by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 2/1998

It’s been a while since I enjoyed an afternoon of Saturday malling, but last weekend presented no appointments or urgent things to do, so the day was spent browsing, returning a few Christmas items, buying new tapes, and sampling strawberry smoothies and Japanese cooking at the food court.

I happened upon one of the teen-ager clothing stores in the mall and the generation gap walloped me like the ocean surf pounding the shore.

“Kid’s can’t be wearing this stuff,” I though to myself.

Orange vinyl pants. Fur lined rubber winter coats in four florescent colors. Black spandex fishnet body suits. Neon blue plastic pants with blue lined fur down the legs. Clothes that looked liked they’d been pieced together in a blender.

Every generation has its own fashions; back when I was in my early teens, guys grew their hair over their ears (which horrified my father to no end) and wore barracuda jackets.

I suppose each generation looks at the next generation, and the fashions amaze them. Look at today’s styles: The gangster look is in. Ultra-baggy jeans and “marshmallow” coats are the style. To be honest, I often think that today’s styles are more suitable for “alien of the week” on Star Trek.

But the problem wasn’t the bizarre aspect of the fashions. What bothered me is what else the store sold. I’m not talking about the funky bumper stickers and bizarre neon posters you can find at any K-Mart — I mean the other things: Objects with sexual expressions. Skulls and symbols of death everywhere — on T-shirts, rings, chains, jewelry, and belts. Books about death. Images that looked positively evil. And blasting on the loud speaker, a song whose every other verse contained the “F” word.

Problem is, the place and many I’ve seen like it are specially geared toward teen-agers (as evidenced by the nearly all of the people shopping there and workers behind the counter.)

For lack of a better term, there’s something dark going on here. Something unsettling. I’m not comfortable with teen-agers so readily embracing skulls, gargoyles and other symbols of evil and death. This isn’t a Halloween store where you buy scary things for a frightening costume. This is for everyday clothes.

I honestly worry about the darker influence this type of merchandise has on teen-agers. Very baggy jeans are just a fashion statement; a large skull necklace and black choker is something more — something that makes me uncomfortable. I doubt I’m alone in my concern.

Obsessions with death and the darker side is frightening enough — but in a store targeted to teens and pre-teens, it’s even more disturbing. This isn’t an out-of the-way place — this is one store typical of many in a large mall with thousands of shoppers a day. And these days, malls are the favorite hangout of teen-agers.

An adult making these selections is one thing. Impressionable teen-agers are another. I question what kind of statement they’re making by wearing this sort of paraphernalia.

What kind of values will these teen-agers pass on to their children? What kind of leaders and business people will these kids be a decade from now? Is it just a phase, or something more?

I have no answers for any of this; this is after all a free country and stores can sell what they like. But teen-agers buying and wearing items that glorify death and the dark side — well, I wonder where it all might lead. Frankly, the answers scare me.

Update 2015: This column was one of my earlier efforts and I include it here for completeness but don’t consider it an example of my best writing. Either I was a little too all over the place, trying to write something that was would just serve to please the audience, or I re-read it and just think, “huh?” In this case, in looking back, kids will be kids and every generation has its own style. A lot of the clothes I describe that I saw in the store that day aren’t good for job interviews or church, but other than that, I look back on this one and think, whatever, let kids wear what they want. Then again, I’m not a parent, so what do I know? Like I said, not one of my better columns.

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