It's time for county fair fashion again.
Perhaps you know the look out in the pig, cattle and sheep barns: t-shirts and blue jeans and a healthy dose of mud on both. (Let's not get too close. And we'll just assume it's mud.)
Or perhaps I don't know the look, because that's not what I'm seeing parading around the fairgrounds. Instead there are fitted suits, dresses with fur collars and outfits that feature designer socks. Well, they're purple and orange socks with sandals, which I'm sure someone in the fashion industry will label as a designer trend.
One thing is for sure: I'm not in the pig barn anymore. This is the Douglas County 4-H Fashion Show, one of the first events of the county fair, which goes into full swing this week.
"It has gone pretty smooth," said 15-year old Tucker Gabriel, who had just paraded himself and three different outfits — everything from an informal beach outfit to a more formal ensemble that featured a Kansas State polo shirt — in front of the judge. "I didn't trip."
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That's right, the fashion show isn't just for young ladies. More than 150 youths participated in the show on Monday and Tuesday. Show officials estimated that about three-quarters of the participants were female, but many visitors were surprised at the number of young boys and male teenagers in the competition.
"I think the fellows are into it more and more these days," said Marcia McFarlane, one of nine judges for the fashion show.
And that's a good thing, says Margaret Kalb, a Douglas County Extension employee who helps organize the fashion show and multiple other fair events. Even though clothing may not garner the same enthusiasm from boys as it does girls, she said, it still is important for the boys to know some basics. Like how to read a clothing label, how to care for a garment and how to pick out a good value.
"After all, I think we're all hoping that they go out and live on their own someday," Kalb said.
I know that is the hope with at least one of them. My 10-year old son was in the lineup to take a walk in front of the judges. He was right behind a girl whose mother came up right before showtime to adjust her earrings ever so slightly. I felt like I should do my part. I checked to see if my son was wearing matching socks. A clean pair is probably too much to ask for.
But that's part of the learning process with this show. Judges take time to provide individual critiques to each of the participants, which can include youths that make their own clothes or those who model purchased outfits. (The purchased category — or buymanship, as it is called — is the bigger of the two categories these days.)
Pieces of advice include: If you tuck your shirt in, always wear a belt; khakis and grays aren't a good pairing; and I even learned the "sometimes, always, never" rule with a three-button blazer. Top button buttoned sometimes, middle always and bottom never.
"Unless you are before the queen, and then button all three," judge Rick Dunn advised.
Even if they don't learn all the fashion dos and don'ts, participants were still taking away some pointers that may pay dividends.
"You do learn stuff," says Gabriel, who is in his eighth year at the show. "You kind of learn how to take care of things, and not trash up everything you own."
I know of several mothers who gladly would settle for that from their sons. Come to think of it, I know several wives who probably would want that from their husbands.
Nineteen-year old Paris Nottingham is a veteran of the fair's fashion show. She modeled in it from the time she was seven until she turned 18. Now a volunteer, she provided me more details on what the judges may look for.
"You don't want to mix navy blue with black," she said.
I pointed to my polyester navy-blue slacks with black cowboy boots and a black belt. She stammered a bit, but I don't feel bad about my choice. I'd already figured out that this show really isn't about what you're wearing on the outside.
"I hope what these kids take away from this is that they have a good time, and they leave here feeling really good about themselves," McFarlane said.
That was certainly the theme of the day. Several participants admitted that in today's world it is plenty easy to equate clothes with materialism and some of the bad tendencies that go with it. But it doesn't have to be that way, they said. One winner of the show had an outfit that didn't feature a single item that cost more than $8. And participants said almost any outfit can be worth well more than it cost, if worn correctly.
"When you have something on that you thought about and put together, it can make you feel better about yourself, and that's important," said Becca Booth-Meyers, who watched her daughter Scout win one of the top ribbons in the show.
That certainly is true to a point, but you know the saying: The clothes don't make the man. Fashion show leaders don't argue with that either, but they do quickly add that there is an accessory that can say a whole lot about you: A smile.
"Without a doubt, the most important thing the kids can wear here is a smile," Nottingham said. "A smile always makes an outfit look 10 times more appealing."
As the rest of fair week unfolds, that's good advice to remember. My kids raise and sell pigs at the fair, so I and a whole bunch of other parents will get a chance to show off the more traditional pig-barn look of t-shirts, blue jeans and mud. And, of course, a lot of smiles.
We'll look good. Now, smell? No promises there.