Fashion Statements: the young and the naked | Calendar | Chicago Reader

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Fashion Statements: the young and the naked

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We met Crystal Rivera, 6, and Barbie, 34, rising like Venus Junior and her protege from the waves of Lake Michigan. Crystal's suit announced its readiness to swim to the rescue, while its open-tummied construction suggested more interest in beach blanket bingo. Our Fashion Marines launched an amphibious assault to determine if her mission could be classified as naval or navel.

Ever since the wool jersey bathing costume (two pieces: knee-length dress and ankle-length pants) waded into view in 1865, women's swimwear has been shrinking, as if exposed to the sun too long. According to Richard Martin and Harold Koda--in their sumptuous poolside photo book Splash!--suits have been playing a sort of shell game, revealing one naughty slice of the body after another as the public's sense of decency relaxes. Women's arms were liberated in the teens, legs in the 1920s, cleavages in the 1930s, midriffs in the 1940s and 1950s, belly buttons in the 1960s, hips in the 1970s. The remaining cloistered parts have done a bit of sunning since.

Girls followed suit, kicking off their cumbersome bathing dresses and opting for mini versions of Mom's saucy seaside ensembles. Crystal's one/two piece is cropped 90s near, though it retains some similarity to the black-and-white striped number in which Barbie, teenage fashion model, made her debut in 1959. Crystal's modern Barbie, one step ahead of the times, seems to have no compunction about strolling the beach au naturel, modeling the long legs and racy curves in "sturdy flesh-tone vinyl plastic" that have kept her timelessly in vogue.

In their matching brunette ponytails, revealing attire, and casual attitude, Barbie and baby express a sunny seaside nonchalance. Their Fashion Statement? "Look Ma, no clothes!"

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yael Routtenberg.

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