The Decade That Style Remembered
The flamboyant spirit of 1970s style is making a more palatable comeback
If the 1970s were the “Me” Decade, when young people were focused on themselves, as the author and journalist Mr Tom Wolfe famously declared in his 1976 article for The New Yorker, then the 2010s seem to have ushered in a Mini-Me Decade. The era’s louche-slouch aesthetic – soft lines, generous proportions, tactile fabrics – has been making a concerted catwalk comeback, from the loose, high-waisted trousers at Gucci to the chunky-collared blouson jackets at Valentino. For the following images, MR PORTER enlisted the help of Mr Oscar Robertson, drummer for retro London rockers Hidden Charms, to take the look for a spin.
So why do the styles of 40 years ago suddenly seem newly relevant? There’s a clue in Gucci designer Mr Alessandro Michele’s post-show remark that the label’s Bohemian-waif look celebrates the “contemporary non-conformist”. The 1970s, so often derided as the decade that taste forgot, were actually the era of the maverick, from the Young Turks of Hollywood (Messrs Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola), to the downtown adventurers of the New York City art world. With the hippie dream long dead, the world in economic freefall and branding, at that stage, merely something you did to steers with a hot iron, men began dressing with a new-found sense of fun and anything-goes flamboyance, combining an exaggerated masculinity (this was the moment when bodybuilding went mainstream, along with Mr Burt Reynolds’ moustache) with a rakish glamour (fur, silk, lace and velour were added to the heady and combustible mix).
Fast-forward four decades and we’re in a world similarly beset by financial uncertainty, where modern dress codes – whether taking their lead from Silicon Valley, Wall Street or even the “anti-style” normcore movement – are again erring on the side of buttoned-down, straight-legged conformity. In such an environment, a touch of 1970s swagger adds a genuine pop of sartorial subversion (or disruption, to deploy one of Silicon Valley’s buzzwords) to a look, as well as a chance to reach back beyond a pre-wired, pre-virtual world when the cut of your boot-cuts or the sheen of your sateen scarf made a more forthright statement of intent than any number of Facebook likes or the content of an Instagram feed.
The final, 1970s-straddling series of Mad Men, with Harry Crane rocking a paisley ascot and Stan Rizzo swapping his clean-cut Madison Avenue look for extravagant facial hair and a fringed buckskin jacket, has also helped rehabilitate the period. And it may be no coincidence that many of the designers now leading the charge came of age in the 1970s and remember first-hand the days when turning revolt into style was a radical act and not just another “look” to be uploaded by an army of street-style bloggers.
Today’s versions of key 1970s pieces subtly dial down the original era’s excesses while retaining their dash. In place of chunky platform soles, there are prairie boots with moderately elevated heels. Brown suede coats retain their pointed lapels but are given a tailored, more-craft-than-Shaft finish. Safari jackets have streamlined detailing and belted waists, banishing memories of Sir Roger Moore’s baggy Moonraker ensembles. Velvet tuxedos and jackets trimmed in shearling add a sexed-up, tactile quality to wardrobe staples. The tracksuit – a 1970s invention – returns, completing the cultural cycle that began with the comeback of the Stan Smith last year. And even the deep V-neck sweater, a throwback to the divinely decadent days of Studio 54, is serving as a perfect foil to the slouchy scarf, knotted at sternum level in homage to the era’s hang-loose philosophy.
The modern inheritor of the 1970s mantle is channelling some of the defiant spirit that made anti-heroes of the likes of Messrs Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman and John Travolta, and planting his floral-printed, brushed-suede flag proudly amid his clean-sportswearing or heritage-workwearing peers. If the Bohemian waifs and androgynous shapes of Gucci and J.W.Anderson lie at one end of this spectrum, then the likes of Mr Robert Redford in the original 1974 movie version of The Great Gatsby (cream three-piece suits with double-breasted waistcoats; the 1970s by way of the 1920s) and Mr Bradley Cooper in American Hustle (unbuttoned silk shirts, massive aviators) are at the other. It’s doubtful that the Mini-Me Decade will be as immoderate, path-breaking or un-PC as its storied predecessor, but, with the conspicuously lapelled Ron Burgundy among its role models, it’s likely to be just as diverting.