In the summer of 1973 I had a dress that I absolutely loved. It was patterned with pink and grey swirls and had two bites taken out of it, or so it seemed. The resulting holes revealed the teasing curves of a waist that 15-year-old girls take for granted.
When I wore this dress I felt like a million dollars. The pale pink in the fabric brought out the healthy tan of my skin. The short skirt revealed audacious lengths of tanned leg and the back zip pulled the fabric snug across my teenage hips.
This was the seventies. Clothes, like the music of the times were a rampant celebration. If you were a woman, or even a woman in training, you could be so many different things.
In my short pink dress I was a nubile nymphet, in my long granny print smock I was a romantic heroine and in my purple halter neck cat suit I was a femme fatale, a member of the original Charlie’s Angels. It was not really important how other people saw you; it was how your clothing made you feel.
There was something theatrical about the clothes of the day that was both extravagant and playful. There was nothing classic about them. They were distinctively seventies declarations of fashion.
In the seventies the world seemed bigger; at least access to foreign places was becoming easier. We were beginning to flirt with an enticing diversity offered by foreign countries.
Many of us fell in love with versions of ethnic fashions. We took to trimming our waistcoats and cotton smocks with coloured braid and fur from places like India, Afghanistan and Peru. Flea markets were flooded with rank smelling fur coats that had not been sufficiently cured. We were forced to burn significant amounts of incense to disguise the way some of us smelt.
Fashion seemed to come to a fork in the road and head off in two seemingly disparate directions. One way led to clothing that hugged the body and revealed every curve while the other embraced anything that flowed and hung loose and long around the body.
The fun thing about growing up in the seventies was that you could take both fashion roads without being split in two. One day you could be draped and flowing in filmy fabrics the next jaunty and overtly sexual.
People joke about the proliferation of polyester in the seventies. Its true that this petroleum based fabric could be repulsive especially when extensive wear caused little bobbly balls to form on the smooth shiny surface but when coupled with the right design it could flatter the right body like nothing else at the time.
Some of us used the stretch fabrics with their built in shine for disco wear and dressed in more natural fabrics like cotton and silks from India during the day. It was part of the particular double life that clothing had in those days, the crazy mixture of flamboyant modernity with romantic nostalgia. Add to the mix a casual salute to ethnic culture and you have a sense of the fashion influences of the time.
Denims were still standard wear but as the decade wore on they became more and more aggressively flared and we would never wear them plain and classic. What we loved to do was decorate them with iron on patches with motifs like peace signs or Mick Jagger’s considerable lips. We would cut the bottoms and allow them to fringe over our platform shoes.
Platform shoes were astonishing to those of us who witnessed their rise to fame. The concept of height with considerably less danger was a remarkable coup. The idea that one’s weight rested on a steady flat surface built confidence and soon the platform grew high enough to cause an attack of vertigo. But still we felt safer the more distance we placed between ourselves and the stiletto heel.
The thing about platform shoes was that they could give you the most outrageously long pair of legs if hidden under bellbottom flares or Oxford Bag cuffs.
Many women shed their campy, slick nocturnal outfits for soft cotton cheesecloth smocking during the day. Cheesecloth was not meant to be worn skintight. Smocks floated around the body and were sometimes even sexier than their more brazen fashion sisters, the mini skirt and hotpants. Somewhat diaphanous they gave women a mysterious air that was feminine and pretty.
Cheesecloth smocks were often finished in thick peasant braids in strong traditionally ethnic colours. Shirt sleeves grew increasingly flared and extended from waistcoats like traditional ethnic peasant wear.
Clothing was costume in the seventies. A delightful opportunity to invent yourself and then reinvent yourself. For a post war generation that declared “Hey, look. I’m still here” clothing took on a form of creative expression that was the perfect counterpart for a culture bursting with an irrepressible sense of excitement and immediacy.