Old Things That Are Tough To Explain: The Ugly 1970s
It’s tough to explain the fashion sense of the 1970s to my daughters. Whenever they watch a movie from that decade, they cringe and say something like, “How could they wear that?” or “What made them think that looked good?”
Every decade has a reputation. The 1950s were cool because of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and a bunch of tuff cars. The 1960s had the counter cultural stuff with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and lots of drugs. They were cool too. But the 1970s? That decade still had the drugs, but those came with ugly hair, bell bottoms, weird color combinations, and big collars. None of that is cool. And it was kind of ugly.
There was some good music from the 1970s, but you don’t look at music, at least you didn’t in the 1970s. You didn’t really start looking at music until the 1980s. There were a couple dance shows on television which played popular songs, but there weren’t many videos. There was also some great comedy in the 1970s, but ugly fashion enhances comedy instead of detracting from it.
All that ugly 1970s fashion seemed cool at the time, and that’s a problem. How could so many people get fooled into thinking something is cool when it is really very ugly? It’s important to understand these things. It may seem minor, but this kind of group think is how genocides happen.
A lot of ugly stuff was going on in the 1970s, so it makes sense that the fashions look historically ugly. The Vietnam War divided this country, and President Nixon had to resign because of the Watergate scandal, and there were lots of protests going on, gas lines, economic problems, and it ended with President Carter’s national malaise. Maybe the late 1960s were more intense, but the 1970s were pretty bad too.
Like most problems, ugly 1970s fashion starts with the kids. Kids have always had bad fashion sense. I can’t go back to ancient times and prove it, but when you give kids a choice, they’ll usually pick something stupid. That’s why adults are supposed to make decisions for kids. If kids didn’t have stupid fashion sense in ancient times, it’s because adults didn’t let them make fashion decisions. Plus, survival was so hard that they didn’t have time to be fashionable.
Sometime after World War II, parents began letting their kids make more decisions, and that’s where bad fashion (and the destruction of civilization) began. It was okay to give kids choices as long as the kids had to become adults at 18 and work. The rule in my family was when you turned 18 you got kicked out of the house. You could finish out high school if you turned 18 first, but only if you’d never been held back a grade. That forced us to turn into adults.
Sometime in the 1960s, adults tried to hold onto their adolescence for as long as they could, and part of that was hanging onto ugly fashions. 1970s fashions wouldn’t have been as bad if adults weren’t wearing the crap too. That’s why you see shows and movies from the 1970s with adults in ugly outfits and hairstyles.
The actress Mary Tyler Moore is a great example. Compare her fashion sense from The Dick Van Dyke Show in the early 1960s with that of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s . The 1970s made Mary Tyler Moore look bad too (okay, maybe bad is too strong).
1970s fashion sense hung around for so long because culture didn’t move quite as quickly back then as it does now. If you liked news, you had to wait for a morning/evening newspaper or the evening news on one of three networks (PBS didn’t count). If you liked fashion, there were a bunch of magazines, most of which came out once a month. You could go to the movies, but most theaters had only one screen, so your selection was limited. Because everything was relatively slow, once a fashion became trendy, it took a long time to get rid of it.
Fashions don’t last as long nowadays. Today everybody stares at their phones, and fashion is so fleeting that nothing lasts long enough for anybody to care anymore. Whenever elements of the 1970s come back, they disappear quickly again too. That’s a relief to those of us who have pictures of ourselves trying to look good in the 1970s. We know it’s almost futile.
The 1970s were so ugly that even Elvis didn’t look good in it. You know a decade is ugly if Elvis looks bad too.
What do you think? Were the 1970s really that ugly? Or were the 1970s awesome and my family is too shallow to appreciate it?