We met Evelyn Haddad and Norma Hijazin, both 14, at the Sulzer Library. Norma was working out a family tree as homework, Evelyn was backing her up. The close friends and distant cousins wore their team spirit with pride. But our Fashion Commentators wanted play-by-play accuracy.

The two girls’ two-play look started the day as prep-school practical–regulation pleated skirts over button-up blouses. Uniforms keep order in class by promoting teamwork, benching snob appeal, and flagging teacher-student power plays. That prep dress takes its marching orders from the military isn’t lost on the student body. The point is conformity.

Both girls have pulled a quick change postschool, tucking their prim uniforms under athletic Ts, and in Norma’s case, sweats and shoes to match. As Nathan Joseph explains in Uniforms and Nonuniforms, a swift phone-booth (or girls’ room) change stops the clock. Few still go for five outfits a day, Beau Brummel style, but when the insurance agent loosens his tie, the clerk unclasps her Happy to Serv U pin, or schoolgirls take cover in workout gear, they’re all announcing time out–from the job and the squad.

True teens, Evelyn and Norma express their individuality twinsies style. As their Megamall-fresh fashions attest, neither is actually planning to break a sweat. “I’m like a Nike freak–I’ve got Nike everything,” says Evelyn. “It’s popular.”

Indeed. Sports attire, from jousting to jogging, is easily distracted from the game. Jodhpurs or cleats toe the starting line designed for chap resistance or good grip. Soon, wearing the funny outfit–handier and simpler than actually knocking around a dimpled ball–makes neat shorthand for leisure, prowess, and wealth. As Vogue put it in 1919: “Half the fun of sports–or is it really all the fun?–lies in wearing just the smartest type of sports clothes.”

Released from the players’ roster, athletic gear pursues a solo career the way the sweater–golf getup early in the century–has done. Sportswear, after all, has little to do with sports. Or retired relics hit the motivational circuit the way a knight’s off-season armor (macho even empty) or the furloughed number 23 (oops) once did.

By convincing kids to suit up in the swashbuckling swoosh (is it a wing? a wave?), Nike takes the “gear is good” game plan one step further–no longer celebrating the muscular elitism of the avid athlete but the moneyed elitism of the corporate cheerleader.

Matching schoolgirl uniformity layered under matching consumer conformity scores a double Fashion Statement: “Team players.”

–Leah Eskin

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos by Cynthia Howe.