Wednesday, June 19, 2024 Jun 19, 2024
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As the ’90s continue to reinterpret the ’70s, can the decade that brought us hip-huggers and hot pants finally redeem itself?

AMID TALK OF THE ONGOING REVIVAL of the 70s, has anybody else noticed: That “fluted toward the foot” is really just a euphemism for bell-bottoms?

That “low-cut hipsters” look a lot like hip-huggers?

That the truly clever designers have shied away entirely from the “H” word?

Since fashion regularly looks to the past for inspiration, I always knew it was just a matter of time before the ’70s would re-emerge. But who would have predicted hip-buggers would be worthy of inclusion in the revival?

Those of us who consider ourselves products of the 70s know very well the challenge of a pair of navel-baring bell-bottoms. Faced with the prospect again-for fall, designers from Anna Sui and Marc Jacobs to Calvin Klein and Donna Karan offer variations on the look-we feel not unlike any victim of circumstances who has already confronted the perpetrator once: Initial fear is followed by anger, denial and, ultimately, surrender (preceded, of course, by diet).

I am a survivor of the 70s, the decade that forced its impossible point of view on all of us. So while some may look at a pair of “fluted toward the foot, low-cut hipsters”-by any other name, a pair of hip-huggers is still a pair of hip-huggers-and see of-the-moment fashion, I look at them and it is 1972. Halston reigns. Ali MacGraw is the It girl. And I am a seventh grader at Lake Highlands Junior High.

OTHER WOMEN WHO CAME OF AGE IN THE ’70s talk about the lasting influence of Jean Shrimpton, Lauren Hutton and Veruschka.

Not me.

Like the other girls in my seventh grade class, I looked to Melanie Greene.

Melanie was the Marcia Brady of Lake Highlands Junior High. She wasn’t the most popular girl in the class-the prettiest girl never is-but at an age when most of us were still trying to invent ourselves through combinations of blue eye shadow, Mary Quant lip gloss, blood-red nail polish and Army-Navy hip-huggers that flared spectacularly over four-inch wedgies (a style that could only be described as slut chic), Melanie was already possessed of the kind of personal style that eludes most people well into adulthood.

On Melanie, the 70s actually had some fashion merit.

She was my earliest lesson in the subtleties that distinguish true style from its stepsister, fashion. One is bred; the other is usually adopted. She was the first to wear blue mascara, the first to wear high-waisted paiazzo pants. Melanie was the first to wear hot pants, too (though, in the larger picture, she may have been preceded by those early Southwest Airlines flight attendants and Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders).

It was 1971 when Yves Saint Laurent debuted hot pants in his spring collection and left the fashion press wondering: “Is bad taste a good thing?”

On Melanie, yes.

I can still remember the day she walked into Mr. Marlin’s first period choir class wearing a pair of purple suede hot pants with matching vest and over-the-knee boots. Rumor had it she got the ensemble at Neiman Marcus, but a group of girls who doubted the claim supposedly investigated the matter in P.E. later that day. After Melanie had changed into her white gym suit (the uniform that rendered all of us fashion equals for one hour each day), these girls checked the label and discovered she had, in fact, not bought the outfit at Neiman’s.

Reminded of this story recently, it dawned on me that a heightened fashion consciousness at age 12 can be a heavy burden-on anyone but Melanie. A few weeks passed before the wannabeMelanies showed up wearing hot pants. But while Melanie looked like the Girl in a James Bond movie, the imitators looked like Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver (which was actually four years away at that point).

Coming of age in the ’70s was hard, but not nearly so hard as fashion in the 70s. If Melanie Greene was the Do of the decade that brought us hot pants and hip-huggers, the rest of us were, however true to the period, merely synthetic imitations.

THAT IS HOW I CAME TO BE-IN SPIRIT, IF NOT in pocketbook-more Calvin Klein than Todd Oldham.

Naturally, I pretended not to notice when designers began flirting with the 70s a few seasons ago. Now, to my great surprise-and just as they appeared to be in serious danger of overstaying their (re)visit to the past- designers emerge with a new version. Forfall, the influences are subtler; the lines, more forgiving.

Like a poly-cotton blend, the best of the season is a hybrid of 70s shape and ’90s comfort.

Maybe now the 70s can redeem itself.

Its path to redemption takes two directions: One route embraces the spare, no-fuss aesthetic embraced by minimalists Calvin Klein, Jil Sander and Miuccia Prada. The other takes the avant-garde approach favored by Christian Lacroix, Todd Oldham, John Galliano and Anna Sui.

This way: Minimal.

That way: Maximal.

For fall, they are like opposing forces that have little in common beyond their link to the past.

Among the watchwords:

Pants: The biggest fashion message for fall? In a word: Pants. Pantsuits take their cue from tailored menswear (in pinstripes or herringbone tweeds) and from the military (with epaulets, belts and flap-top patch pockets aplenty). Suit-like looks pair the close-fitting single-breasted jacket or double-breasted peacoat with narrow-leg pants or pants that arc fluted toward the foot and cut long enough to cover the entire shoe. Tis the season of pants. And they play both extremes with virtual abandon.

Knits: Key to the season’s long-and-lean silhouette: Knit sweater dresses, sweater-like jackets and coats, simple crew necks, vests and the turtleneck-especially the turtle-neck. The simple sweater classic emerges as the season s must-have staple.

Maxi: The coat story begins with the maxi-sweeping maxi sweater coats, faux fur-trimmed leather maxis, military-style topcoats-but it doesn’t end there. Among the options: Knee-length leather coats, slim reefers, peacoats and men swear-inspired camel coats.

Glamour The preponderance of beading and embroidery and the season’s long, slinky silhouette remind us that the ’70s drew much of its initial inspiration from the flapper era. Evening wear for fall is reminiscent of movie-star glamour (circa 1920s).

QUESTION: SINCE REAL STYLE TYPICALLY exists in a parallel universe, how does military chic, asymmetrical evening wear, pants in every conceivable form and pencil-thin silhouettes translate into real life?

Answer: In increments.

The well-dressed know to tap gently the trends of any season to update an otherwise classic style.

Public relations exec Brooke Stollenwerck Aldridge is drawn to “well-tailored,” but season to season she’ll “change it up through accessories–whether it’s shoes, belts or purses.” For fall: Square-toed Gucci shoes.

Interior designer Jan Showers sees dressing as a reflection of the aesthetic she brings to her work. “An interior designer needs to be pretty well put together,” she says, “but I don’t dress head-to-toe in anybody-unless it’s a suit. I like to mix everything up.” For fall: Michael Kors cashmere sweater paired with a Banana Republic silk satin skirt.

Brown Productions president Candace Krause has always favored suits. “I’ve never been into separates but I’ll create separates out of my suits,” mixing, for instance, the jacket from a Calvin Klein pantsuit with a J. Crew T-shirt and a pair of Banana Republic pants. For fall: “I aspire to Jil Sander and to more Armani. But I will continue to aspire. “

TACA co-chair Linda Bomar believes “it’s always fun to add something trendy to your wardrobe.” For tall: Double-breasted pinstriped and camel pantsuits by Feraud. “I get almost all my stuff from Feraud because de French know how to cut for petite sizes.”’

And then there’s Julie Esping.

At 30, she is the former fashion designer who recently joined forces with Ann Tobias to launch a clothing manufacturing company called JuIieAnn Inc. Esping has always held true to a uniform (basic T-shirt/classic blazer/well-tailored trousers).

Now, she finds herself surrounded by the past.

“I love ’very plain.’ although I’ve got all these other people around me,” says Esping. “Ann Tobias, the designer-partner of the company, is very retro. She’s saved every single outfit for the last 30 years. And my little sister, Jenny, is a rock ’n’ roll singer with the band Cresta. She’s so 70s. She shops at Goodwill and all the resale shops and mixes it with stuff from Korshak. Then, when she gets sick of her clothes, she gives me her hand-me-downs.”

The moral of the story?

In fashion, what’s passed is never really the past.