Saturday, September 26, 2009


It was the decade when...

Women spent hundreds of dollars to look like burlap sacks.

The Poncho. Preferred couture of Banditos everywhere. These simple, heavy garments were designed by Peruvian peasants to withstand inclement weather as they harvest their, well...whatever they harvest in Peru. In the 60's, they were an accessory of the counter-culture; there was something organic and handmade and anti-fashion about them, a combination that suited the hippie naturalist-meets-anti-establishment aesthetic to a tee. The fad seemed destined to have the same half-life as suede tasseled vests.

But something went horribly, horribly wrong.

Emerging out of nowhere and spreading like a malibu brush fire, in 2004 the poncho dominated womens fashion. They were everywhere. Young women, old women, girls, celebrities. No one could get enough, or spend enough. These were not the the heavy, carapace-like shields that the Inca's wore. These were cheaply made, third-world child-labor intensive, mass produced frocks that looked as if they were knitted with yarn purchased from Michaels. A kitten's dream come true really. The absence of cultural authenticity bothered no one. (If you are shopping for a poncho at Old Navy, ethnic bona fides are probably not on the front of your mind.) So pervasive was the trend that the legitimate media couldn't turn away. The New York Times wrote about them (in the "circuits" section? Is it just me or are ponchos a decidedly "analog" accessory?) So did Slate. Even Martha Stewart got in the act with "Poncho Day;" the Domestic Diva and her entire studio audience were all draped like so much knitted bedding. An ocean of fabric, it looked like she had brought in the the AIDS Quilt. (Whether her guest David Spade joined in the poncho fun I do not recall.) In fact, the trend either reached it's zenith or jumped the shark (probably both) when Martha was released from prison sporting a Poncho knitted by a fellow inmate; in-between operating license-plate machinery and badly-lit frottage sessions it seems one can find time in ladies prison for more "Home-Ec" varieties of activity. After Martha's big out-of-the-clink press conference, incessant Emails poured in demanding a replica. You can buy it here.

By the way, in case you forgot, ponchos are fugly. Bulky, itchy, stupid, and fugly. A poncho, let me remind you, is just a table cloth with a hole to stick your head through. Take a blanket, cut a whole in the middle. Stick your head in. Poncho. Don't like your window treatment? Rip that shit down, take some scissors to it and...voila. Poncho. The hide of a recently killed moose? You get the idea. Doesn't take too much skill to construct a poncho. They aren't exactly dispensing poncho challenges on Project Runway.

In reality, the advertising slogan should have been: Ponchos, when muumuus are just too complicated.

A star shines its brightest before it goes dark. This season's must-have item is next year's wouldn't-be-caught-dead-in-it look to avoid. By the time the title character donned a poncho on Ugly Betty's premiere episode, the fashion trend a la moment circa 2004 had become so passe that its inclusion in a wardrobe could only signal a punchline. Personally, sometime in 2005, I think girls started to look around, breathe a collective sigh and say, "OK, this is REALLY stupid. I just spent $300 on a bunch of yarn." At least I hope that's what happened. It gives me hope.

But maybe people just wanted "The Snuggie" instead. A poncho with arms. Now that's genius.

You AUGHT to remember.

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