I pressed on. Natalie, 18, just graduated from Chula Vista High. "I think the word comes from Mexican slang. It's like a girl that dresses all the time in short shorts, tight clothes. Some of the stuff in Rave and Charlotte Russe is hootchie. They have to show their body off a lot. They usually have a lot of makeup on. They wear really dark eyeliner, dark lipliner. Most of them are slutty; some of them are just teases to get attention. They always have boyfriends, one right after another. They think they're better than everyone, that no one can tell them how bad they look because they think they really look good. A lot of them hang out in downtown San Diego and the malls, especially Chula Vista Mall."
Further insight into the hootchie psyche came from 15-year-old Adriana. I found her sitting in front of the clothing store Expression. "They dress that way for attention. They have a lack of respect for themselves and not enough confidence in themselves. I think they're trashy. I don't think they're pretty, not to girls, anyway. They have an attitude; they're standoffish. Guys like them because they're fast."
Over by a sunglasses kiosk, I noticed two modestly dressed, skateboarder-hip girls in mod haircuts with a third girl, this one wearing very short black shorts and a looser-fitting pink-striped spaghetti-strapped tank top. I asked for their list of hootchie clothes. Says Elizabeth, 16, "Tube tops, miniskirts, Daisy Dukes." She referred to the denim cutoffs worn by the female character in The Dukes of Hazzard, but when I asked after them, Caroline, 16, gestured towards her friend Jenny's outfit. "Like she has." "I'm not a hootch!" cried Jenny. Caroline amended her statement: "Except they're more slanty," she said, indicating the crotch line. Jenny quickly added that they have lots of cleavage popping out, even if they don't have any.
Who are they dressing like?
Elizabeth piped up, "The term comes from a song, 'You Ain't Nothing but a Hootchie Mama.' They dress like the girls in music videos. The hootchies usually listen to rap. A song like 'Country Grammar' by Nellie, or 'The Thong Song' by Sisq�. A lot of it is based on the girls in their videos, and the songs are about nothing, really -- just songs about girls dressing slutty."
Do they know what other girls think of them?
"Probably, and they don't care. They think other girls are just jealous."
By this time, I was determined to get a hootchie's input on things. I chased down two girls heading toward Macy's. Neither was wearing heavy makeup, but their clothes were tight and revealing. Rachel, 18, was wearing a tight white spaghetti-strap tank top and ultra-short stretchy denim shorts.
Why are you wearing those clothes?
"I just saw them."
What do guys think of them?
"They think I'm sexy."
What do your parents think?
"Mom doesn't like it. She says it's too revealing."
What do other girls think?
"I don't know; I've never heard any other girls' opinions."
What's a hootchie?
Some girls say your sort of clothes are hootchie.
"I don't think so."
What do your clothes say about you?
"I don't know. I think they're just kind of plain and ordinary."
Her friend, also Rachel and also 18, was wearing a sleeveless tight black dress with a plunging neckline. The skirt came to the mid-thigh.
What do guys think of your clothes?
"They don't really care."
Why such a low-cut dress?
"Because it's hot or something."
Rachel agreed that hootchie means slutty. "It's a term everyone uses. Like at school or on TV talk shows like Jenny Jones." She thinks her clothes are "cute. I just buy from regular stores, just anything."
The last girl I spoke with was 14 year-old Tasha. Her barely developing torso was covered with a backless halter top, fastened around the neck and held on with a tie in the back. She had purchased it at Rave for $20. Her young friend wore a white tube top with a probably parent-mandated bra under it. The straps glared out. Long, awkward pauses passed after each question I asked her. Her replies were sparing and nervous. She admitted that her parents "don't really like" the top. "They think it shows off the back a little bit too much."
What do your clothes say about you?
"I don't know -- just the way I am. I don't know, because I usually don't dress like this. I usually wear, like, elbow shirts or something. But it's hot today."