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The Incredible True Story of Hammer Pants: a Cautionary Tale

When I was 15, if someone had asked what I was going to do with my life, designing graphic tees was not on any list.
Of course, looking back at my incredibly adventurous choices for what to wear, it's not a stretch. After all, I wore a paper-thin t-shirt with more holes than fabric, hastily scrawled with Sharpie by my punk rock boyfriend:


"You love the smell of your own farts. Think about it. Talk about it."

A man in a park took me up on it. "Why on earth would you wear that?"
If I had a response, it's lost forever in the sands of time. But you have to admit: it was a good question.
This piece I wrote is the most unlikely resumé for a shoppiste you've read in, well, possibly ever. You might laugh out loud. Highly recommended for days when you're feeling blue.

Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em

I got new glasses, the ones which announce the onset of deterioration. The ones that say, “The eyes are tired now; next stop: doddering.” I’m sad about the glasses because I have nice peepers, although my husband says now I just look like a Jewish librarian. Lucky for me, he thinks they’re hot.

When I was in the showroom, the plucky optician said, “You look very ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ today,” a reference to my Frenchie striped top and my cuffed jeans, looking much like Madonna’s outfit while she hopped around singing about the consequences of premarital nookie. I looked down, surprised. She was right! All I needed was my bleached coif from back in the day, and *boom*: high school.

The thing is, I’ve heard the Eighties are back. But I think I’ve been dressing this way since I was in the Eighties. Do jeans ever go out of style? Or am I just not paying attention? I don’t have an Eighties hairstyle, if only because I’m too lazy to do anything that might require “maintenance.” But I wear t-shirts which I suspect look exactly the same as the ones I doffed in high school. My guess is, if you looked through my wardrobe and then looked through many of my Eighties photos, you would see a striking resemblance between then and now.

Fortunately, some things have changed.

My dear friend, with whom I stumbled through the Eighties so long ago, just visited from Manhattan and we did a little post mortem on our fashion choices in high school. “They’re back, can you believe it?” She was referring to the resurgence of Hammer pants, attire neither of us can quite believe has resurfaced in the hallowed halls of fashion. “I tried on a pair for laughs a couple weeks ago, just to check, and it does not work anymore.” She giggled at the thought. “Now it’s all about my ass; they make me look like a blueberry or something.” I vividly understood: having worn them through my last two years of high school with a devotion bordering on zealotry, I remembered how they emphasized the booty into enormo-buns and diminished the lower legs into tiny little flippers. You might be mistaken for a blowfish if not careful.

And because teenagers are compelled to mimic but desperate for originality, we both obeyed the laws of Hammer pants, but created signature flourishes to accompany them, our own personal touches that said, “Gosh darnit, I’m original, but not very!”

For me it was the men’s dress coat. I would comb every thrift store in the city looking for sports coats which dwarfed my small frame and gave me David Byrne shoulders, in nice burnt-orange plaids or blood-red shark skin. I would couple my Hammer pants with these old men’s cast-offs and dainty flats. Topped with a jaunty hat, I was one step away from joining a technicolor penguin circus.

I couldn’t understand it, but my best friend was not nearly so enamored of musty sport coats. Her signature Hammer styling was a creation of her own design: socklets.

Rather than wear something as practical as a sock, she revised the “leg warmer” and took socks to their illogical extreme: ankle warmers. How many pairs of socks met their premature demise at the end of her scissors? How many cuffs had she heartlessly rent from her perfectly serviceable socks? If socks bled it would be worthy of Vlad the Impaler.

She had two-inch sock-cuffs for every occasion, tiny little sweat bands mopping the brow of each ankle, each pair matching (or a daring counterpoint to) a different pair of Hammer pants. Because we were best friends I had to copy her, though I don’t think I ever carried it off with the same panache. And if laundry day was light because we were unburdened with whole socks, winters in Colorado with warm ankles but cold feet made them ones I recall as “the Winter of Blue Toes.”

“I had a pair of grey Hammer pants that looked exactly like elephant skin,” she recalled. “They were huge, baggy, wrinkled.” Who the hell wants to emulate an elephant in high school? For that matter, who wants to emulate a subway station, which I did with my Hammer pants that sported a whimsical print of subway bricks besmirched with graffiti. With old man coats over subway pants, I must have been a sight to behold. Just add the smell of a urinal puck and some Boone’s Farm and I would be a sensation. Me and my friend “the Elephant Girl,” with the merest hint of socks, an unholy “fashion-don’t” writ large.

Add the smell of a urinal puck and some Boone’s Farm and I would be a sensation. Me and my friend “the Elephant Girl,” with the merest hint of socks, an unholy “fashion-don’t” writ large.

Granted, we didn’t just wear Hammer pants, though both of us had at least three pairs. “Do you remember your skirts made out of pillow cases?” she queried. How could I forget? What invention! What inspired creativity! Bed linens? It’s a readymade! Slice open the top, hike it up with a wide leather belt, instant statement! Grandma’s floral prints were instantly repurposed into the newest trend in bed-linen skirt-wear. It bagged at the top where it folded over the belt while the rest was so tight I could hardly walk–but so what? I looked AWESOME! Why, if I paired it with one of my old men sport coats? Genius! The newest Coco Chanel-meets-Grey Gardens was well on her way to the Milan spring collection.

There were army fatigues which I wore with fishnet stockings, but because foot-covering was de trop in any ensemble, I cut them off and made them into fishnet leggings, held in place by rubber bracelets I forced over my feet. The bracelets almost cut off my circulation once I shoved them up my calf, but since we didn’t wear socks anyway, my feet would hardly be missed after their amputation.

“I made a skirt out of my bedroom curtains,” I reflected, a New Wave Scarlett O’Hara, though I didn’t have a Rhett Butler to impress. Plus, unlike Scarlett’s, whose masterful rejuvenation of window treatments almost fooled Rhett into believing she had retained her wealth, my skirt still looked like curtains when I was done: they even had the streaks of sun-bleaching from years in the window.

“I actually tripped over my own crotch,” my friend gasped, wiping tears of joyous disbelief from her eyes. “I was running across the street in my favorite Hammer pants and my foot got caught in the huge amount of fabric hanging down.” It must have been hilarious, but then this same friend caught me showing off in a moment of teenage hubris; I came skidding around a corner on a winter-wet floor whereby I ate shit: one minute I’m giggling through the window, the next I’m gone in a Tom-and-Jerry maneuver flat on my ass. What was I wearing? Hammer pants. Did they hasten my fall? Did my foot also get caught in the billowing clouds of crotch fabric? Who knows? It’s just another piece of our collective Hammer shame.

Ah, youth. I might have an anachronistic fashion sense of one who doesn’t pay much attention but I’m pretty sure that Hammer pants will look as stupid twenty years in the future as they did twenty years in the past. And I’m really glad that people will look that stupid in the present so they can laugh about it later.

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