Anyone who saw Zack Morris' return to TV on a June episode of 'Late Night with Jimmy Fallon' likely felt more than a hint of nostalgia for a certain class at Bayside High. In The Fash Pack's first instalment of a month-long series on first fashion influences, writer Ceda Xiong of This Is What Adults Wear shares why Zack's girlfriend, Kelly Kapowski, was the Kate Moss of the Aaron Spelling TV dynasty.
Here, Xiong explores the high points of Laura Ashley shorts and acid-wash denim, and tells why, as an immigrant to America, she took an instant liking to the girl who could land the leader of Zack Attack.
I grew up in China and was ignorantly fashion-free until my move to the US around the age of 8. After two solid years of soaking in American television, even I could discern that the ultimate cool girl was Kelly Kapowski from 'Saved by the Bell'.
Even though Jesse Spano was probably closer to my bookworm soul than the picture-perfect head of cheerleading, I disliked Jesse's menswear shirts and the way she was easily flustered by Slater. Lisa Turtle was definitely too fashion-forward for my pre-teen taste. The only approachable model seemed to be Kelly, and if my dream boyfriend was going to be Zack Morris, then it made perfect sense that dressing like Kelly was going to get results.
From episode to episode, I observed the flurry of acid-wash denim, shorter-than-ribcage t-shirts, and that hair — how I tried to copy that graceful swoop of early-‘90s coiffure, with its fluffy curvilinear form arching over the forehead. My favourite outfits involved the Laura Ashley printed denim, belted with the huge silver buckle or held upright by blocky suspenders. When my mother found a pair of denim printed with the same rose and leaf pattern, I was so ecstatic that I wore them for a week.
My parents would have never let me near the cropped t-shirt collection that Kelly seemed to wear two or three times per episode, but I remembered the lesson well: short t-shirts always looked better when there was a sliver of California-browned skin underneath, or when paired with pencil skirts and whiter-than-acid denim. Even though the fictitious Bayside was nowhere near a beach, we saw Kelly in the 'Baywatch'-type swimsuits (one piece, high-thigh cut) years before Pamela Anderson made them a ratings bonanza.
Kelly wasn't all early-'90s anachronistic clothing. In California Scheming, a novelization of the series, Kelly goes to San Francisco to become a fashion model for Isaac Mizrahi (and for some reason, I remember Isaac Mizrahi as a love interest for Lisa Turtle during her fashion internship). On the cover, Kelly wears a perfect black and flower-patterned sundress that wouldn't look out of place in Chloe Sevigny's first Opening Ceremony line. If the early '90s are always spinning around 20-somethings' subconscious, then it's perfectly logical that we all have some type of Kelly Kapowski influence steeped in our brain.
By the time 'Saved by the Bell' was woefully revived for the college edition, I already had lost all interest in the characters. Instead of the exuberantly fun clothes from high school that were both innocent and charmingly offbeat, now we were fed a steady dose of boring fashion fit for primetime. No matter how insane the outfits look in reruns, Kelly always looked comfortable and confident, and my pre-teen self always needed a dose of blithe confidence to deal with the horrors of middle school. Pull on your rose and leaf denim, and feel the power of the cool girls again.
- CEDA XIONG