Day 354: The Superfreaks Look Superfly

originally published December 19, 2012

My undercover cultural spies have confirmed that the 1970’s are back in style. The problem is, they have been telling me this for almost 20 years now. The 70’s (and, it seems, elements of the 80’s) are perpetually the retro trend of the moment. Maybe this is a reaction to the grubby T-shirts and plaid look of the 90s, or maybe it’s just because culture doesn’t know what to do with itself in the post-ironic era of the 21st century.

Maybe people just really dig this crap.

If puffy sleeves and frumpy-framed knits are your thing, why not spice them up with some rickrack? As a guy whose two primary fashion concerns are: “does this still fit me?” and “did that stain come out?”, I have lived my life in blissful ignorance of this term. Rickrack was made popular thanks to Laura Ingalls and the Little House On The Prairie gang and the super-retro fever for pioneer days around the time of the 1976 bicentennial. Rickrack is a zigzag braid sewn on to clothes as a trim to give them that sexy Charlie Brown look.

I’m sure my mother sewed some rickrack onto a piece of clothing or two back then. Hopefully not onto a piece of mine. I have no idea who came up with this clever use of both the zig and zag formation, but I hope it was some guy named Richard Rack.

If I say the terms ‘Pack-a-Mack’ or ‘Cag In A Bag’, chances are my British readers – those who were around in the 70’s, anyway – will nod knowingly as they nibble on their kippers and crumpets. These were all forms of the cagoule, a light raincoat (usually with a hood) that came packaged in a tiny zip-up bag. These bags suggested the horrors of a fanny-pack, but with a coat inside instead of breath-mints.

When I was a kid (mostly in the 80s, when fashion was just as ridiculous, but the ties and lapels were skinnier), we called this things K-Ways. They still sell them, though I doubt any store clerk in this country will know to call them a cagoule. That word sounds like something Tony Soprano would put on a sandwich. These things are great if your place of work doesn’t offer a coat-rack, but instead a child’s shoebox for you to store your outerwear whilst you toil at your desk.

This one makes a lot of sense. Danish shoe designer Anna Kalsø unleashed something called the Earth shoe onto the unsuspecting public as a cruel and strange quirk of footwear. These things have thick soles and thin heels, which I guess made you perpetually walk as though trodding up a slight incline.

After showing up in TIME Magazine and on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, these shoes became a fashion hit (I’m guessing Ed McMahon was a 70’s fashion icon maybe?). A distribution snag killed their sales but great news! Kalso Earth Shoes are back, hungrily awaiting your online order today. Me, I’d fall backwards onto my ass in a pair of these things.

In the 70s you had your business suit and you had your leisure suit. Once the double-breasted blazer and 3-inch-wide tie came off and you slipped into your polyester matching shirt-like jacket and pants combo, it was time to hit the disco, huff some quality amyl, and get serious about your leisure time.

The leisure suit’s origins date back to the casual-wear of the elite in 1930’s-era California. These evolved into the rhinestone-coated western wear of the 1950’s, and into the mod subculture of London in the 60s. Once they had figured out how to make them cheaply out of polyester, the trend really caught fire.

Probably a bad choice of words there… leisure suits are notoriously flammable. That was insensitive of me. Sorry.

I am trying to understand the concept here. Hip-hugger jeans wrapped themselves tightly around the hips and butt – that much I get. They go on about their business down the thighs then suddenly flare out at the calves. Perhaps it’s a status symbol – maybe you’ve got a pair of jet-packs in your legs. Maybe it’s to allow better ventilation for your calf-hair; perhaps over-heated calves were a major medical concern in the 70’s, and flared-out hip-huggers were seen as a preventative measure so you didn’t have to go for a regular leech-bleeding at your local apothecary.

As the trend of disco thankfully abated at the end of the 70’s, so did these pants. They were replaced by ‘cigarette leg’ pants: straight up and down, no flare, nothing to get caught in the spokes of passing cyclists.

Dave here is sporting the stylish ringer T-shirt, a trend that has clearly made a comeback into the mainstream, which is okay because it’s not as monumentally stupid as most of the fashion selections in this article.

These are simply T-shirts, but with the ribbing around the collar and sleeves in a different color, often a color that contrasts the hue of the shirt itself. Pretty harmless.

Where to begin…

Clogs as a traditional footwear I have no problem with. Clogs can be traced back to the thirteenth century – they have a long history of protecting people’s feet from sharp rocks and the plague. But for whatever reason, they became a fashion shoe in the 1970’s for a new generation that had plenty more comfortable and more attractive options at their disposal.

And that pair up there? Those are men’s clogs. Apparently the ‘avant-garde’ male of the 70’s (I guess that’s like a proto-hipster?) would wear these shoes with no socks, thus demonstrating his eclectic willingness to get cozy with some footwear that makes a ka-klop sound every time he takes a step. Funky.

I don’t approve of everything James Brown did, but I will strongly agree with his take on hot pants. He felt these things were worthy of a top-grade funk groove. Hot pants – while they may ride rather high above the waistline like so many shorts and pants of the 70’s and 80’s – have an inseam of two inches or less. They are tight, they are short, and they probably caused a motor vehicle accident or two during their heyday.

This was another fad from Swinging London which emerged into the mainstream by the start of the 70’s. They died out long before I was old enough to appreciate them, probably replaced by some horrific clothing trend involving macramé.

It wasn’t the prettiest of decades, but it looks like we’ll be stuck with its retro vibe for the duration of ever. Damn.

Who would have guessed you could be perpetually in style wearing outfits like these?

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