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That ’70s bro: The return of retro menswear
I’ve never watched a complete episode of That ’70s Show. Don’t get me wrong: The sitcom, now in reruns, has its charms, primarily Laura Prepon. She played Donna Pinciotti, the tomboyish redhead in the baseball T-shirt, who, in turn, reminds me of Katrin Roberts.
Back in 1978, Katrin had porcelain skin, braided hair and striking eyes just like Donna. I fell in “deep like” with Katrin. I was nine; she was 10. I didn’t know what to do, so I relied on a classic: I pulled her hair. We ended up fighting in the middle of our suburban street.
Another memory I have from that decade is fashion related: a man my father invited over for dinner once. He was big like a motorcycle-gang member, had a beard like a motorcycle-gang member and was covered in tattoos, which, back then, were only seen on sailors, convicts and motorcycle-gang members.
What I remember best is that he wore sunglasses throughout the whole meal. They were tortoiseshell aviators by Carrera. I know for certain because the brand was printed right on the glass. I couldn’t believe it. Who would print letters on a lens that you look through? This stranger, behind his shades, had an air of implacability; unperturbed by my family, he was entirely involved with himself and his slickness. That’s what I think about when I think of the 1970s: hair pulling and untrustworthy, shady dinner guests.
In short, I have no desire to relive the 1970s, but I may not be able to avoid it.
This spring and summer, the menswear of the “me decade” is going into its own version of reruns. Along with loud cabled sweaters and leather car coats, Prada is offering raincoats and sports coats that look like they’re made of the darkest blue denim or polyester and feature bold topstitching, expansive collars and lapels and oversized pockets. Which raises the question: Back then, before smartphones and such, what were men intended to carry in those enormous compartments—kilo bags of cocaine?
Indeed, the outerwear could easily be cast in a 1975 episode of Starsky & Hutch, but it’s all trickery. The seemingly industrial-grade contrast stitches are thick strands of embroidery thread—probably silk. And that dark-blue polyester is likely wool, mohair and silk—then again, maybe not. Prada, like an aloof pop artist, doesn’t elevate the everyday into high fashion. Instead, its collection looks to make sows’ ears out of silk purses.
In 1963, Andy Warhol said: “I love Los Angeles, and I love Hollywood. They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.” It would be a real statement if, indeed, Prada’s coats were 100-percent Dacron polyester. Who cares? Wear it or Prada’s green leather coat with tan edging and you’ll be right at home behind the wheel of Starsky’s Ford Gran Torino—a look that is the collection’s true attraction.
Burberry Prorsum found inspiration in another figure from the era: Bruce Chatwin. Chatwin, who was a travel writer and novelist, came to prominence as the author of In Patagonia, a groundbreaking travelogue published in 1977. Andrew Harvey wrote of Chatwin in The New York Times: “Nearly every writer of my generation in England has wanted, at some point, to be Bruce Chatwin; wanted, like him, to talk of Fez and Firdausi, Nigeria and Nuristan, with equal authority; wanted to be talked about, as he is, with raucous envy; wanted, above all, to have written his books….”
With Chatwin, Burberry mines a very British, very romantic polyester-free source that allows it to fill the collection with world-beat colours, bohemian layers (with the denim jacket serving as the foundation) and nomadism.
One can quibble that Burberry’s floppy hats are a fusion of the bucket hat Chatwin wore in 1984 and the hats he may have seen in South America in 1974. Or that the most iconic Chatwin portrait, taken by Lord Snowdon in 1982, has him wearing what looks to be a Barbour coat and not a Burberry at all, but I don’t want to bring you or the trend down. It’s all about the groovy, footloose vibe. It has the spirit of adventure. It is also missing gravitas.
Chatwin once told The New York Times, “I’m fed up with going to places, I shan’t go to anymore.” A few months later, he died of complications arising from having AIDS.
I suppose it’s too much to ask any designer to capture everything about a decade in a season of menswear. Fashion doesn’t really work that way. This spring we will get the sunglasses, safari jackets, medallions and leather vests and forget about Vietnam, the Oil Crisis and all the other grim facts from the ’70s. Still, it need not be toothless revivalism.
At Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane came out with snakeskin jackets, ponchos and cowboy hats that some people call boleros (a real cowboy would call them telescope crowns); his interpretation of the ’70s has some bad-boy attitude.
It’s rangy, a bit junky and there’s some danger, the kind you would find in the Ramones or rebellious counterculture movies like Billy Jack. In that film, a half-Navajo Green Beret Vietnam War vet and martial-arts master takes on the corrupt leaders of a small town. It doesn’t end well for the hero, but does it have to?
Slimane, who is a photographer, is, I’m sure, well aware of Richard Avedon’s monumental work In the American West. It’s a photographic descent into the world of oil-field workers, truckers and coal miners who are covered in soot and sweat, stylishly so. Google Avedon’s David Beason, Shipping Clerk and you’ll see that it’s sexy, compelling and uncomfortable stuff—just like the ’70s were—and so should be the clothes inspired by that decade.