpart in a number of hybrids that defy (he easy labels.

To wit: faded, feathered, hand-beaded, and hole-ridden hiphugger blue jeans with four-digit price tags (from Gucci). Cashmere and suede cargo pants (by Ralph Lauren). Taffeta anoraks (by Michael Kors). Pricey messenger bags (from Prada).

The key piece, the must-have item that bridges one end of the fashion spectrum with the other?

The khaki A-line skirt.

Forget, for a moment, that A-line is one of those shapes-pleats are another-all of us should have the good sense to avoid altogether. A-line gives classic khaki a modem edge. It takes it out of the uniform. And out of the sorority house.

Maybe this is the season I can, at last, disguise myself as a Fashion Do.

Or maybe not.

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