Picture a 30 year-old low-tech equivalent of what the iPhone is today. Something that every person has or at least seems to have. Well, every single Southern male in the 80s had at least one pair of these pants and most had plenty more than that. There were four basic colors at first—khaki, navy, olive and a really cool gray, but they would later expand their range considerably including a Masters green that could be spotted from a distance of about 5 miles. They made shorts, too, and back then inseams were pretty short, all the better to let just a sliver of your boxers hang out of the bottom hem, a kind of tasteful obverse to today’s “urban” fashion of flashing your underwear above the waistband, although today’s irrepressible kids tend to show a bit more than a half-inch sliver, it must be said.
Quality control was far from the best—side seams had a way of starting where they belonged at the waistband only to twist around like a vine of ivy as they worked their way down to end up somewhere near the shoelace knot, but what did you expect for $24.99? Heck they might have even been $19.99, I simply can’t remember. The cotton twill was great, though–it would eventually get real nice and soft and the navy pants would fade into a truly unique shade of purple. Most importantly, the yellow square with the mallard’s head on it was as charismatic as a slapped-on exterior label ever got–the ugly black rectangle that is still used by Banana Republic is positively laughable in comparison.
In the 90s, general preppiness declined as people inexplicably started to consider nylon track bottoms and oversized below-the-knee basketball shorts acceptable staples of casual wear, and that coupled with a series of disastrous management decisions signaled the end. It was like someone had taken dead aim at this poor duck with a 20 gauge Remmy and the company plunged into the reeds. I think the brand has been bought out and attempted to be revived a couple times now, but it may be the world isn’t quite ready yet.
This fad swept through the high school halls and shopping malls of the 80s like a bad virus. It was an epidemic that left school administrators scrambling to re-write dress codes and parents wringing their hands in outright consternation at just “what” their little Johnny had become.
Now, in those days you couldn’t just saunter up to your local Piercing Pagoda with a coupla cans of Milwaukee’s Best in ya for courage and say “Pierce my ear, por favor.” You had to pick the right ear to get pierced and the right ear in the 80s was the left ear. That meant you were straight. If you got your other ear pierced there was going to be trouble at school before the first bell even rang, regardless if you liked guys or not. Actually, in most places it really didn’t matter which ear you had pierced—the sight of a traditionally female piece of jewelry pinned into the flesh of a male classmate was bound to enrage some poor lunkhead, or group of lunkheads, and a few names were going to get called at the very least, most of them beginning with the letters “F” or “Q.” If you had really bad luck, you’d get your nice Captain Morgan-inspired gold hoop ripped right out. Such was the tenor of the times.
Things simmered down pretty quickly, however, as more and more guys started sporting them and MTV certainly helped mainstream the look with its endless imagery of pop stars of every musical genre and sexual persuasion jumping around in music videos with all sorts of things dangling from all sorts of places. Nowadays, the crazy kids somehow contrive to insert plastic or wooden discs the diameter of 90s sensation POGS into their lobes, so a little quarter-carat cubic zirconia in the left ear of the 1984 Prom King doesn’t seem so quite so outrageous, does it?
This timepiece, especially the gold version, seems pretty emblematic of the whole Yuppie/Greed is Good aspect of the 80s. It seeemed like every leveraged buyout artist–the guys who had quickly come to be regarded as the new “Masters of the Universe” by the mainstream press–sported one.
Fakes of this watch abounded on the UGA campus and I remember people constantly poring over the faces of fellow classmates’ timepieces to see if the second hand ticked or swept. Ticking was fake, sweeping was real, the consensus went. Either/or, you can pretty much rest assured they were ALL fake. Honestly, did the people who used to swagger around with these things dangling on their wrists really believe that other people were going to believe that parents intelligent enough to earn that kind of money (and there were plenty of students from just that type of background) were going to send their kids off to college to live in an almost completely unsecured dormitory with a $22,000 gold watch their irresponsible, drunken offspring could leave sitting on top of their metal dresser while they walked down to the end of the hall to take a shower? I mean, really now.
I remember one joker on my dorm floor who used to go around insisting that the company’s name was pronounced Rawl-ex, like Rawlings, the famous maker of baseball equipment. I think someone finally punched him in the face and that was the last we had to hear about that. I do think it is a pretty good gauge of the 80s much-maligned “materialism” that a bunch of 18-22 years olds attending their state university, most with just enough pocket money to buy a 3 dollar pitcher of beer every night, talked about these watches incessantly.
Now this was something. I can still remember the cold November day our class ring sales representative arrived, granted top secret clearance from our school administrators to walk around our building at his leisure, hauling around his cheap attaché case of mesmerizing trinkets. He looked exactly like you’d expect a school ring salesman to look–pale blue “dress slacks,” a crazy plaid sportcoat left over from the 70s, hangdog face, medicine ball-sized paunch, and battered brown shoes that had trudged down thousands of miles of shiny waxed high school hallways.
It was the personalization that made the rings irresistible. You could basically recreate your whole teenage identity with these things. Even if your rural Maine high school happened not to have a rodeo team, if you had always been fascinated by roping calves and riding bulls you could go ahead and get “Rodeo Team” stamped right on the side of your ring. Were you a third-string benchwarmer on the roundball squad? No problem–on your ring you could announce to the world that you were a “Basketball All-Star.” Hell, even the most brain-damaged, perennially-flunked burnout could order a ring that said National Honor Society on it, and Mr. Ring Salesman, even if he may have personally doubted that the bedraggled, pot-reeking punk in front of him was capable of achieving such a thing, wasn’t about to run up his family’s long distance bill to call NHS headquarters and have them confirm or deny it. To him, it was just another nice commission.
I remember badgering my parents into paying something like $143 for the top of the line “gold” version, a bauble probably cast from melted-down tin Burger Chef ashtrays Jostens had nabbed for a song at some franchise liquidation sale. I even insisted on extras like the special textured underside and my very own laser-engraved signature on the inside. Clearly, I believed in the finer things in life. But why spare any expense when I’d be wearing it for a lifetime!!
Jostens manufacturing plant wasn’t the most efficient, I think the turnaround on these things was something like half a year—you ordered it in November and it finally showed up in April or May. But there was no denying it was a special day when our sales rep returned, jacketless now in a nicotine-stained short sleeve dress shirt, to hand out our rings. Students sang and danced in the corridors with such joy it was like Alice Cooper had just arrived to burn the whole school down.
I think I wore it five times.
On Dinosaur Jr.’s first album they desperately plea for listeners to “Forget the Swan” but try telling that to a teenage girl in 1981. If she cared at all about keeping up with her classmates in the fashion department, these jeans, emblazoned on the fifth pocket with a swan as golden as King Tut’s mask, were standard issue. I’m not sure why “poor little rich girl” Gloria preferred to loll around on the floor with fabric shears and bolts of denim instead of gardening or sitting for tea with guests like she should have been doing, but anyone who appreciated a shapely derriere back then was certainly glad for these eccentricities. Heck, it may be that Gloria herself appreciated a nice ass as much as the next fella. In any case, the jeans fit well.
Each pair received Gloria’s “stamp of approval”—her actual signature on the right rear pocket rendered in that fabulous golden thread. This logo was so shiny and bright that some were sorely tempted to read it with their fingers like Braille at times, which usually resulted in a justified slap to the face. The kids back then called it “goosing”–today it would probably be labeled “sexual assault.”
Since these jeans were made only for girls, they could also be used as a unique instrument of punishment. If, say, you had a son who was getting bad grades, you could force him to wear a pair of these to school every day until his marks improved. His classmates would take care of the rest.
Gloria was the undisputed doyenne of denim for a number of years, but fashion is fickle, and by the mid to late 80s, these jeans had been forgotten as the teenage set went crazy for those weird high-waisted floral print jeans made by any number of labels. Clothing is still made in her name to this day, although the company’s products now seem to be shipped directly from the factory to the clearance racks at Burlington Coat Factory and Ross.