Have you seen the movie American Hustle? Oh honey, in the 70s, I was there. The knit dresses cut down to there. The men with hair everywhere. The whole feeling of “Vietnam’s over, the feminist movement’s started, and we have birth control. Let’s dress up and have a party!” We would go to the disco and dance for hours. The scene with the two leads in the Studio 54 bathroom stall? Totally could have happened anywhere in the US during that time.
I’m not sure how American Hustle will translate into other eras and cultures, but everything in it resonated with me, particularly the wardrobe.
In one scene, Amy Adams tries on an instantly recognizable Diane Von Furstenberg silk jersey wrap dress, which looks like this:
DVF’s wrap dress design is now celebrating it’s 40th anniversary. http://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/fashion-designers/dvf-wrap-dress-0214 I was happy to see that the reissue of this dress is made of the original silk jersey, which makes these dresses a cut above the countless polyester knock-offs we’ve seen since.
Seeing that wrap dress reminded me that DVF did a number of patterns for Vogue in that era. So people like me who were living on a shoestring could make their own. That led me to Etsy, where I bought this pattern last night.
A lot of people make fun of 70s, but it was a great time for design and for sewing. In the early 70s, Butterick’s “Young Designer” pattern series allowed teens like me, living in the midwest, to make dresses by new designers like Betsy Johnson, whose clothes we’d only seen in Seventeen magazine.
Trust me, no one had done slinky tank dresses like this, and there certainly weren’t patterns for them. I had spent all of my grade-school years in uncomfortable dresses with crinolines and smocking, then freezing cold, constricting mini shift dresses. In junior high, I made this dress out of Quiana polyester with pale roses on it. I LOVED it! The Young Designers line also had patterns by new youthful designers such as Kenzo, Mary Quant, Clovis Ruffin, and Willi Smith. The clothes were fun and comfortable.
By the late 70s, everyone in the country had heard about Studio 54, and what a fabulous, hedonistic place it was. Though in reality, it was probably more like this:
That’s the designer Halston on the left, Bianca Jagger in some odd hoodie next, some other guy, Liza Minelli, and yes, PREPPY Michael Jackson. Were they really having fun? I don’t know. The whole era got to be too much after awhile.
Speaking of Halston, in the late 70s and early 80s, he designed some great patterns for McCalls:
I remember making this knit top and skirt in the early 80s, when I was first working as a television producer:
I wore it on a field shoot, one thing led to another, and the guy I was interviewing and I ended up at the Plaza. Those were the days, my friend.
You can see more Halston patterns on my pinterest page: Make Your Own Vintage Halston. The patterns are not too hard to find on Ebay and etsy.com.
Let’s get back to the wrap dress. Diane Von Furstenberg is known for “inventing” it, but it was around for a long time before that:
This rare early 50s Claire McCardell pattern, released by Spadea, was drafted from a retail McCardell dress, like this:
The bodice is cut on the bias, a technique McCardell learned by deconstructing Vionnet dresses while she was a student in 1920’s Paris. She had wrap dresses in her line from the 40s through her death in the late 50s, though she called them “popover” dresses. More on this design later.
These dresses never really go out of style. Just today, I spotted this new Vogue pattern from Donna Karan:
Bias cut, very nice. Here’s the link: Donna Karan Vogue Wrap Pattern. Many of Donna Karan’s early sewing patterns (including the ones she did for Anne Klein) were influenced by Claire McCardell’s designs.
Hm, I think I have some wrap dresses in my sewing future…after all, when Mad Men returns it will be in the full-on 70s.
What do you think of 70s fashion? Thumbs up or down? Any fashion memories, good or bad?