Today we have come to expect that each new fashion season will include a healthy dose of borrowing from other fashion eras. It seems like every collection is a nod to the 20s or to the 70s, or to the early 60s. This is nothing new. Read late 1930s fashion magazines and you will see a lot of buzz about Victorian influences. The mid 1960s reminded people a lot of the 1920s.
But it was in the late 1960s and into the 1970s that looking back at trends became what drove the trends themselves. We think about the 70s, and many things spring to mind – hippie ethnic looks, disco, and the romantic looks of Laura Ashley and Gunne Sax. All these trends were a big part of what the 1970s were all about, but one of the biggest influences was nostalgia, especially nostalgia for the 1920s through 1940s.
Nostalgic Scenes on Sweaters, in a 1974 Pandora ad in Seventeen magazine
There’s nothing unusual about fashion looking to the past for inspiration, but in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, fashion was driven not so much by copying fashions from the past as it was by a nostalgic view and perception of life in the 1920s through the 1940s.
And it wasn’t a view of the era as it actually was so much as it was a look at our grandparents’ and parents’ time as it should have been. So what if there had been Prohibition, the Great Depression and WWII? Nostalgia made the past look like so much fun.
1967 is remembered as the Summer of Love, but it was also the year Bonnie and Clyde was released. This movie took two of the baddest of the bad and put a rose-colored tint on their lives and crimes. Watching the movie, you got the idea that the 1930s and the Depression were not so bad as the history books tended to make us believe.
In fact, the 30s never looked so good (unless you count 1930s cinema!). The clothes by Theodora Van Runkle were sensational – Bonnie Parker was lean and trim, and her beret was the perfect hat. Just when we thought the mini was the only length to wear, Bonnie’s long silhouette helped usher in longer skirts.
“Once again the ever-eclectic designer of the Sixties seems most innovative when he’s working in nostalgia’s attic. He is particularly attracted to the Thirties, perhaps because it was the last pure era of unselfconscious opulence, and thus the nearest decade to our ostentatious own.” American Fabrics, Spring 1968
Bogart clothes hanger from 1967
But the craze was not limited to merely copying the fashions of the 1930s – there was a real fascination with the personalities and icons of the era. You could buy sweaters and handbags with Laurel and Hardy’s faces on the front, or clothes hangers sporting Bogey’s head, or tee shirts with the early Mickey Mouse. Posters of silent movie stars like Mae West and Charlie Chaplin were popular.
February 1971 Life Magazine cover
By 1971 “Everybody’s just wild about… Nostalgia” according to a major feature in Life magazine. A large part of the issue was devoted to the ladies on the cover – six stars from the 1930s. The article also focused on the popularity of Art Deco, the revival of the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette, and the trend in clothing toward 1930s influenced fashions.
Milliner Mr. John revived some classics from his past, including the cloche and the fedora, which became the hat of the 70s. Halston created gowns of bias-cut jersey – “movie star dresses” – influenced by the stars of the 1930s.
Yves Saint Laurent’s Spring 1971 line was dubbed the “Collection 40” for its 1940s flea market look. And while it was criticized for being ugly and “floozy” the look was reflective of the mood of the time. The “40s Look” had taken hold and had become one of the prevailing fashion trends of the early and mid 1970s.
Late 1960s hat from Mr. John’s Classics line
It wasn’t just fashion that was influenced by the past. From The Godfather in 1972, The Sting in 1973 and Chinatown and The Great Gatsby in 1974, the past of our parents and grandparents continued to influence.
In music, Bette Midler recorded the 1940s Andrews Sisters’ hits “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in 1972 and “In the Mood” in 1973. The work of Ragtime composer Scott Joplin became popular after it was used in the soundtrack of The Sting.
TV brought us a 1930s family, The Waltons in 1972, and a regular part of The Sonny and Cher Show was Cher lounged across a piano playing a 1930s vamp.
1920s motifs were made even more popular with the release of The Great Gatsby
The September, 1974 issue of Seventeen magazine marked the 30th anniversary of the publication. As part of their celebration, they did a “Flashback” feature which showed the fashions of the past compared to the 1974 clothes. But what’s really interesting is how the rest of the clothes in this issue of the magazine were so 1940s inspired – from lean shirtwaist dresses to wedge shoes to Eisenhower jacketed suits.
All this obsession with the styles of the past had another, more long lasting effect – it helped establish the vintage clothing industry. Vintage stores had started cropping up in the mid 1960s, selling the real thing instead of the nostalgia-infused modern clothing. The Mod look was fading, and creative dressers were looking for funky bits and pieces to go with their increasingly “hippie” wardrobes. By 1979 magazines were writing about the new vintage clothing craze.
David Evins shoes with a small platform, 1970s, but inspired by the 40s