Fashion from the 1970s has never struck me as “in.”
Sure, I have a pair of bell bottoms that I wear when I feel the urge to buck the skinny jean phenomenon and a love for all things vintage. But I tend to gravitate toward trends from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
I recently saw “American Hustle,” David O. Russell’s crime drama about a confident con man’s forced attempt to entrap New Jersey power brokers and affiliated mafia.
The film is dazzling and decadent, a whirlwind of characters, plots and subplots.
With clingy couture pulled straight from Halston’s vintage vault, the clothing was just as grand. It gave me a different view of ‘70s fashion. Gone were my impressions of hippie fringe and double-knit polyester. In their stead stood décolletage-baring wrap dresses, sleek halter gowns and fur-collared trenches crowned by full-brimmed hats, much of which can be worn today.
A liberated look
Dresses and tops were sans shoulder pads, required less underpinnings and had a natural cling. What’s most apparent is that the shift from the ‘60s to the ‘70s allowed women to feel comfortable with their bodies.
“Coming off of the ‘60s, fashion was more comfortable, loose-fitting,” said Mary Beth Ellis Weckerlin, co-owner of Sully’s Boutique in downtown Lafayette. “The knits that were being made were stretchier than they had been previously. A lot of social progress was being made for women in terms of liberating them, giving them more freedom and confidence. You see that in the clothes.”
Weckerlin’s shop specializes in vintage and retro clothing. She can vividly recall ‘70s fashion trends having graduated from college in 1978, the year the film “American Hustle” was set.
She pointed out that Amy Adams’ character Sydney Prosser was braless in almost every scene in the film.
“That was big,” she said. “That really was something that women did — not at work, not professionally — but the plunging necklines and going without their bra was a real statement. I did in college. A lot of girls did.”
In high school, her clothing was much more conservative, she recalled.
She wore high-waisted bell bottoms and platform shoes, even though she’s 5’9”.
Mini and maxi skirts were popular then, too.
“In high school, we had a very sweet look,” she said.
In college, her look matured.
She wore wrap dresses, made iconic in the ‘70s by Belgian-born American designer Diane von Furstenberg.
For class, the college girls wore a uniform — high-waisted bell bottom jeans, knit stretchy tops, and belted leather jackets.
“It looks like Jackie on ‘That ‘70s Show,’ ” Weckerlin mused.
In the winter, these leather jackets might be embellished with a fur collar. Wealthier girls even donned rabbit fur, she added.
“There were really fashionable girls on campus that wore Halston-looking clothes,” she said.
‘Drive everybody crazy’
Weckerlin saw “American Hustle” too and found its depiction of ‘70s fashion “authentic.”
“It cracked me up because it was just like walking back into the past and laughing at the perm that (Bradley Cooper’s character) wore,” she said. “That was such a big look for guys.”
She said it was also “so exciting to see the women dressed so beautifully in their plunging necklines and body-hugging wrap dresses.”
The clothing showed that the female characters were “sophisticated,” “free-spirited,” and “bold,” she said.
“It was really beautiful to see,” she added.
In the ‘70s, designers such as Halston, von Furstenberg and Calvin Klein ushered in an era of simplicity —subdued colors and clean lines.
This replaced the ‘60s mod look of “wild colors” and “exaggerated looks,” Weckerlin explained.
Late ‘60s fashion could be described as feminine, with brightly colored garments that popped.
But the fabric was stiff and many popular silhouettes were shapeless.
Weckerlin used a ‘60s mod shift dress from her shop to exemplify this look. The dress was a deep fuchsia with a busy print swirled all over the fabric.
“You could have seen something like this on ‘Mad Men,’ ” she said.
By the late ‘70s, the clothing had shifted into monotone looks that let the fabric gently embrace the body to accentuate curves.
Weckerlin pulled a vintage fuchsia wrap top with a plunging neckline from off the rack in her shop to clothe this memory.
“In the ‘70s, the fabric is what made all the difference,” she said. “This is stretchy. This is disco fabric, so you can dance the night away.”
It was another kind of a uniform, she said, because girls wore it a lot.
“If you were really daring, you’d wear it braless and drive everybody crazy,” she quipped.