Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
I am not a Bitchy Fashion Girl. You know the type, present often in fiction and occasionally in reality, her power and pleasure derived from constantly criticizing the outfits and bodies around her, her authority and ascent both facilitated by fear. As a chronically inadequate-feeling teen, I remember the BFG trope seeming like something to aspire to — but somewhere between the triumphant pre-dance à trois scene in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and the cerulean sweater monologue heard ‘round the world, I realized such attitudes were actually ruining my enjoyment of clothes.
Nowadays, I love to witness someone else clearly feeling their look, even if I can’t envision myself in that particular ensemble. But once in a while a trend comes along that knocks me off my guiding principles, causing such a visceral and sustained disgust that I’m forced to confront my prejudices anew. And though I’m only in the early stages of recovery from last year’s hellish descent into sock boots, I’ve recently found myself blindsided again — this time by pearl barf. You’ve definitely seen pearl barf (and if you own it, I’m sorry, maybe stop reading now); it’s the indiscriminate slapping of “pearl” beads onto clothing items from coats to blouses to jeans in arrangements that are both painfully orderly and consistently nonsensical.
In the interest of full disclosure, while I don’t view pearls in general as abhorrent, to say I feel warmly toward them would be a stretch. It’s not that there’s anything unattractive about somewhat shiny, neutral-colored spheres or their less symmetrical freshwater cousins — it’s the associations I have with them that are immediately off-putting. Pearls conjure up images from the overly precious (various insufferable Selma Blair characters from the turn of the millennium, Charlotte York recoiling at the mention of cunnilingus) to the downright sinister (noted nazi Coco Chanel, modern abettor Sarah Huckabee Sanders), all with the common threads — well, strings — of toxic “purity,” aristocracy, and supremacy. Pearls are the equivalent of murder by Blair Waldorf in the (Northern wing) walk-in closet with the Bedazzler.
But in the form of jewelry, at least, pearls don’t face the same functional design challenges embodied by pearl barf. Adding 3D orbs to a garment that’s intended to lay somewhat flat requires either relegating them solely to the front of said garment (which looks unfinished, and not in a cool, subversive way), or saying fuck it to comfort and applying them all the way around. Sure, your ass will look like a golf ball any time you alight from a subway bench or desk chair — not to mention feel like a copiously bogeyed one by the end of the day — but if you think about it, that’s actually the best-case scenario. Sit on something caned, and you may never get up again.
If nothing else, those curiously spaced white blobs stir a kind of primitive revulsion in me — they get my self-preservation instincts all in a tizzy. Maybe it’s that they look like the thumbnails of the viral pimple-popping videos I can’t bring myself to watch, or maybe it’s something deeper-seated, a result of intergenerational trauma. Was there a pustule-proliferating plague in the 16th century that killed off swaths of my pale, un-athletic Lithuanian foremothers? Some acne-esque epidemic, lost to history, that bubonically blemished my Irish side?
Or maybe — just maybe — my hatred of pearl barf is some kind of distorted, meta-BFG projection, a spurning of the attempt to reinvigorate elements of fashion always decreed objectively tasteful. (Who watches the Watchmen? Who’s bitchy to the bitches?) Whatever the case, no matter how much I try desensitizing myself with images of pearl barf and analyzing my feelings, I just can’t seem to reason them away. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t have the stomach to look anymore.