We took a look at some of the most popular, yet most hazardous, clothing staples, accessories, and fads of the 1970s. While there are certainly dangerous articles of clothing from other decades (stiletto heels come to mind), the wide availability of synthetic materials, a willingness to bare the body to reveal the soul, and tight-fitting garments made the ‘70s a particularly hazardous time.
POLYESTER SHIRTS—Made from 100 percent synthetic materials designed to simulate satin, silk, and even cotton (albeit with a slimy and slightly spongy feel), these shirts were de rigueur for many men and women. They had wide, long lapels, and the really scary ones were cut to fit close to the body. The most memorable polyester shirts screamed with outrageous multicolored patterns—swirls and paisleys; Egyptian, Roaring ‘20s, Bicentennial, and nature motifs; photographs and neck-to-waist landscapes. People knew the wearer was Mr. Casual or Mr. Swinger or Ms. Kooky. Oh, and they were wash‘n’wear. Dangers: Highly flammable, would melt upon contact with flame; hangnails snagged easily on fabric; did not “breathe” as natural fabrics do, often reducing Mr. Swinger to Mr. Sweaty ‘n’ Stinky.
ELEPHANT BELLS AND FLARES—The ‘70s saw the ‘60s bell-bottom refashioned with a looser thigh and increasingly wider leg. Also, by the mid-‘70s, the once “outré” bell-bottomed look of the ‘60s had been toned down, and flares were worn by suburban moms in polyester knits (like Mrs. Brady) and natty pinstriped lawyers in suits. The early-‘70s bells featured a do-it-yourself trend: Swatches of groovy fabric could be sewn into trouser legs to give them even more dimension. As platforms and other high heels became standard, the bells grew wider and longer to cover the increasingly high shoes. Dangers: It was possible to trip inside your own pants leg; you could trip over the flap of your other pants leg; they got caught in bicycle chains.
TIGHT JEANS—Jeans for both men and women were to be worn tight at the waist, hips, buttocks, crotch, and thigh. Ideal tightness revealed all that nature intended to remain secret and mysterious. Dangers: It was hard to sit down, and, once seated, you were apt to be very uncomfortable, with coarse denim seams digging into your soft thighs and genitals; zipper often split under duress (without underwear, the functioning zipper presented other hazards); it was discovered (and widely reported and apparently largely ignored) that men wearing tight clothing in their reproductive area increased their body temperature in “that area” and consequently had markedly lower sperm counts. Women too were prone to increased “female trouble.”
HOT PANTS—Hot pants arrived as a fashion sensation in 1971. These super short tight shorts were worn bare-legged, with knee socks, or with tights in the winter. They were available in many fabrics including denim, silk, satin, wool, and mink ($195) and were often adorned with patches, embroidery, rhinestones, and glitter. They were considered liberating for women (and, we can assume, for the few men) who wore them. Short shorts persevered throughout the ‘70s, especially in the form of jeans cutoffs. The convergence of athletic wear as fashion and the roller-disco craze sparked a late-‘70s rebirth of satin tuxedo-style hot pants, with a stripe down the side. Dangers: See TIGHT JEANS for physical hazards and reflect quietly to yourself about the depressing social and aesthetic implications of a nation in hot pants. (Hint: both Sammy Davis Jr. and Liberace performed in hot pants.)
BIKINI-STYLE UNDERWEAR—The elastic “waistband” of these tiny underpants straddled (and usually pinched) the middle of the buttocks. This created a new fashion disaster—the VPL, or visible panty line. Though they were more popular with women than with men (we’re guessing), ‘70s men did take up this “French-styled” brief. Dangers: Enormously irritating to have one’s buttocks bisected by elastic; see also dangers associated with POLYESTER SHIRTS and TIGHT JEANS.
PLATFORM SHOES—Who can explain the attraction of these shoes? A true platform had a built-up solid sole, unbroken by a heel, with at least 2 inches below the toe, often rising to 6 inches below the heel. Myriad variations included platform heels (with at least an inch of sole below the toe), platform sandals, platform boots, platform beach thongs, platform tennis shoes (striped sole). Styles tended toward the outrageous—colored suede, shiny vinyl, glitter, lame’. A “classy” model had a platform sole that matched the shoe. Dangers: The obvious medical problems (“countless sprains and fractures,” Time reported); the sole below the toe was often cut on a wedge, giving the wearer a tendency to pitch forward uncontrollably; heels made of cork and other cheap materials were very unstable and could snap; very difficult to walk in and made you look stupid.
TOE SOCKS—A “novelty” sock item demanded by the prominence of open-toe shoes, these socks (usually striped in vibrant colors) had a little slot for each toe—mittens for your feet. Dangers: The knitted toe slots were generally all the same size, leaving your little toe all smooshed up against a wad of acrylic yarn and your big toe strangled.
ENORMOUS METAL BELT BUCKLES—The best were as large as a mans fist and sported raised lettering or a 3-D image (a Harley biker, the peace sign, a zodiac sign, a beer logo). Generally worn on thick hand-tooled leather belts. Dangers: When you sat down, they dug into your soft white underbelly; you could catch your old lady’s crocheted vest on them; someone who hit you in the stomach could hurt a hand.
CHOKERS—While they have made a ‘90s comeback, there were many more variations of the choker necklace in the ‘70s, when both men and women wore them—leather, beads, fabric, macramé, puka shells.
Dangers: You should never wear anything called a “choker.” Long hair was especially vulnerable around puka shells.
Reprinted from Thrift Score, Spring 1994.