by Steffie Nelson

Love it or hate it, you can put the blame on grunge—"it" being the current mainlining of all things retro straight into the collective aesthetic. "It" is why you saw a rack of your favorite rainbow-striped ski sweaters at Macy's, and why the Salvation Army just refuses to yield those black pants with the subtlest flare—but you can get their knockoff at Barneys for $250. It's a quagmire: how to be a fashion forward penny pincher when the planet is in retrograde?

As for those Seattle-ites who put the sexy back into loser, you're probably thinking (if your fashion feelers are functioning), "Wait just a minute, there. Grunge style was about flannel shirts and Doc Martens." And you're right. There is no apparent link between the drunk logger look and the dipped and flipped mod slinking down your local catwalk, but as they say, like the flower needs the rain...and you know how much it rains in Seattle. What grunge did was create a commodity out of misunderstood youth like nothing since "Rebel Without A Cause." Thrift shopping was an essential component; people saw Kurt Cobain in a mohair sweater over a housedress and asked, "How much is that 'I don't give a fuck' in the window?" Probably a greater price than they imagined.

The fact is, if you're poor you don't have much choice but to shop at thrift stores, and if you have an eye you're going to look fab. It's always been done, but suddenly it was deemed hip—and very '90s. Once that great primordial Goodwill opened its doors, there was no turning back—or rather, there was nothing but turning back. Kurt passed the torch to Courtney, who initiated her own grunge backlash by wearing vintage lace and velvet with tiaras. Supermodels talked about their most-treasured "finds" and were photographed backstage at The Collections in quaint vintage get-ups.

Nearly every major fashion trend since then has had its origin in a previous decade: from 1930s bias-cut dresses to 1940s floral rayon dresses; 1960s racing stripes to late-'70s roller disco satins; blond streaks a la Mrs. Robinson to the shag; Adidas Gazelles to Puma Clydes; waif to vamp to mod. Now here we are, poised on that same brink that characterized the mid-'60s space age, only now we call it cyberspace. What next? A few intrepid visionaries like Jean Paul Gaultier or Thierry Mugler still attempt to lead us into "the future" (albeit by a rubber leash), but we continue riding the retro-go-round. Stranger still, styles seem to be recurring in chronological order; 1994's late-'50s/early-'60s lounge look evolved into this past year's mid-'60s mod, and now the Spring collections are clearly evocative of the late-'60s and early-'70s, featuring belted pant-suits and knit coat and dress ensembles. "Fashion has reached a point of stagnation," asserts Seth Weisser, owner of What Goes Around Comes Around, a vintage clothing store. "People who call themselves designers nowadays are a lot of twenty-somethings whose concept of fashion is what they've been exposed to—they're just pulling from what they know, which is the past."

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