HIP TO THE PAST Fashion takes fancy to flash, excess of glam-rock '70s

The beat goes on. The '70s are coming back with a vengeance if designers have their way, and they'll get you, babe!

Top Italian designers who showed their spring lines in Milan last week held a love-in for the fashion decade that is remembered with a wince by those who dressed through it. Not since Sonny and Cher set the style for millionaire hippie flash has so much navel, fringe and platform been seen on a stage.


Gianni Versace did the hip-huggingest, tightest, biggest bell-bottoms, ending in pleats, ruffles and slashes. He showed them with snug tops and bare midriffs, in floral prints and tapestries.

Dolce & Gabbana brought back tie-dye and patchwork, and accessorized with droopy hats and love beads.


Even Giorgio Armani, the master of sophisticated restraint, sent out a long Indian print gauze skirt -- an elegant earth mother look.

And American designers, in previews of their less expensive lines, have loosened up. They will show their definitive collections in New York in November, but there's a wildness in the wind.

Donna Karan dropped jeans at the hip to reveal some bellybutton. Calvin Klein showed crinkled cotton gauze. Perry Ellis Portfolio has studded, hipster bell-bottoms, worn with a billowy peasant blouse.

Rock groups and the underground club rebels were deep into the look three years ago. Now the high priests of fashion have legitimized it.

Why now, when the industry seemed to be coming to its fashion senses?

"I characterize the '70s as the Decade that Taste Forgot," says Valerie Steele, a fashion historian in the graduate division of the Fashion Institute of Technology. "The simple answer would be that fashion has become too pure, too classic. The '70s may be an offensive period, but you can't mistake it, it's so extreme.

"It was a time of the biggest bell-bottoms, everything in excess -- weird colors, strange materials," she recalls. "The '70s took the hippies' style of the '60s and blew it all beyond any known parameters. And fashion was very pop-oriented. It was driven by hard rock, glam rock, disco."

She sees the swing back to excess as a revolt of the trendies. The mainstream has come to expect and accept classic lines and subtle tailoring. We have had too steady a diet of good taste.


"The trendies will get sick of this, too," says Ms. Steele, "but before this '70s cycle ends, it will swing wider this time around. The Italians have been retreading the '70s for quite a while. It's catching on now, because so many of the young people who take to the style weren't even born in 1971 and they see it as a real statement."

The specter of psychedelic color is difficult to anticipate in this season of muted neutrals, but Ms. Steel insists ugly color is on the way. "We'll see horrible green and orange, which are both colors everyone has loved to hate. They've always been considered tasteless colors, but now they look fresh because they haven't been worn for a while."

She sees the young taking to deadlier shades of poison green, and gentler moss shades for the conservative market.

Yet the full-blown rocker look is not yet a cause for concern. Ms. Steele says the '70s look will probably only manifest itself in footwear and colors.

Elephant bells are still only a scare.

"Bell-bottom trousers back then were an aberration. They may have been inspired by sailor pants, but those were a distant antecedent. The main style explosion of the '70s was a general widening -- wide, wide trouser cuffs, wide lapels, wide ties, wide belts. Pants grew from just a flare at the hem to enormous flapping sails.


"They seem disproportionate now, but as they were worn then, especially cut so low at the hip, often with an exposed midriff, we can see how it all went together."

Among the '70s influences a bit easier to accept is hair. Designers showed undone hair with their new looks -- long, straight, parted in the center -- but the days of ironing hair to remove all vestiges of wave will probably never return.

The acceptance of the '70s look by young men will determine how widespread the style will be, Ms.Steele says. It will be a test of time.

In the world of vintage fashion, the '70s already have a strong following. Tim Potee, owner of Dreamland, 1005 N. Charles St., has seen a growth in requests for the real thing.

"Beautiful periods of fashion always take a turn for the ugly, and that's what some of the avant garde art crowd now wants," Mr.Potee says. "We have 300 bell-bottom pants -- plaids, stripes, jeans, elephant bells -- most of them in the very 'finest' polyester. And our tie selection is very good too -- intense colors and a big 4 to 5 inches wide."

New cutting-edge platforms from top designers can cost in the four figures. Mr. Potee says his store's vintage shoes run from $20 to $100 with labels such as I. Miller and Jumping Jack Flash, the preferred footwear of '70s rockers.


His idea of a current vintage glam glitter look would be a stretch silver lame top, black-and-blue elephant bells riding low in the hip, and a wide belt, preferably made of shiny plastic.

"The thing about the '70s was that you could never go too far," Mr. Potee says. "My own teen concert-going outfit was a rainbow knit stretchy shirt, Landlubber big-bell jeans, and a woman's black, slashed black blazer which I studded myself. I wore platforms in burgundy suede trimmed in alligator."

"Until a few years ago I sold '70s clothes as costume; now they sell as fashion."