The old hard-core look–motorcycle leathers with locks, chains, and studs–has either gone respectable or gone away. But it takes on a fresh, scandalous air with the addition of 1989’s liveliest fashion accessory–a pet rat worn on and around the collar.

According to the fashion plates pictured here, whom we encountered near the corner of Belmont and Clark, these rats can be had at pet stores. Some kids dye theirs in fluorescent colors. Then one simply trains the animal, applies it to the collar, and heads out to one’s favorite street corner or promenade. It’s easier than it looks, and it says it all–more than you realize at first shudder.

It scares the squares away. Need we say more?

Parents and other older folks will never adopt the look. You’ll see scads of motorcycle jackets in Water Tower Place; a rat would never make it through the doors.

It’s kinetic. Those cute little rodents won’t stay still; they scamper in and about your collar in unpredictable ways–they kiss, nibble, and constantly tease your hair. You never look the same way twice.

It’s a conversation piece. A great way to meet animal lovers.

It gives you something to do besides standing around smoking. You can feed it, handle it, kiss it, tease the faint-hearted, and always look occupied, purposeful, interesting.

It’s ecologically and ethically correct. It allows you to wear fur without killing an animal.

The rat collar does have its problems. First there are what we might call eliminatory difficulties. Also, getting into your favorite club might be difficult–unless you have a place to hide the creature.

Fortunately, clubs are beginning to accommodate the new fashion. An avant-garde joint on Milwaukee Avenue has experimented with a rat room, where patrons can drink, dance, and eat with rodents scampering about their feet. Were all those rat-plagued downtown movie theaters just ahead of their time?

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