Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 9 News List

In fashion, `bling-bling' dies as ostentation goes out of vogue

By William Safire  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

When the rap artist Nelly, whose name is Cornell Hayes, claimed that more than a million dollars' worth of his jewelry had been stolen, the Fox News Online headline above the AP article read, "Nelly's `Bling-Bling' Stolen From Vegas Hotel Room."

"Bling-bling" originally meant "expensive jewelry," apparently coined in the late 1990s by another rap artist, BG, a member of the group Cash Money Millionaires.

"I'm so surprised that the word has spread like it has," BG told MTV News last month. "But I knew it was serious when I saw that the NBA championship ring for the Los Angeles Lakers had the word `bling-bling' written in diamonds on it."

The reduplication has long since migrated from the rap world into the fashion business; there, it described not just expensive accessories but a glitzy (from the German glitzen, to glitter) look in clothing. I recount its history here because "bling-bling" -- and its cousin, "ghetto fabulous" -- is gone-gone. ("History," a scornful dismissal of the out-of-date, as in "he's history," denoted what was once called "passe," a term now so outmoded as to be antediluvian, a word washed ashore after Noah's flood. The language of fashion cries out for an up-to-date word for "out-of-date.")

Bling-bling is dead because, my fashion informants say, the trend it described -- ostentation -- is out of vogue. So is its counterfashion: black. "The new black," says Edward Nardoza, editor of Women's Wear Daily, "could be pink, blue or virtually any other ubiquitous color."

"The key words," observes Ruth LaFerla, a frequent contributor to The New York Times' fashion pages, "include such treacly expressions as 'flirty,' 'girly,' 'fresh,' 'sweet,' even 'pretty'. Patrick Robinson, the new designer at Perry Ellis, told me that 'charming' is the new 'sexy'. I used 'candied' myself yesterday. All these choices are meant to counteract the toughness and vulgarity of seasons past."

Pretty? "That's the new buzzword," says James LaForce, spokesman for Elle magazine. "Everything for spring is pretty and feminine. And all of a sudden, it's okay to say something is cute." (That adjective used to be considered a terrible put-down. I recall, at the 1976 Democratic convention, a dirty-tricks GOP operative handed out buttons that read "Cuties for Carter," which was intended to infuriate feminists.) "And then there is the objectifying of a thing by making it singular. `I love the shoe.' Or `a very important pant this season.' It's a cross between stylist talk and garmento."

What's garmento? "That's very Seventh Avenue, for the lingo of somebody who has worked in the industry for a long time," LaForce said. "Not a new word, and sometimes taken as derogatory. A new word is 'flirty'."

Sure enough, there it is in Women's Wear Daily, clothing modeled by a woman identified as "Tom Cruise's first ex-wife": "Sweetly chic numbers included flirty dresses, sailor-collared tops and flippy skirts, some in candy colors." "Flippy" is of recent vintage, apparently from a skirt that flips up provocatively. But flirty -- celebrated in Oscar Hammerstein II's lyric I Enjoy Being a Girl," along with "girly" -- in its sense of "coquettish; playing at making love without serious intent," was, in the form of flirting, used by the actor David Garrick in his prologue to Richard Sheridan's 1777 School for Scandal."

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