Sunday, February 20, 2011

To Romper, or Not to Romper

My first encounter with a romper occurred in early spring of 2010. It was getting warmer and the transition from spring to summer was just on the horizon. This meant it was time for one of my favorite traditions: summer dress shopping. The summer dress isn’t just an exciting opportunity to buy new clothes—it was promise of that the best parts of summer—lounging at the pool, summer concerts, outdoor seating at restaurants—were on their way. So you can imagine my disappointment when I excitedly pulled cute dress after cute dress off the racks only to find that instead of the expected skirt bottom, they had a pair of shorts attached!

A romper (also known as a “playsuit” or “jumper”) is essentially a top and bottom combined into one piece of clothing, or as defines it, “A loosely fitted, one-piece garment having short bloomers.” In 2009 and 2010, I witnessed the romper’s descent from avant-garde high fashion to hipsters at Coachella to celebrities and finally, to my dismay, into mainstream fashion. At first, I hated rompers. But I knew it was only a matter of time before general exposure and the dictates of fashion convinced me that it was an acceptable, and even attractive, article of clothing.

Almost every fashion trend is a recycled and updated version of the fashion that came years before it, but the romper seemed particularly obscure. That’s because the rompers that sprinkle the pages of today’s fashion magazines were inspired not by the fashion of the past five decades, but from the unisex causal wear of toddlers from the early 20th century. Rompers were designed for children to play in. A 1904 New York Times article advertises rompers as “pinaforelike garments” that the “children can play in the dust…and still keep fresh and clean.” A 1912 advert for the department store Joseph Horne tells moms to dress their children in rompers and “let them scramble over the turf and dig in the sand” and even claims rompers are “recommended by physicians as the ideal garment” in “which, little folks, from one to eight years, feel, look and grow best.” Say what you will about grown women desiring to look like scantily-clad toddlers from the early 1900s, but you have to admit whoever came up with the idea to bring rompers back into fashion was pretty creative.

Last summer, I felt my judgmental take on rompers turn to fondness, but I resisted the temptation of giving into the trend and to this day I do not own a romper. I reminded myself that I would look back on this transgression years later, and wonder, “What was I thinking?” But as summer 2011 looms ahead, it seems rompers have come back full-force and time has weakened my defenses. Once again, I will have to decide to romper, or not to romper. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Be Different—Everyone Else is Doing it!

We’ve all heard the message since we were little kids: “It’s OK to be different!” But anyone who’s walked the halls of junior high for three years would probably disagree. However, the media might finally be delivering on this after school special cliché.

Looking at Billboard’s current top ten pop songs, it’s seems the message of embracing your differences and loving yourself is becoming quite a pattern: Katy Perry’s “Firework” is #2, Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R” is #4, and P!ink’s “Raise Your Glass” and “F***ing Perfect” are #7 and #10, respectively. Lady Gaga’s new single “Born this Way,” released this past Friday, was the fastest selling song in iTunes history

The omnipresent Gaga is known for her outrageous fashion, open sexuality and general eccentricities. She was Billboard’s 2010 artist of the year and her extreme popularity is evidence itself that odd is in. Her fans, referred to as “Little Monsters,” have awaited her latest single with great anticipation. The chorus of the song reads like a mission statement for her brand: “I’m beautiful in my own way/’Cause God makes no mistakes/I’m on the right track, baby/I was born this way.” Billboard describes the lyrics as “in-your-face…about race and sexuality.”

Katy Perry, who also has a distinct look (a mix of 1950s pinup girl and a cartoon), is less outrageous but has had her share of controversy with her break-out song, “I Kissed a Girl,” her Mormon upbringing and her marriage to colorful British comedian Russell Brand. Her new song, “Firework,” preaches, “You don’t have to feel like a waste of space/You’re original, cannot be replaced/If you only knew what the future holds/After a hurricane comes a rainbow.”

Newcomer Ke$ha is known for her gutsy wild child image and for literally looking dirty. She describes her look as a “cross between Keith Richards and a hobo.” Most of her songs are about partying but her new single sounds like a rally call for the hipster youth: “Tonight we’re going hard/Just like the world is ours/We’re tearin’ it apart/You know we’re superstars/We are who we are!”

P!nk has capitalized on being different since she first entered the music scene in the early 2000s with a pink pixie cut. She has stayed true to her message over the years, and two songs off her most recent album invite misfits to “Raise your glass if you are wrong/In all the right ways/All the underdogs,” and asks them to “Pretty pretty Please don’t you ever ever feel/Like your less than, f***ing perfect.”

Pop stars wearing outrageous outfits for attention is nothing new, but it seems like the look and message of today’s artists are most successful when they are relevant, powerfully emotional and differentiated, just like any other brand. The recent media attention brought to anti-gay bullying and teen suicide may have catalyzed the outpouring of the message of self-acceptance.

Of course, it is a wonderful thing that the music industry has embraced this cause, but it is ironic that embracing difference has been turned into a commodity.  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Frozen Fads

As a female college student, it might not surprise you that I’m a froyo enthusiast. Over the years, I’ve observed how frozen yogurt has grown enormously popular and evolved to reflect the trends of our time. 

Frozen yogurt first became mainstream in the 1980s as a healthier alternative to its calorie-rich cousin—ice cream. Frozen yogurt versions of popular ice cream flavors were created and were sold side by side with ice cream. The first frozen yogurt franchise to make it big was TCBY, which is still around today. Froyo sales reached $25 million in 1986 and by the 1990s, it was 10% of the dessert market. The product was actually invented a decade earlier, but it was unsuccessful at entering the market because consumers disliked the tart flavor. It wasn’t until manufacturers developed a sweeter version and people started to become more health-conscious that the froyo concept took off.

Fast-forward to the early 2000s. Atkins is the fad diet du jour and carb evading and calorie counting are at an all time high. The reality of America’s obesity problem is starting to set in.  Frozen yogurt was considered healthier than ice cream, but it was still a dessert with plenty of calories. It was the perfect environment for New York City based chain Tasti-D-Lite to take a foothold. I was in high school when I discovered the franchise and I was obsessed. It wasn’t exactly frozen yogurt, but it tasted like it and it was shockingly low in calories. Tasti was featured on Sex and the City and on The Apprentice and I witnessed an explosion of new Tasti shops throughout the city.

By the mid-2000s, the Tasti concept was losing steam. The company was sued for lying about the calorie content of its non-vanilla flavors and the fact that it was not legally allowed to call itself yogurt or ice cream, but was instead referred to as “frozen treat,” made it seem fake and unhealthy. Organic and natural foods were all the rage and people became more concerned with the quality of the food they were putting into their bodies than the calorie content. It was time for frozen yogurt to reinvent itself once again. Enter Pinkberry. The Pinkberry concept brought frozen yogurt back to its roots, serving the dessert in its original tart and tangy form. Perhaps more importantly, Pinkberry offered a variety of healthy toppings, like fruits, berries and granola. Based in Hollywood, Pinkberry became wildly popular and began expanding internationally in 2009.

Pinkberry’s success has spawned competitors. Red Mango, which claims it started in Korea before Pinkberry was even conceived in the US, prides itself of having the most active cultures in its yogurt.  I’m a huge fan of Durham’s Local Yogurt, which is similar to Pinkberry in décor but feels more authentic and natural since it’s locally owned. But even Pinkberry’s model is starting to fade. The newest frozen yogurt fad is the self-serve concept, where customers have total control over the yogurt and topping selection and are charged by weight. Self-serve is significantly cheaper than “full-service” shops and you can control how much you want to eat, satisfying portion control-freaks and those that want a little bit of everything. It’s interesting to see how the ‘healthy’ dessert category has changed over the years, representing what our current ideas of what it means to be healthy. I can’t wait to taste what comes next!