What: Crazily festive cream-colored dress, complete with hectic brown-and-gold leaf pattern, via Goodwill
I recently read a style guide which was FULL of hate for the ‘70s. To be fair, a lot of books (and people) are full of hate for the ’70s. Such an ugly time in American history, in all ways, after all. And I will not dispute that ugliness, on most fronts. There have been better presidents than Nixon. There are better colors out there than avocado. There has been better music made than at least 85% of ‘70s rock.
However. I will defend much of the ‘70s aesthetic from its many detractors. I like garments which are long and droopy, and come in dreary colors and eye-assaulting patterns. (I didn’t say I would do a GOOD job of defending the aesthetic, just that I would DO it.) I like hippieish skirts and burnt-orange garments. If the “floppy hats for ladies” trend were to come surging back, I would be one happy camper. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to the actual ‘70s. (Vietnam War still in its full, vicious swing, and Second Wave feminism just starting to get its hands dirty? Noooo, thank you.) But the sartorial ‘70s? Sure. Sign me up.
I thought this dress was actual ‘70s when I first beheld it, rather than ersatz ‘70s, as it subsequently proved to be. (Clever H&M designers; silly fashion historian self.) But really, in the end, who cares? I lovvvvvve this dress. I love that it looks like the kind of ugly wallpaper once beloved by my grandmother. I love its “dying leaves” color palette. I love that it is so defiantly designed to NOT be pretty.
And most of all, I love its PRISSINESS. Of course, in many ways, the ‘70s was not a decade known for prissiness. This was the era that gave us the wrapdress and hot pants and all manner of short and slinky silhouettes for the womenfolk, to be sure. But it also had its flashes of pseudo-Victorianness, with its high-necked blouses and low-hemmed skirts. And I love both sides of that coin—I am a magpie who will purchase any garment if you put sparkly things on it, but I am also a nineteenth-century-obsessive who is cold all the bloody time, so garments which are long and all-enveloping possess a very definite charm for me.
This summer, I worked to embrace the short. I wore dresses and skirts which crept well north of my knees, pushing aside a lifetime’s worth of conditioning that short skirts equaled woman of dubious virtue equaled bad. I still felt uncomfortable, sometimes, wearing things which were “too short” for me. But I still did it, and took great glee in the whole new world of fluttery garments which consequently opened up to me. (And there are few things which I love more in life than the addition of even more fluttery garments into it.)
This fall, I am not turning my back on the World of the Short, entirely. My newly-found skirts will be perfectly delighted to be thrown over some leggings in my non-academic hours, I imagine. But I am also looking forward to sinking back into the prim, sometimes. Because there is something charmingly restful, in wearing a garment which covers you from stem to stern. You won’t even be able to see the top of my throat or the bones of my wrist when I am wearing this sucker. I will not so much be wearing this dress as it will be wearing me.
Some dresses put us on display; some dresses are the display, in and of themselves. And bless them, regardless of the decade from which they hail, for that.