The Gloria Vanderbilt Wars
Updated: Sep 12
In the early 1980s, the Gloria Vanderbilt Wars were launched at a normal, everyday home in a small village in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky.
A bold as brass 13-year old, wearing her detested "pretty plus" Sears jeans, shot the first arrow toward the commander of the parental units, her mother who (admittedly now) had much more sense than she. The commander knew without a doubt that the girl was no match, but she let her fight anyway, knowing that life for women in the era of women's first ascension to professional power, was a constant fight and that the experience would do her daughter good.
In 1983, as the girl was entering her first year of being a teenager, Gloria Vanderbilt jeans sold for between $32 and $40. For reference, a plain pair Levi's were $15. And the girl was determined to have them, come hell or high water.
That doesn't seem like much, but $15 had the purchasing power of about $44.62 today. The dollar had an average inflation rate of 2.83% per year between 1983 and 2022, producing a cumulative price increase of 197.47%.
Well, Momma refused flat out to spend that much on a pair of jeans for a 13-year-old because, and I quote, "Beauty does not come from having somebody's name stitched across your ass."
We were a solid middle-class family so I knew we could afford them, and there were kids at my junior high whose families were less well off who already had Glorias. I figured this meant they were better at arguing the point with their parents than I was. So I looked for the adversary's weak point, which was, naturally, Daddy.
I badgered him to the point that Dad begged mother to "just buy her the damn things!" But Mom knew that if I started defining my confidence from the outer-self, I would never find beauty in my inner-self. Now at 52, I know that this is true beyond a shadow of a doubt.
I compare myself to my best friend at time, Angie, who wore a juniors size 5 Glorias (she had a little ass ) whereas I wore a size 13 (surprise - I had a big ass). And lo and behold, even to this day Angie's sense of self is entirely wrapped up in the outer, and not the inner.
She literally owns a medical spa where they do Botox and fillers to women's faces. She used to be a nurse practitioner, and maybe she's just following the money, but my guess is she's sampled plenty of product herself.
In the spirit of honesty, am I above injectables - no, not really.
Age, while natural and normal, is severely and unfairly judged in our society. We practically worship at the altar of Hollywood aging, even while we know it's patently unobtainable. Weight is judged as well, of course, but my weight loss journey was triggered by improved health and quality of life, not beauty. Plus weight is something I can correct on my own. Marionette mouth, crow's feet, and frown lines are caused by genetics so I see them as a justified indulgence. Not a necessity - an indulgence - which is an important distinction to make I think.
To say I begged, pleaded, and threatened for Gloria Vanderbilt jeans is an understatement. They were the first thing I wanted as far as fashion that Mom could not reproduce with her wizardry on the sewing machine. Maybe this was part of the problem. If she could have whipped up a pair for me without spending forty bucks on the junk food of fifth avenue, she would have.
But for me, the issue was one of fitting into the cut-throat world of popularity at my school. Second to that was the issue of getting male attention, which is something I'd just begun to crave. To gird my loins with a pair of Glorias as I was thrown into the frey of female competition with its hormone catalyst, was the thing that would help me forge ahead with a New Kelly, who was no longer just the next incarnation of Tub-of-Lard Kelly from elementary school.
Did I win the war? Not even a skirmish. My parents controlled the purse strings and the giving of money as gifts was looked down on by my southern-as-sin mother who judged it as tacky. So while my friends whose parents also had sense and refused the designer jeans craze, simply saved up birthday and Christmas money to get their wish-list jeans, I was left to the mercy of the Queen of Inner Confidence, my mother.
Looking back, I obviously thank her. I'm one of those people who, when you compliment her on her dress, tells you how she bought it used for a song on eBay. Or if you tell her that her hair always looks good, she gives credit to her father's good hair genes.
The greatest compliment I ever received, and I may have put this in another post already, was basically that I was okay-looking, maybe even cute, but after he got to know me, I became hot.
That one, plus another I received while waiting for taxi outside my hotel in center city Philadelphia, will always be my go-to's when I'm feeling down. I was wearing a gray double-breasted pantsuit, a maroon satin blouse, a maroon and gray abstract-deigned men's tie, and high heeled ankle boots.
The handsome man asked me where I was headed and I told him my office. He asked what I did. I explained that I was the project director for a book on the city called Urban Tapestry and he said, "That sounds cool, but I would have assumed you were in fashion." After I finished my inner happy dance, I told him I got lucky and learned everything I knew about fashion from my mother, who could work miracles with her Singer sewing machine.
Momma Crew: 1
Teenaged Me: 0