When Carmen Osuna, right, showed up at a girlfriend's party last month wearing these shorts and wraparound top made from pink and blue garbage bags, her friends almost trashed her.
"At first, they were looking at me like I was dingy," said the 18-year-old Hoover High School senior. "But really, they liked it. They were asking me how I made it and how I put it together and stuff."
Osuna and about 50 of her classmates have created everything from tennis togs and halter tops to prom gowns and miniskirts out of plastic trash bags.
Hoover High art teacher Frank McBride started the garbage-wear trend eight years ago while looking for an inexpensive, versatile material his students could use to design clothes. He hit on trash bags, never realizing his idea would become more than a Hoover High sensation.
Students at nearby Crawford High, and at San Pasqual High School in Escondido, have picked up the idea. An offbeat design studio in San Francisco is keeping tabs on the young seamstresses. And after a German magazine ran a story about the idea, students there started designing plastic clothes of their own and writing to the students at Hoover.
It's those offshoots that McBride values for his students. Besides learning a craft and developing their creativity, the 50 or 60 students who often spend time in McBride's art lab after school develop camaraderie among one another and confidence in themselves.
This is the first year Pia Samuels, 16, has tried McBride's technique. While she had created an entire evening ensemble out of pink and gray trash bags, she hasn't quite had the courage to wear the strapless gown, single gauntlet, envelope purse and hair fan on a date.
That doesn't mean she doesn't love her outfit. Plastic, she noted authoritatively, is often more forgiving than fabric.
"You can cut it, write on it, paint it, melt it . . . all kinds of stuff. And it's cheap," she said. "You don't really need experience because plastic is easy. All you do is fit it and work with it."
Osuna, who has been designing in plastic for two years, is a little bolder than her friend. She decided to model her creation publicly after getting encouragement from McBride and hearing the raves another student, Vivian Manion, received last year when she wore her hot-pink and black ball gown to the prom.
"If I had a date," Osuna admitted, "I probably wouldn't have had the nerve to wear it."