fashion, 1970s

fashion, 1970s
   British fashion trends of the early 1970s reflected the diffusion of the ‘total look’ which had been cultivated by the celebrity designers of 1960s London. Where the designers of ‘the look’ had laid claim to the values of urbanism and pop, futurism and fun, the iconography of early 1970s fashion was more fragmented and the design imperatives less consistent. The decline in the prestige of the designer reflected social changes in attitude to fashion and the emergence of anti-fashion ideologies. The industry was criticized as exploitative of women by the emerging feminist movement, and dismissed for its artificiality and decadence from the anti-commercial, naturalist perspective of the hippies. Anti-fashion currents of 1970s youth style were to find their most spectacular expression in the image and attitude of punk, but the legacy of punk style was ironically the return of the designer to the centre of British fashion (see punk rock).
   The key influences of hippie sartorial culture on 1970s style concepts were the rejection of the normative gender coding of European dress and introduction of the retro aesthetics of second-hand clothes consumption. Unable to capitalize on the second-hand market, the fashion industry concentrated on mainstreaming unisex clothing culture through the promotion of mass-produced denim wear. In the 1960s, blue jeans came to symbolize the generational mood of youthful nonconformity and the myth of the American West (freedom, individuality, adventure). By the early 1970s, the youthful denim image had ossified into a kind of cultural uniformity. In 1971 Levi-Strauss dominated the world jeans market, and that year received the prestigious USA Coty Fashion Critics Award. The fashion industry revised the basic jeans scheme by introducing a series of style innovations: embroidered jeans, for example, were tailored as bellbottoms or hip-huggers. The contemporary diversification of the jeans market can be dated from the mid-1970s with the introduction of ‘designer’ jeans from US companies such as Calvin Klein and Gloria Vanderbilt.
   The simple blue jeans motif co-existed with other currents in early 1970s fashion, which exaggerated the futurism and artifice of 1960s pop. Hot pants made of velvet and velour and multi-coloured platform shoes typify the distortions of size and kitsch sensibility of early 1970s British pop fashion. Glam in particular explored the ‘gender-bending’ dimensions of pop chic. A gay-coded style formation of conspicuous outrageous-ness, glam spectacularly displayed themes of androgyny and transvestism. Glam star David Bowie was costumed in vibrantly coloured hair, vivid make-up, fluorescent space-age bodystockings and platform boots. Bowie’s fetishistic image complemented the extraterrestrial and rock superstar fantasies of his songs as well as the sexually ambiguous pantomime of his shifting stage personae. By the mid-1970s, the tartan pop of the Bay City Rollers had reassembled elements of the glam image specifically for consumption by teenage girls. The sexualized dynamics of glam, however, also fed into style and later mutated into various post- fashions and trends.
   Punk represents the most striking anti-fashion image of the 1970s, and is certainly the most critically discussed cultural formation of the era. In the UK, punk became a mass youth culture with distinctive regional variations and accents between 1976–8. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood played major roles in the elaboration of London punk culture. McLaren and Westwood had been running a specialist boutique under various trading names at 430 Kings Road since 1971. In 1975 they began trading under the name SEX. Westwood designed S&M fetish and bondage wear as well as ripped t-shirts bearing insignia such as ‘sex’ or ‘P-E-R-V’ scripted in chicken bones. For Westwood, punk represented an anarchistic politics of sexual liberation and social change; the project was to transform fetish wear into street wear under the slogan ‘out of the bedroom and into the streets!’ McLaren formed the most famous British punk band, The Sex Pistols, who showcased Westwood’s designs on stage and, before the notorious Bill Grundy interview, on television.
   Punk fused elements of ‘bottom-up’ street attitude and alternative couture styling. In 1976, for example, style innovator Philip Sallon began constructing garments out of bin liners, and this cheap and disposable image was widely imitated. The key sartorial values of punk were shock, iconoclasm and fetishism; predictably, punk was greeted with public outrage and tabloid denunciation. Punk introduced the aesthetics of cutups and montage into street fashion. It combined the cult of self-laceration, taboo symbols (such as swastikas), crudely customized black leather jackets, bondage trousers, safety-pins, dog collars, day-glo coloured ‘tribal’ hair styles and extravagant makeup. Moreover, punk quoted and linked heterogeneous elements of older cultural styles including those of teds, mods, skinheads and rude boys. Leading designers Zandra Rhodes and Jean- Paul Gaultier reworked elements of punk stylistic experimentation in their 1977 couture collections, and by the following year, ‘new wave’ and ‘savage’ youth styles were diffusing into the mass market. In 1978, the baroque dandyism of new romanticism (see new romantics) was emerging as a sartorial alternative to the aggressive and increasingly uniform stylistics of punk. Vivienne Westwood was joined by Helen Robinson of PX, Stephen Jones and other designers for Demob, as well as Melissa Caplan and Steve Stewart of Body Map in the elaboration of new romantic style. Between 1978 and 1983 these designers produced flamboyant and glamorous clothes for such rising stars of the New Pop as Adam Ant, Boy George and Annie Lennox. New romanticism was a retro club aesthetic which revived styles ranging from the sartorial elegance of 1930s evening wear to Bowie’s futuristic glam. It established the climate for the launch of a new mode of style magazine such as The Face, which would promote the postmodern fashion of the 1980s.
   Further reading
    Savage, J. (1991) England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond, London: Faber & Faber (the definitive history of Punk as cultural formation).
    Thorne, T. (1993) Fads, Fashions and Cults, London: Bloomsbury (a stimulating popular study of postmodern culture).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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