One Small Square of Fabric

I did a double-take this afternoon. Walking the dogs past the hair salon on the corner, I watched one of the stylists step outside for a smoke. This particular girl has curly purple hair and enough gear to make it obvious that she’s fairly alternative in her lifestyle.

What threw me off was that she had a bandana tied around the ankle of her knee-high leather boot. A white one, with a black pattern.

Flash back to 1985 or so, when the scarf around the ankle was all the rage. I had a vast collection of scarves and bandanas in every colour. I have no idea why it started, but it was one of those things that seemed to have come from the New Romantic movement. I’ve always associated it with Duran Duran, but can find no photographic evidence to support that thesis. Rockers picked it up soon after, and every hair metal band seems to have at least one member sporting an ankle bandana.

Like most silly fashion trends, it was a point of teasing, just as those drop-crotch pants a few years later would warrant passing comments about shoplifting or bodily functions. I had an English teacher who joked that I’d never manage to hold up a stagecoach with the bandana tied around my ankle instead of over my face. The French teacher tried to ban the fashion statement from his classroom, but backed off when he couldn’t give a decent reason as to why. It was an era of lots of stuff, accessory-wise, and bandanas were just one item in a vast selection of everything from jelly bracelets to lace gloves and neon shoelaces.

Like most fashion trends, the ankle bandana did not score parental approval. Twenty years later, I can understand that it looked pretty stupid, but compared to a lot of other things I could have been wearing at the time (or that teenagers have sported in the past few years), it was really very harmless, and hey, at least I was carrying a handkerchief.

One afternoon, I was exiting a shopping mall with a group of friends all similarly dressed, when I encountered my Grandmother and two of my aunts. “What on earth is around your ankle? Are you hurt?”

“No,” I muttered, desperate to get away. “It’s just a thing we do.”

“Does your mother know you’re dressed like that?”

And then I got that sinking lump of dread in my gut, because I knew for a fact that my Mother most certainly *would* know I was dressed like that before I got home, despite my best effort to remove and stash half of my kit in my purse before I hit the driveway.

Sure enough, Auntie had ratted me out and I got shit when I arrived home. There was much discussion of the bad influence that music was having on me, and how I should stop being so silly and wasting my time dressing so foolishly. It was humiliating, but didn’t ultimately stop me from wearing what I wanted. I mused privately on the hypocrisy of parents lecturing their kids on fashion and music, given how they must have received a version of the same lecture a generation before. And considering the things I could have been getting into like sex and drugs and other trouble, a bandana around my ankle and a poster of Simon LeBon on my bedroom wall seems downright wholesome.

I don’t know if ankle bandanas are enjoying a resurgence or if the purple-haired stylist was just in a retro mood when she got dressed this morning, but it put a smile on my face. Yeah, it looked kind of silly, but so what? It’s not like she was flashing her buttcrack in low rider pants, or struggling to keep a too short skirt from revealing her underwear. A little extra square of fabric certainly beats a lack of fabric.

My Aunties should have been cool enough to let me enjoy my folly without ratting me out and making me feel stupid. Every generation has their “ankle bandana”, after all, and silly fashions and swooning after unattainable rock stars is a safe and sensible way for teenagers to mature without getting hurt. One little piece of fabric will not be anyone’s personal downfall.