Patchouli & Birkenstock; No, Not “The Producers”: Fashion (Mis?)-Statements of the 1970s by Gavin Lakin – Post 25

 

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We were all guilty.

That is, those of us who remember. Suffocated by the overwhelming scent of Patchouli oil, kicking back in our bell bottoms, fearlessly adorned with platform shoes, vinyl jumpsuits, sequined shirts, bushy sideburns, knee-high socks, XXL loop earrings, studded belts, Mohawk hairdos, or leisure suits over Texas-sized-collared shirts, we represented our generation with pluck and kitsch (no relation to the title namesakes).

For every seeming fashion mis-statement, one could find much of which to be proud. My generation had the unique designs by Halston, Pea jackets, Ralph Lauren’s tweeds, flannels, and old school corduroy (hold the elbow patches), Bill Blass and Calvin Klein’s drawstring tops—ultimately synonymous with Cher—and those funky lifeboat quilted-down ski vests from 1977, popularized by Marty McFly in Back to the Future (1985).

Do you need further evidence as for why ‘70s fashion-minded folks need some reassurances when you put the spotlight on, say, Donny Osmond? Well, just have a glimpse of the 1980s with its big-hair bands, ladies’ shoulder-padded, triangular shaped, football linebacker business suit tops, sweatbands and headbands, acid-washed jeans (I mean, come on, the whole point is to be do the fading of your jeans by washing them hundreds of times), fanny packs (please), leg warmers, Miami Vice (you know what I mean), parachute pants (if I had ever worn these, my friends would have thrown me from an airplane), and the sweater-draped-over-the-shoulder look. Can anyone say preppie?

Then, don’t get me started about the ‘90s.

Here it is, like a vertical sampler of fine wine, I offer tastes, some too smoky, others too earthy, and many with a good nose and excellent finish . . .

You Wear It Well

Stylish women wore patterned gowns, culottes, Joni Mitchel tie dye midi skirts, knee-high socks, stripes (a lot of stripes), ponchos, kaftans, kimonos, and muumuus. Toting the omnipresent macramé bags (filled with vials of Patchouli), the female friend you once knew as five-foot-six now nearly towered over you, wearing platform heels.

With shout outs to David Bowie, Elton John, Iggy Pop, KC, Tony Orlando (really) and a host of others, the guys became more androgynous; “crossing over” by wearing, well, ponchos, platform heels, tie dye, glitter, and occasionally, some form of skirt—preferably maxi in length. Years prior for sure, but this was the emergence of the short-lived metrosexual.

Stumblin’ In

Could you blame them? Our parents’ generation were experiencing their form of the “arch enemy,” pressing women into wearing open stiletto-heeled shoes, stretching up tendons at forty-five-degree angles. Surely, that put a cramp in one’s day—and how the hell did one walk in those things? Enter platforms and pumps, stylish and solid, supporting the feet as opposed to oppressing them, say, like women continued to experience objectification from head to toe, and still much too much here in 2018. Bonus points for slipping out of these easier, in case one needed to fend off Mr. Goodbar at the bar. Though men were wearing them as well, you would never have found me in anything other than my bare feet or Adidas. I dug the look, and this footwear have had staying power, digging in their heels over time. Good on them!

That Smell

At least in somewhat recent history, Patchouli oil has its humble medicinal beginnings here:

“On Saturday 4th July, 1846 the London Daily News carried the following advertisement: “Viner’s patchouli is confidently recommended as the only remedy known to prevent moth. In foreign countries the peculiar properties of this Indian perfume are highly appreciated, it is therefore most extensively applied to this useful purpose.'”

Moth??????

Well, there you have it. Much was written, most definitively by John Anthony Moretta (The Hippies: A 1960s History). Most agreed that the scent masked the pungency of marijuana. Frankly, its chemical bonds likely formed new molecular structures. I propose we dub (doob?) the next Mendeleev element: Patchoulium.

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As a teenager navigating the tempest-tossed sea of adolescence, this mystical olfactory malfunction steered my Love Boat far and away. I had strict rules for my gal pals and early “relationships”: No smokers, no excessive bubble gum chewers and bubble poppers, no disco enthusiasts, no foul breath, and if you wear Patchouli, I scram-a-rouli.

You’re So Vain

Chest hair & bushy sideburns may have made Tom Selleck and others irresistible to women (and some men). But someone, please tell me how a chest resembling the Amazon Jungle is alluring?

That’s all I have for this one.

Nice, Nice Very Nice

Have A Nice Day T-Shirts were everywhere. What’s worse? People still say it today, mainly in customer service positions. To me, the insipid four-word tripe has always sounded dismissive and obviously anything close to what its intended message suggests. And yes, this smug yellow smiley face and its adage “helped to define the ‘70s,” wrote Abigail Goldman of the Los Angeles Times. If that defined the times, my decade had to have been experiencing some contradictory inner turmoil considering the angst, self-absorption and human potential movement battering away. One could not just do primal scream therapy and have Arthur Janov say, “Okay, have a nice day.” Therefore, whenever you have a seriously sucky day, thank Philadelphia brothers Murray and Bernard Spain who blew up Harvey Ball’s original idea to proliferate the world with banality. Forrest Gump’s version of the T-shirt’s progenitor has much more charm—I’ll go with his version because life still is a box of chocolates (but I’m cutting back).

Blue

Denim rocks. The faux pas was always wearing acid jeans, ripped jeans, or jeans with a jeans jacket. Let the pants live on their own terms. And for the inevitable shredding, find yourself a groovy peace patch, or one of the thousands you could buy in head shops, and sew it on! When it approached its demise, snip off the legs, and ta da, cut-offs!

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How many summers did I spend cruising around in my VW Baja Bug on my way to Santa Monica Beach, brakes occasionally failing me, cozy in my cut-offs, ready for the surf. Though all generations can claim the iconic fabric, it was ours that showed it the most love. Trust me, a treasured pair was unlike any item in my wardrobe. You can have your leisure suit trousers.

Golden Ring

If you happened to find yourself at Bonwit Teller in 1975, you would have been an initial buyer of Mood Rings, created by Josh Reynolds and Maris Ambats. Its secret was liquid crystal that changed color as the body’s temperature changed. Based on the guide that came with the purchase, an entire lexicon originated associating certain colors with certain emotions. Hogwash! Hmm, if it’s red, the person must be angry. Blue? Sad. Green? Maybe the person wants to go forward, as in “traffic light.” Oh, for those whose ring turned black . . . what demons were eating away at your soul? In a time of astrology, est, Enneagrams, primal scream therapy, meditation—perhaps J. R. R. Tolkien’s rings should have been enough.

Hot Stuff

Hot pants, Glitter, Vinyl jumpsuits, Lycra stretched disco pants with sequin bandeau tops, Razor blade necklaces, Perms & Disco Afros & XXL Loop earrings . . . oh my!

If this upcoming section is familiar to you, then you are quite the follower. Thank you! I dread disco so much, I carried over sections of my previous piece written last year. Obviously, the divas drove the cocaine-riddled trip, but fashion was the Venus flycatcher of love. Bianca Jagger riding into Studio 54 on a horse didn’t hurt disco’s cause either. I just felt for the dudes who didn’t have a cheesy mustache or resemble Vinnie Barbarino. And ladies, if you couldn’t get your hands on XXL hoop earrings, jumpsuits, and Lycra and sequins everywhere, then best to stay home with popcorn and watch Car Wash.

Shake your booty to this from March 17, 2017:

“By the time 1977 rolled around, popular music was again going through one of its redefining moments. For the next three years, during the tail end of the 1970s, rock music began its unparalleled trajectory into what I call sonic schizophrenia. Where else but in the states could you find disco (the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, ABBA, Andy Gibb, Saturday Night Fever), Jazz fusion (Jeff Beck, Return To Forever, Chuck Mangione), Soft Rock (Debby Boone, Anne Murray, Barry Manilow), novelty songs (“Disco Duck,” “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band,” “A Fifth of Beethoven”) and of course punk / new wave (The Clash, Ramones, Blondie, The Runaways, The Knack, Patti Smith, Police, Elvis Costello) all “clashing” for airtime on the radio, where station formats were also changing on the fly?

“According to Billboard from September 1977 through June of 1979 the Bee Gees had six consecutive Number 1 singles, four of which are their top-selling singles ever: “Night Fever,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love” and “Too Much Heaven.” A good run, indeed. Others might describe it less-than-politely.

“Meanwhile from September 1978 for approximately one year, disco Diva Donna Summer had eight consecutive Top 10 singles, including four Number 1 hits (“MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls” and “No More Tears”) and a Number Two (“Dim All the Lights”). Take that, Bee Gees. The battle was on! Add into the mix the mega-hit soundtrack albums of Saturday Night Fever and Grease and you can see why several-thousand baseball fans could get a bit amped up with the promise of exploding disco records.

“Easy to call out disco as the villain. However, was it the catalyst to lead popular music into a new direction—a backlash of sorts. Can’t argue here. Perhaps many of you that graced the dance floors in those white blazers channeling your inner Travolta can speak on behalf of the turbulent and controversial fad? Or, was it not a fad, but was actually a legitimate form of expression?”

Friends

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Finally, something worth cheering for! Friendship bracelets simply required a dear friend, colored embroidery floss (no, not mental floss, you Kliban fans) and / or basic thread. Their initial popularity? Of course, my decade! Sure, they are avidly worn today, having had been extremely popular during the 1980s (associated with Latin America protests—now there’s some props for that decade). Essentially macramé, the lore had it that those who wore the bracelets kept them attached to the wrist until they began to fray, then broke off. At that point, a wish was made. Of course, if you and your bestie had a blowout prior to that moment, to quote P-Funk, you might have wanted to “Tear the Roof off the Sucker.”

Platinum Blonde

Bo Derek’s braids & Farrah Fawcett’s Flickups—ah, the teenage memories that unavoidably raised my blood pressure. But come on, guys, white women with dreads? Bob Marley must have been “pulling his hair out!” Farrah, howevah, couldn’t hold a revolver prop straight to save her acting career, but man, could she keep a coif in place. Every wave had its own sea to part. Declared “flickups.” others who mimicked that more often than not, flucked up. However, like every cultural statement, hair today, gone tomorrow. But we had the consummate posters from the film 10 (1979) and the cover of Time magazine (1976 with Charlie’s Angels). And . . . the ladies forever would have the honor of being tacked up to every mechanics’ garage wall in the country.

Almost Cut My Hair

Long straight hair, and hair everywhere. I mean, everywhere. I certainly got an education in my college years when I attended The Evergreen State College. Apparently, local drug stores did not carry women’s razors. But to hear David Crosby tell it, the freak flag flying from every place imaginable was the highest form of countercultural statement. Women, didn’t you just dig running your hair through your man’s forest of hirsute shrubbery? What was more romantic than last week’s crusted vegetarian tofu stir fry stuck to your honey’s Fu Manchu? I do have to admit, my ID cards from college featured my face staring up at me, enveloped by a critical mass of scattershot brown lumberjack incredulity.  But it felt more like this young boy . . .

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I was just a hairy guy. Yes, from the musical. Wearing jeans and boots, I’d top it off with a gray wool cap, a red flannel shirt, bandana tied loosely around my neck and my Neil Young pre-grunge ensemble was complete.

Alas, I couldn’t tend bar in San Francisco looking like that. And soon, any sane principal would not hire a teacher who resembled a redwood tree, therefore, sorry David, I cut my hair. Many Boomers remember the exact moment in time. Not up there with JFK, MLK, and Bobby, but tragic in its own way. It would only be a matter of time before receding hairlines and bald spots no longer had the cover of mega-mullets.

White Punks on Dope

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Enter new wave and punk’s Mohawk hairstyles, piercings in all the wrong places, and those sharp silver protrusions of doom: studded belts. Why, you ask. I believe it begins and ends with “Muskrat Love” by Captain and Tennille and “Feelings” by Morris Albert. Huh? And additionally, over in the U.K., Pink Floyd’s popularity perceived as “selling out” by Johnny Rotten and others? Yeah, they sure were bubble gum alright. I can’t presume to think they “cleared their name” with The Wall (1979). One of the best band’s ever being cited as the fall guy was comparable to burning Beatles’ albums because they were more popular than God, or whatever the media misconstrued John’s statement to mean. But, hey, what do I know about a country’s disillusionment with government, culture, and the human condition in general? Oh wait, that once again sounds like 2018!

If you did, or do have staples in your face, nose rings, tongue studs, and rings in places we cannot say in this family-friendly format, the fashion statement eludes me. I wore an earring stud in my left ear during my playing-in-bands era. As I also was a fifth-grade teacher, I would have to remember not to wear it to work. Of course, I’d forget and people would stare. Is he gay? He’s good-looking and not married? Well, apparently, I was a question mark, as the ongoing music club conversation was which ear was hetero and which was gay. It just felt better in my left ear—so there. I still have it, and once in a blue moon I’ll poke one through the lobe’s closed-up opening. I feel cool again. But what right do I have to cynically judge—okay, openly whine— about inserting heavy metal into one’s skin, in and out of orifices, risking infection, not to mention what would the black-leathered fashionistas do should the stock price of silver go sky-high?

I tried a Mohawk once. Oh, no, that was playing cowboys and Indians as a child in the backyard for one of my birthday parties. I recall being massacred at Wounded Knee. You gotta give them props; I never asked but I often wondered if it was an homage to the brave warriors that were all but eradicated by the conspicuously proscribed edict of “Manifest Destiny.” No, the land was not White Europeans to have and to hold. Tell that to the high and mighty slave owners, xenophobes, and General Custer’s of the day. We continue to live on the land, not with it. This song is my favorite on the debacle we perpetrated on the red man.

“Robbed of the right, to be one with the white. It’s the end of the fight for the Redman. Gone is the grace and the pride from his face. It’s the end of the race for the Redman.”

Mr. Big Stuff

Patriarchy is alive and well all around the world. Recent United States political events have accentuated that sense of Man’s invincibility and infallibility. Black-hearted creatures are crawling up and out from under the rocks. Jim Crow and The Third (Fourth?) Reich are getting press time in what was once known as the beacon of liberty around the world—not the incubator of hatred. It is one thing to speak your mind, no matter how vitriolic, however it is entirely different when the three branches of government are not using Checks and Balances—not even close. The First Amendment is untouchable. But, can it be brought up-to-date? Has the document lost its legs? Keep in mind, it was created by wealthy white men, many who were slave owners. If the government isn’t going to follow the Constitution, why should We the People? Cue The Isley Brothers. . .

Cocksure, assertive, and taking whatever he wants of those exclaiming #metoo, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! As a member of the male gender I have often stated here with unabashed directness, my brethren, YOU TOO! It means all of us. Even those who feel as innocent as Winnie-the-Pooh. We are all in this. So, what does this have to do with the 1970s leisure suit and collars resembling huge Euclidean triangles? I find it all-encompassing, really. Our destructive approach to the planet and willful denial of Earth’s imminent inhabitable state, to the opposite sex and immutable oppression, to the neglect of the disenfranchised, for a (not my) president who blatantly belittled a mentally ill individual, to playing golf on huge acreage using potable water so one can boast about one’s score and babble on about putts and drives.

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What we wear says everything. I’ll say this once: Leisure suits look better on women. So does global leadership. Time to change the walk down the runway.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Birkenstocks are the heart and soul of this piece, this era, the times. Why? Staying power (one-hundred-twenty years), a product for which customers remain loyal, for something manufactured the old way: perfect the first time. It doesn’t need an upgrade or an optimization. It has history, reputation, and good old-fashioned sense—values that have been deteriorating from our society; in fact, plummeting.

In the late 1800s, German shoe businessman, Konrad Birkenstock, son of the founder, Johann, noticed if a sole was curved to align to the shape of the foot, wouldn’t this be cozier than one with a flat surface? Duh! After WWI, the family business proliferated with factories throughout Europe. New generations of the family arrived in 1954 when Karl envisioned a shoe that felt as if its owner was walking barefoot. Introducing a foot bed of cork, latex and jute, it had the undeniably luxurious feeling of strolling in beach sand. Though with the straps attached, the raised heel support, it may have been a glorified sandal, who could argue with comfort?

Enter Margot Fraser, another German with an eye for style and frustration with the brutally uncomfortable high heels as mentioned above. She eventually became the sole proprietor of U.S. distribution for Birkenstock, relocating first to Santa Cruz and then to San Rafael, California. Her initial network focused on health food stores and street fairs, as traditional shoe sellers wanted nothing to do with “the clunky thing.”

Back in Germany, the parent company published a paper extolling the unique “Birko-Cork,” a product featuring natural thermopliable materials. Two years later they outdid that with the “noppy-fits.” Not soon after, the “Roma” and “Arizona” were introduced, changing up the strap styles. By then, all in earth tones, there were twelve Birks on the market. Combined with the Bohemian lifestyles of young Americans in the early ‘70s, word of mouth grew, as did sales and revenue. The tiny shoe that couldn’t, sure as hell could!

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And its main distribution center is right up the highway from me in Novato, alongside U.S. 101, in a retro building as idiosyncratic as its shoe. Ms. Fraser has received many awards over the years for her hiring practices of women and minorities and her leadership. As an example, when vegans wanted a non-leather shoe, her company established another product held in high esteem by PETA, made from wool, polyure-thane, and acrylic.

I once lived in a townhouse with a flat roof. Life was growing up fast before me. This was my first home I owned. Though it may have been in the disclosures, no one prepared me for how rain would pool up in the surface above me. Just a few months into homeowner-ship, I was fixing a hole, where the rain gets in. When faced with this dilemma in the early Industrial Age, a man had an idea, and he literally reshaped, and moved us, not emotionally perhaps, but needless to say; it was quite a feat.

365 days a year, I am mindful of which pair of sneakers to wear, depending on the day ahead. If I have more professional tasks, then I select a dress shoe tending toward casual. I wear blue jeans ninety-percent of the time; they’re like peach pie and vanilla ice cream to my soul. My hair? I might wet it to add some life, otherwise it just remains in the same position it was yesterday. The rest of my clothes, same deal; I do tend toward earth tones, the occasional flannel, but mainly solid colors. Don’t give me stripes or weird designs. Wristwatch? You betcha. I always will wear one, with a face, with numbers and a second hand. Belt? Functional only. Earring? In a drawer somewhere. Rings? Not even. Caps and hats, only when I need to keep my ears warm, or block the sun.

I do not make fashion statements. Does that make me boring, or simply a Boomer dude? It wasn’t like many of us were rocking it like Lindsey Buckingham or Rod Stewart. Elton John was my hero, but those glasses, boas, frilly get-ups . . . yikes! Though at Dodger Stadium back in the day, when he came out after a break he was wearing a Dodger uniform. We hung out, wore patches (or Patchouli), my trusty bandana around my neck, and traveled in bare feet with calluses sketching their way on the pavement. Like art, fashion is subjective.

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Once when I was teaching fifth grade, a student arrived with blue hair that matched his jeans (this guy had green shorts – oh well). Yep, what did I say about blue?

 

 

 

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