Drinks, like eyeglasses and shoes, are best when they fit how you look. While you can get away with shoes that don’t quite match the outfit, a pair that sync up nicely really makes a difference. Same goes for your booze. As much as it is a social lubricant, drinking is an affectation, an accessory, and you’re well-advised to choose accessories based not necessarily on what you like, but on what you look like.
THE CLOTHES I AM CURRENTLY IN look like those worn by Color Me Badd on their eponymous album C.M.B. My aggressively pleated pants billow at the top and taper sharply to the ankle. The pattern is a yellow houndstooth; something I didn’t know existed and am now pretty sure should not. My shirt is button up and collar-less and, somehow, also pleated. There is no taper to this shirt; it is all billow − black and shiny with that same yellow houndstooth adorning the shoulders in a triangle shape. The buttons are gold.
I AM WEARING THESE CLOTHES because I am attending an 80s themed prom at my local watering hole. Most of my friends are here and similarly costumed. We expectantly watch the front door, wondering what version of the 80s will walk in next. Perhaps it was inevitable, but we are simply turning this into a movie. The 80s were a televisual explosion and as such we cannot distinguish between the reality of the 80s and its movies and music television. Around me we’ve got: a Don Johnson dead ringer (white coat, pastel pink t-shirt, no socks); a Jay McInerney type (black coat with sleeves rolled up, looks like he should be doing coke in the bathroom); the entire cast of the Breakfast Club; a Football Playing Jock; a punk girl and guy (spiky jewelry, eyeliner, and anarchy symbols); a hair metal girl and guy (enough Aqua Net to stiffen a hurricane); a goodie-two-shoes girl (pastel blue prom dress with puffy sleeves and asymmetrical hemline); and someone who looks exactly like John Oates. It’s unclear if the John Oates look alike is in costume or if he just happens to be here.
To be fair, my pleated billowing clothes come from the early 90s; and because all the hipster kids are currently loving the neon and the acid wash and the unitards of the actual 80s, I look a lot less cool than everyone else.
OH, RIGHT, AND SO: I’m drinking a Bartles & Jaymes Individual Size Wine Cooler. The bottle is teardrop-shaped with a twist off top. The bar brought these in special for tonight. They only bought like a case, but it looks as if they will run out soon. It is the drink of choice; though it looks better in some hands than others. Don Johnson pretty much looks perfect; but the guy in eyeliner, Converse sneakers, and suit pants cut into shorts should be drinking a pint of Australian beer. I struggled with what to order, unsure of what the members of Color Me Badd would drink if they couldn’t drink champagne in a candle-lit bathroom. Whiskey was out of the question, and I’d already burned my way through a vodka gimlet in a martini glass that didn’t look right at all. I probably would have looked pretty accurate with a Zima, I figure, and a wine cooler is the next best thing.
A wine cooler is essentially just a mix of wine, fruit juice, sugar, and soda − you can make them at home (and should) − but most people associate the term with the commercially produced concoctions introduced in the 1980s. California Cooler made the first commercially available wine coolers, but it was Bartles & Jaymes − and specifically the ad campaign featuring Frank and Ed, two old guys sitting on a porch being hilarious − that popularized the product. Sales grew dramatically throughout the 80s − Bruce Willis even starred in commercials advertising the Seagrams brand − but by the early 90s, the cooler bubble had burst. It’s often pointed out that an early 90s increase in wine-excise tax precipitated the decline − wine coolers were now a lot more expensive to make − but it’s clear that there was also a large style component to the collapse in sales. Unlike wine itself, wine coolers became indistinguishable from their brands (and to a certain extent, even though they make straight-up wine, the Bartles & Jaymes brand became indistinguishable from wine coolers). Without some serious money and marketing genius, brands die when styles change. Bruce Willis sold Seagrams as a feathered hair 80s lothario − somebody straigt from the scene in Top Gun where Maverick picks up Kelly McGillis. When that character became laughable, so too did wine coolers.
Bartles & Jaymes continued making wine coolers, but due to the increased expense they switched out the wine with a cheaper malt beverage. No wine included, but brand trumps ingredients so we still refer to them as wine coolers. This malt forms the base of all those drinks seemingly invented for sorority girls − drinks driven by brands rather than ingredients: Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Twisted Tea, Smirnoff Ice, that Jack Daniel’s Country Cocktail crap. But whereas those beverages are popular and ubiquitous (and hurting the world), I have never seen any young person binge-drinking with the tear-drop shaped bottle that I have in my hands here at the 80s prom. And again, I think it’s a style problem. Given the right costume, everyone wants a wine cooler.
My high school prom was in the 90s, not the 80s, yet dressing up in an era through which I lived still feels strange. We used to have dress-up theme days in high school, but they were always in a style from our parent’s generation. For 70s day, I’d come to school wearing a tie-dye T-shirt; for the 50s I’d put a comb in my back pocket. I am now old enough to play dress up in clothes I actually once wore. It’s a return not just to a different era with different looks and sayings; it’s a return to a former person, whether yourself or someone you knew.
Wine Allergic Girlfriend had a work thing and so couldn’t come to the 80s prom − this, of course, being a perfect 80s movie scenario − so I got ready with Former Housemates Extraordinaire Casey and Chad. I hadn’t used mousse since probably junior high, but I more than made up for it in an attempt to get hair both big and soft. Casey also used her fair share to achieve the huge roller coaster bangs she wanted. She put on a powder blue prom dress with puffy sleeves − something so innocent and awkward compared to what teenage girls go after now that I am almost brought to tears.
While getting ready at my house, Chad broke out some photos from his actual prom for inspiration. I put on Duran Duran and we sifted through the pics. All the young women in the photos wore dresses exactly like Casey’s − shiny, fabric intensive gowns − except theirs are all the same bland peach color. Chad − who actually received the Prom King crown in high school − wore a boxy sport coat instead of a tux. In a total return to former self, he is wearing that same sport coat again tonight, its shoulders huge and absurd.
When we arrive at the local watering hole, I am amazed at how large many of my friends have gotten their hair done. Most of the women have gone for a sort of hair metal Poison-fan look − leather and lace and fingerless gloves. Some have added a bit of fuchsia and eye shadow to achieve a Cyndi Lauper effect. Casey takes this all in and then looks down at her blue dress. “I’m the goodie-two-shoes,” she sadly remarks. “I wasn’t the goodie-two-shoes in high school.”
I was the goodie-two-shoes at my high school − and, truth be told, probably would have been pretty smitten with a girl in a powder-blue puffy sleeved gown − but because I went to high school in London, with it’s drinking age on a sliding scale, I did attend my prom fairly tipsy, goodie-two-shoes notwithstanding.
Like my high school prom, the 80s prom begins with an assigned seating dinner. Because W.A.G. is not in attendance, I sit with others who are single, or at least single for the evening: two Poison-fan gals and a guy in eyeliner and a torn up suit. We discuss how if this were a real 80s prom movie, we would be the dangerous kids the popular kids would be tempted into smooching − you know, for drama − although I can’t really include myself in that group as I don’t remember anybody in Pretty in Pink who looked like Milli Vanilli.
I have another wine cooler to enjoy with my appetizer, but switch over to the house white wine (an Argentina white wine) by our second course. The wine coolers have run out, causing a slight fashion crisis, but by the end of dinner I don’t really care all that much whether my drink fits in with my clothes or my pencil thin chinstrap beard.
Dinner finishes and the dancing begins. Later there will be a real-live dance-off in which I will participate − if nothing else, my ballooning pants will look sharp on the dance floor. I’ve never shied from the dance floor, though there are times I wish I had. Following the dinner at my high school prom, I left my girlfriend at our table and stupidly proceeded to dance close with a number of other girls. This caused a fight later on, but not before I actually split my pants trying to imitate a dance I’d seen in a Weezer music video: Happy Days’ Fonzi doing a strange, vaguely Russian crouch and spread eagle move.
During the 80s prom dance-off, I get down to the last five before being tapped out. I’ve shed my billowy, collar-less shirt − one thing I can confirm about Rayon: the stuff doesn’t breath − but even with that part of my look gone, W.A.G. still won’t get near me after she eventually arrives. “You are shaving the minute we get home,” she tells me, not joking in the least.
I thought about buying a four-pack of wine coolers to have at home, but when I found them in the liquor store a couple days later − all teal and sunshine packaging − I realized I would never actually choose to drink one at home. I’ve got wine for goodness sake. Maybe it’s an advertising thing, but wine coolers are for teenagers and television characters. It’s engineered that way. For one thing, coolers are little more than alcoholic juice, which is why so many folks have high school stories about Boone’s Farm (Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill being the first alcoholic beverage on which I got drunk). We are a nation raised on soda; it makes sense that these sugary, increasingly malt-based beverages should help us cross the bridge to the relatively bitter, sharp flavors of wine and other alcohol.
Moreover, wine coolers are an alcoholic drink that never transcended the brands that make them. And movie and TV characters − starting in the 80s especially − don’t drink drinks; they drank brands. A generic, anonymous wine glass doesn’t work for Don Johnson − it’s a waste of ad real estate. So it make sense that at the 80s prom, on a night when folks are either dressed up as someone from their high school or someone from 80s television, wine cooler − the first modern sugary, aggressively advertised alcohol − would be the accessory of choice. So in turn, it also makes sense that after I’d shaved off the chinstrap (W.A.G. watching over my shoulder to make sure I didn’t leave the mustache), and put the yellow houndstooth pants on the “costume shelf,” wine coolers would look a little out of place.
Wines used in the creation of this article:
Bartles & Jaymes Wine Cooler, The Original (drunk while at the 80s Prom)
Bodega Lurton Pinot Gris (ibid.)
Château Massieu Boutet Bordeaux 2005 (drunk while writing)