High Life / A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : Enlightened Views of Teens Who Wear Black

Anne Chen is a junior at Capistrano Valley High School, where she is a reporter for Paw Prints, the student newspaper

Some high school teen-agers make themselves more visible than others. And the ones who look truly different often bring about misunderstandings.

Such is the fate of teen-agers who dress in black.

Do they call themselves mods or death rockers? Punkers or devil worshipers? Or are they just teen-agers with a limited fashion sense?

"Aren't they called gloomies?" wonders one teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo. "That's what all the kids call them."

But they call themselves nonconformists.

These are teen-agers with pasty-white faces who often wear black eye-liner and purple lipstick. They are adorned with enough silver to set off any airport sensor.

But nonconformists? Well, sure, they dress differently from their classmates, but they all dress the same.

"Wearing black is just a trend," explained Andy Boswell, a junior at Capistrano Valley. "I dress this way because I enjoy it, not to be different. Besides, it's easy to match."

Chris Hoberg, who is also a junior at Capistrano Valley, said: "I'm just being myself. I don't always wear black. I wore blue and yellow to school today."

Julie Mai, another junior, put it in psychological terms: "Black is a dominant color. I suppose a lot of people who can't be dominant like to wear black. But I honestly think it's just a preference."

The opinions these all-black dressers draw are as varied as their reasons for adopting the look.

"They have a right to express themselves as long as they don't involve themselves in anything that harms the school," said Jennifer Kercher, a junior at Capistrano Valley. "I don't even think about it (all-black style)."

"They just dress differently," said Justin Chan, another junior. "As far as I'm concerned, they're pretty cool people. Some of them are abstract, but they're actually very nice."

"I think it's kind of neat," said Beth Gibb, a Capo Valley German teacher. "High school is a time for you to figure out who you are and what you want to be.

"As you get older, you have to make career choices. Many careers require a certain look; it's (all-black dressing) just not acceptable. Now and in college is the only times to experiment and to have fun."

Dressing the way these teens do does attract attention, desired or not.

"It is true that we attract more attention from police and other authority-types of people. We get questioned," said Mai, who added that her friends actually had food thrown at them in the mall.

Paul said police arrived at her friend's birthday party and asked, "Is this a costume party?"

"Cops snicker a little and do that quite a bit," Ortega said. "They say, 'Halloween ended several months ago.'

"Cops are especially harsh and rude and think I'm a hard person by the way I dress. And if you do say something (in reply), it's considered a defiance of authority."

Said Boswell: "Police assume we're troublemakers by the way we dress. Once, I got pulled over by a cop and he thought I was drunk. He asked me, 'What are you? A punk?' "

Mai said her attire has caused people to raise such questions as "Are you going to a funeral?" She said she receives these comments from people she doesn't know and who don't understand her.

"I get things like that every day," Hoberg said. "It doesn't bother me."

Said Boswell: "A lot of people hate me and they don't even know me. They think I'm a 'fag,' a Nazi or a depressionist . . . but I'm not."

"Just anywhere, basically," Mai said.

So just what do their parents think about their children's all-black fashion statement?

"I can't say they like it very much," Mai said, "but they've adjusted."

"They worry about so much black," Ortega said. "They see it meaning depression. They are worried about how others see me and form opinions. They get upset quite a lot."

On the lighter side, Boswell said, "my dad thinks it's funny."

As for their style being associated with drug use, Ortega said, "It's not a group thing. People view it that way. They associated it with us and assume everyone is a drug user. If anyone does it, it's not encouraged nor is it publicized."

One former all-black dresser--call him John--left the clique when it affected his social life.

"It had an effect on my family," John said. "I felt I was losing my other friends. I didn't get into everything they did. There's a lot of neat people, but all the makeup, the clothing and the foul language got to be too much for me."

John considered his former friends somewhat confrontational.

"A lot of them like the attention. They want people to say something," he said. "I just hate to see the girls all pasted up (with makeup). Some of them are really pretty without it. I just didn't like all the attention. It was much more of a costume, an act."

So are the teen-agers in black conformists or nonconformists?

"I really don't think of myself as a nonconformist," Boswell said. "I'm just another person."

Offered Mai: "We're conforming to nonconformity, but we're people, too. We have feelings."

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