Fashion On Film: The 70s
The next time you're surfing through Netflix or your Amazon account and want something new to watch, here are some iconic films either from the 1970s or that recreate the 70s with a focus on fashion.
Grey Gardens (1975) : This is one of my all-time favorite docs. You just cannot look away from the house, the cats, the drama, the impromptu singing and dance performances, and the outfits that Little Edie conjured up on a daily basis. Grey Gardens is funny and sad; mesmerizing and incomprehensible; easy to poke fun at yet incredibly humbling when you realize they are just like us but different. You won't be the same after watching it and because of all its polarities and the way Big and Little Edie made themselves so vulnerable and real, it will stay with you.
Ultrasuede (2010): I stumbled upon this doc one night when J. was out and I was so glad I did! Roy Halston Frowick was a midwest boy (born in Des Moines, IA in 1932) who made it big in the fashion world after he designed the famous pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to JFK's 1961 inauguration. This film is filled with some amazing fashion from the 1970s. You get an inside peak into intimate runway shows, his design process and sadly, the ultimate demise of his brand when he partnered with JCPenney on his Halston III line. Unfortunately, this was a concept before its time as now we see brand partnerships everywhere! Case in point: JCPenney has Bodum, Joe Fresh, Pantone Universe, Jonathan Adler, Ordning+Reda, Design by Conran, JosephJoseph and Michael Graves in the house. Indeed — JCP is one hip, happy store.
Shampoo (1975): Shampoo was filmed in 1975 but takes place in 1968. Warren Beatty sports clothing that you would expect from this time period: funky ruffled shirts, leather jackets, hip huggers, turquoise jewelry galore and groovy belts (in addition to a very Eric Carmen-like shag!), but Goldie Hawn and Julie Christie's wardrobes are just as hip and reflective of the time. Plus, a vintage hair salon complete with retro blow dryers and styling tools. Okay, book me an appointment!
Saturday Night Fever (1977): I was too young to see SNF in the theater when it came out but that didn't stop me from making up dance routines to the music. This is an essential film to watch, not just for the groovy polyester fashions and because it's a time capsule of the mid 70s but because it's a cultural masterpiece. Disco monopolized the entire decade, as it started in 1970 and peaked in 1979. The hugely successful TV show Dance Fever, premiering in 1979, extended the dance craze another eight years. And SNF launched John Travolta's career as a dancer (Stayin' Alive,Grease). But, I digress. What ya doin' on your back? You should be dancing.
Love Story (1970): Oh, Love Story. First of all, I don't agree that love means never having to say you're sorry. But that's just me. I've seen this film several times, and if you haven't seen it, you must. Besides the fact that (a very young!) Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw are just about the cutest couple ever (next to William and Kate :-) the early 70s fashions in the film are wonderful — chunky scarves, long coats, pea coats, high-waisted pants — all with a "preppy" flair. That's a pun, of course. Ali McGraw was a successful fashion model before Love Story and somewhere in all my archives I have several magazine spreads showing her early modeling days.
The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978): Faye Dunaway plays Laura Mars, a fashion photographer who specializes in stylized violence as her subject matter. Expect to see lots of feathers, fur, floppy hats, cowls, shiny clothes, A-line skirts, bib necklaces, slouchy bags, stacked boots and monochromatic outfits. While I tend to shy away from violent films — and relatively speaking this is TAME by today's standards — the über glam outfits and New York City as the backdrop make this a film a must-watch classic.
Mahogany (1975): It's been a few years since I've watched Mahogany but I remember at the time thinking Diana Ross' wardrobe in this film was amazing: so totally 70s, flamboyant and flowing. Of course it would be, as the plot of the film revolves around Tracy Chambers, played by Ross, a poor African-American woman who skyrockets to stardom as a fashion designer in Rome. Expect to see floppy hats, huge collars, flowing shawls, gorgeous pant suits, bold jewelry, gold lamé and so much more.
The Rockford Files (1974-1980): I will tell you from the get-go: I am a huge James Garner fan. So I had to include The Rockford Files. Okay, when you think of this show, you don't immediately think of "fashion". But in six season of TRF many actresses, who would go on to be major stars, made their first appearances and THAT is the fashion I'm talking about. Actresses like Linda Evans, Suzanne Somers, Lindsey Wagner, Mariette Hartley, Sharon Gless, Stefanie Powers and Joan Van Ark, to name a few. As much as we get a kick out of the über sexy cars, the ongoing "goons" that make Rockford's life hell and James Garner's wit and charm (did I mention that I think he was one of the most handsome men to grace the screen, ever ?) — for me I love seeing the ladies mid 70s fashions.
Swingtown (2008): Sadly this show only lasted one season on CBS. And it wasn't made in the 70s, so that is an exception to this list. But I have to tell you—they truly nailed the 70s aesthetic. From "jogging" (what we used to call it) apparel to the women's disco outfits to the kid's wardrobes, and yes, even the home decor, they got it right. In an earlier post about afghans I wrote about the chevron (or ripple) afghan that took the craft world by storm in the early to mid 70s and yep, they featured one of those in an episode when Susan and Bruce Miller went out of town. The subject matter (swingers) is far less racy than what is on TV now, and the main reason I watched it — a recommendation from a friend who knows I love the 70s look — was for the fashion and decor. But it also turned out to be a very well-produced, insightful, thought-provoking show that just didn't catch on.
Annie Hall (1977): Of course you can't talk about fashion + the 70s without mentioning Annie Hall. (Woody Allen's Manhattan is also a great example.) Did you know that Diane Keaton's real name is Diane Hall and her nickname is Annie? But it was Annie Hall that catapulted Diane Keaton into the world of trend-setter with her oversized and layered mannish clothing consisting of vests, men's ties, boots and loose-fitting pants. The word is that these were Diane Keaton's own clothes and they could have been from Ralph Lauren. Anyway, it's a classic film and a great snapshot of the mid 70s.
All the President's Men (1976): If you haven't seen this film it's a classic and stands the test of time as one of the best films ever. Okay, so you would not think "fashion" when you think of ATPM, but there are two things besides the acting that make it great: the awesome office decor and vibe of the 70s (birthed and lingering from the 60s Mad Men era) and the everyday office attire of Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford's characters. And although she doesn't have much screen time, Meredith Baxter's wardrobe is also 70s cool.
Honorable mentions: Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, The Stepford Wives, American Gigolo, What's Up, Doc?, Foxy Brown, Bobby, Gimme Shelter, Harlan County, USA; Klute, Nashville, Taxi Driver, Manhattan, The Midnight Special (TV show), American Bandstand (TV show), Soul Train (TV show)
Want more? Here you will find a list of 45 iconic fashion films from many different decades.