I was 13 years old in 1990, the year that Beverly Hills 90201 debuted. I wasn’t allowed to watch the show, but you didn’t have to watch it in order to see its impact, which was visible directly in front of the ears of most teenage boys. I refer, of course, to the reestablishment of sideburns. Before 90210 came on the scene, sideburns – in Farmington, Utah, at least – were a laughable, regrettable relic of the days when our parents were young. Before 1990 sideburns were lying in risible disrepute in the trash heap of history. They were a punch line.
Before long, though, the sideburns sported by Brandon and Dylan on 90210 leapt off the screen and onto the heads of a few brave, trendspotting souls in Farmington. I was not one of them. Indeed, I was physically unable to look at an image of the boys from Beverly Hills without being overcome by nasuea and rage. I just HATED their sideburns SO MUCH. I mean, I could admit that they were really handsome guys and had awesome clothes and and yes, Dylan had a certain je ne sais quois about him. Obviously. But those sideburns? Gross. Disgusting and gross and ugly and stupid and lame and disgusting.
I honestly have no idea how you would get your hair to go like that.
I remember being at my friend Darren’s house during this time when some of his older sister’s high school friends walked in, all sporting their new sideburns. Darren and I laughed at and openly ridiculed them. I think I called one of them Elvis. They laughed right back and told us, in essence, that we could laugh all we wanted but that we probably couldn’t even grow sideburns and no girl would ever like us until we could and did. Each side walked way confident of history’s ultimate vindication.
I don’t remember how much time lapsed between the days when I couldn’t look at anyone with sideburns without wanting to punch them and the moment when I started praying that my own sparse sideburns would extend below the top 1/3 of my ear. Maybe a year? Whatever it was, it didn’t take very long for me to go from HATE to LOOOOOVE.
Wow, still, all these years later. DREAMBOAT.
Now, we all know that that’s what taste does – it changes, especially when you’re a teenager. But that’s the part I find so interesting and puzzling. I experience taste for fashion in the same way I experience taste for food: I put zucchini in my mouth and my brain tells me it is disgusting and to spit it out. Same goes for sideburns or Doc Martens or whatever. I have a visceral reaction that seems hard-wired. And anything that is hard-wired is permanent. There doesn’t seem to be any choice in the matter – nothing conscious or optional. I’m not deciding whether to like the way zucchini tastes or the way sideburns look. I just like them or I hate them, naturally, automatically, and seemingly permanently.
Inexplicably, weird googly eyes never caught on in the way that sideburns did.
I’ve been through this process umpteen times since it happened to me with sideburns. Some new trend hits the scene, I hate it for a while, and then it’s just OK, and then I like it, and then I love it, and then, after a few years, I hate it. The latest iteration of this process I can think of is skinny jeans. I had two girlfriends who were early adopters. The first time I saw them wearing them I literally burst out laughing. I told them in no uncertain terms how silly they looked, how unflattering the cut was to the female form, and how this was a trend that was never, ever going to catch on. Then, more gently, I told them they had been misled, and that they should see if they get their money back. Now, several years later, I break out in hives if I come within 100 yards of a wide leg jean – the exact jean that I ridiculed Ryan for not wearing in college. (At the time he favored tight, tapered jeans. Before he got married Ryan was an amazing bellwether of what was going to be fashionable in 10 – 15 years.)
This process has now occurred so many times that it’s broken my spirit a little bit. I see some new trend and I say, “Wow, that is incredibly ugly. Too bad that within a year I’m going to be wearing it and loving it.” And then I sit down and wait passively and helplessly for my taste on the matter to change.
Thankfully, some tastes are forever.
All of this raises the central question, for which I lack an answer: How does this process work, exactly? How do one’s tastes – which seem so automatic and permanent – go from hate to love and then to hate again in the space of a few years? We know that it happens, but how? Is it simply a matter of corporations paying advertisers and marketers to bombard us with images of beautiful, hip people wearing X, at which point we subconsciously begin to associate X with beauty and hipness and come to like and then love it? Is that all there is to it? Because if that’s all there is to it I wish some corporation would pay Brad Pitt to start eating tons of vegetables in his movies and say publicly how much he hates Blow Pops and Sour Patch Kids.