To find out what is in fashion for teen and preteen girls, I sought out the one and only Pearl McCloud -- sales clerk at Belk in Rock Hill for decades.
I found her Tuesday doing what she has done for thousands of days -- telling people what is in style.
"Ms. McCloud," I begin, "we had a story on the front page today that said some girl teens around the country are wearing 'less sexy' fashions. That for this group, less skin is 'in.' Can this be right?" I ask the great Pearl.
I have one just-turned-teenage girl who shudders when I bellow about plunging necklines and make-up and offer "burlap sack!" to her requests for clothes. I have one pre-teen who gives me "The Hand" to stop me when I yell about her clothes, and one only 5 years old who thinks she's 19.
At the Rock Hill Galleria, to get to Pearl, I had to pass Victoria's Secret with a big sign stating, "Five pink panties for $25." I may have noticed the larger-than-life-size cutout of the woman wearing skimpy underwear, but I am not sure. I had to pass a store where the brassiere posters were bigger and bolder than 1950s Playboy centerfolds. I passed two girls at one place that had shirts as tight and tiny as those worn by Barbie dolls.
"The style now is no more bellies showing and no more backs showing, either," McCloud said. "Longer tops on the girls. Some are even like long tunics. The pants are tight, and they ride a little low, but then again, they have the figures for it. But all in all, all that super tight, super short stuff is out."
Then I say the story in the paper had only mothers talking about their daughters' clothes, how these moms and daughters are into better self-esteem and other stuff that mothers and daughters apparently talk about.
I tell her how my kids' clothes cost the rent. I tell her how I traveled two weeks ago to watch Winthrop's Eagles play basketball and wrote about it, so my wife paid me back by going away last week. I was a single father for a week.
I remember that the only vegetable my kids ate for a week was french fries. That I agreed whipped cream straight out of the upside-down can be construed as a daily dairy serving recommended by the FDA. Fruit in a pop-tart is "fruit, right?" That brownies and chocolate milk and milkshakes are in fact health breakfasts.
"Clueless, I was, Ms. Pearl," I said. "The big one only wears expensive shirts that I say are too tight but that she and my wife say are fine. So they always say, 'Butt out,'
"Then the middle one had a slumber party last weekend. Said she needed new pajamas."
I tell her how I had to ask a smart young female reporter -- maybe 23 years old -- named Jessica Schonberg -- if I was being hustled by this kid for new clothes or I should buy the stuff. Jessica said, "Buy the pajamas. A girl at age 11 cannot go to a slumber party with old pajamas. Get a clue!"
Same thing my three daughters said that very morning.
So I tell Pearl how the three girls and I went to the store for the pajamas and the middle one immediately grabs pink short shorts and a pink tiny top. The shorts were the size of a postage stamp. The top had spaghetti straps. I confess to Pearl that I begged a stranger lady, right there in the middle of the store last week, and asked, "Can my 11-year-old wear this to a slumber party?"
My kids fled that day in embarrassed terror and the nice lady said, "Of course not. Those are for grown-ups."
What she didn't say was, "You are a grown-up so start acting like one."
That article claimed if parents hate it, kids will "eat it up." True, I can't stand all my daughters would wear except maybe a Quaker smock. They wear it anyway.
The middle girl finally found some proper pajamas.
Pearl McCloud, who has clothed thousands in this city, who watched the mini skirt scare parents into a frenzy until hip mothers started wearing minis themselves then hemlines plunged anyway, said fashion changes in teens will follow young adults.
"Your girls will want to wear what is in style, that they see the young women wearing," she said. "But parents have the final say."
I tell her my wife watches clothes and fashion and modesty like a hawk already. McCloud adds, "You decide, too."
You, the father, she meant, get a clue.
The real reason fathers like me should have been in that article about what clothes teen girls should wear is I was a rascal, rotten teenage boy once. Maybe burlap sacks for girls will one day be in style.