Madge & Me

Madonna's been ripping me of for years

So I see that Madonna is struggling with her look.

As I approach 53, my fashion journey has taken me about to where Madonna's has taken her. It looks like she's giving up the ghost. As another fashion icon, I understand. You get tired, people. That cutting edge begins to cut into you.

The recent New York Times story "Who's That Girl?" sadly notes that her "stylistic reinvention … is mostly shocking for not having teeth. The new Madonna look … evokes a kind of athletic, campus-casual blandness, as if designed for anonymity at the gym." Fashion designer Betsey Johnson sneers, "I think she's looking like Christie Brinkley going to court." Mee-ow. I started my fashion trip a few years before Madonna. She busted out in the early '80s, but I was making fashion statements in my college years here in the mid-'70s.

The Times story mentions a current, cultishly influential band called The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. Hey, I was into Karen Black when Karen Black was Karen Black. In 1974, while Madonna was a clueless Saginaw schoolgirl, you'd see me at CWRU college parties, wearing a peach pantsuit, blond wig and makeup, stumbling around the room with my eyes crossed in tribute to the legendary actress. Of course, nobody in Cleveland "got" it. I was only 35 years ahead of the curve.

I fashion-flourished during the disco years, hitting the discotheques while wearing my famous blue bow on the top of my head, twirling a flaming baton and packing my leather pants with stuffed animals, to please the ladies. You remember the great Bunny-Head-Peeking-Out-of-the-Crotch craze of 1978? Guess who started that?

At that point, Madonna was posing for her early nudie pics. How imaginative.

She was still searching for her look in the early '80s. I beat her to the Salvation Army shtick by a good two years. I wore the plastic bracelets and anklets, a Bazooka Joe beanie on top of wild, peroxide-dyed hair, overalls (Dexys Midnight Runners stole that from me) and used, unlaced boots. I wore eyeliner and lipstick ˆ la Robert Smith of the Cure. Imagine my "surprise" to see my look, copied piece for piece, in 1985's Desperately Seeking Susan.

In 1990 Madonna embarked on her Blond Ambition tour. I convulsed my friends and co-workers by dubbing it the "Bland Ambition" tour. I'd been wearing my underpants outside my pants for years. This was new? Those conical bras had come and gone, my friend. I can't tell you how many eyes I put out while wearing those - in the '80s.

And that riding crop? Give me a break. I was cracking my whip - which I fondly nicknamed "The Beast" - at work and parties back in the mid-'80s. I was quite the sight, snapping that booger in my yellow cowboy hat, monocle, pre-Seinfeld puffy pirate shirt and purple Capri pants!

I bought Madonna's 1992 book Sex out of amused curiosity. What else could she swipe from my fashion past? Arty photos of yourself in multiracial threesomes? Check. Catholic schoolgirl in bondage? Check. Nude hitchhiking in high heels, with cigarette dangling off your lip? Check and double check.

Now Madonna finds herself in transition. Her latest album cover shows her as an American Gladiator-ish fighter wearing a bodysuit, boxing championship belt and above-the-knee boots. Yet in her videos, she's prancing around in nondescript (for her) tops and the usual high leather boots. She's fighting, all right!

Me too. I can't keep up with it anymore. Now instead of constantly reinventing my look, I go with only the finest in designer jeans and tops: Wrangler. Legendary Gold. The mighty Murano. Cherokee. The Fruit (us fashionistas' worshipful name for Fruit of the Loom underwear). My entire ensemble costs me about 23 dollars, not counting accessories, like shoes. Madonna, meet me at the University Heights Target - I'll show you a few things.

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