In retrospect, the '70s were a more glamorous time than they might have seemed at the moment: Looking back at certain nightclub photos from the time, New York City has never seemed so magic. It was a decade whose entire popular culture was made possible by the sexual revolution of the '60s, and sex seems to have influenced everything — from the models of the moment, to what came down the runways, to the books we stole off our parent's shelves. Style-wise, it's when everything opened up — fashion, for the first time, started to democratize itself, and denim became the national uniform.
Brooke Shields was nothing short of a fashion and pop-culture phenomenon: She had her first Vogue cover at 14 — this was back when, if you were a teen model, you only modeled in teen magazines — and was the subject of Richard Avedon’s “Nothing Comes Between Me And My Calvins” ad campaign that same year. An autobiographical, picture-laden volume called The Brooke Book became a bestseller (copies can go for up to $500 today), and told the story of a sweet and normal suburban schoolgirl not so different than her scores of fans. But, in reality, Brooke had one of the more diabolical stage mothers of all time, Teri Shields, who allowed photographers to take full advantage of her daughter’s preternaturally womanly looks and take pictures that critics argued bordered on the pornographic. Most egregiously, when Brooke was 12, Teri allowed her to star in the Louis Malle film Pretty Baby, about a child in a New Orleans bordello whose virginity gets auctioned off to the highest bidder. Check out the movie some time — It’s absolutely crazypants (and would never be made today).
All these years later, the most talented female member of Saturday Night Live’s Not Ready for Prime Time Players remains the late, great, and supremely lovable Gilda Radner. Poker-thin with a face and a body she wasn’t afraid to push wherever necessary for a laugh, Radner gave the show some of its most memorable early characters, like nerdy Lisa Loopner, epic over-sharer Roseanne Roseannadanna, and chronically clueless Emily Litella (she also did a mean Patti Smith). In its early days, the stars of SNL were like the coolest kids in all New York, and Gilda was their impish queen.
If you lived in or near New York City in the '70s and cared about fashion at all, chances are, Fiorucci was on your style map. The cheekily outré fashion brand, born in Milan in the 60s, created huge waves when it hit the city in 1976 with its spandex jeans, leopard-print bikinis, and gold lame cowboy boots — and the place itself became such a scene that it was soon dubbed “The daytime Studio 54.” It had — the height of sophistication! — a cappuccino bar, and a vibe that was more souk than department store or boutique. Fiorucci wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t fashion-with-a-capital-F expensive, either. I remember buying myself some jeans and a t-shirt with the trademark Fiorucci cherubs on it, and feeling like I was totally part of the magic.
RELATED: How To Wear Black Without Feeling Boring
Erica Jong’s 1973 erotic novel, with its sexually adventuresome feminist protagonist Isadora Wing, was a massive sensation and hugely controversial — and the dirty book we all tried to filch off our parents’ bookshelf. In it, Jong coined the phrase “zipless f**k,” which became popular slang for the act of casual sex for the sake of casual sex.
The style guide by Carol Troy and Catherine Millinaire was such a breakout hit that the authors sat for a Today Show interview with Barbara Walters — back when Barbara Walters typically only directed her attention to world leaders and movie stars. There was good reason to pay attention: Cheap Chic advocated thinking about style and getting dressed in a whole new way, one that was inspired as much by the street as the runway. Likewise, the authors advocated looking beyond the usual chain and department stores, and instead scouting Army/Navy stores, ethnic markets, and vintage boutiques — well before shopping vintage boutiques was a thing. Cheap Chic is long out of print, but still available for a price, and as inspiring today as the day it was published.
It is hard to overstate just how truly household-name famous Studio 54 was in the '70s: If you were a housewife in Chicago you knew about it, and if you were a high school kid in Texas, you knew about it, too. There was a solid cast of regulars — Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Halston, Diana Ross — but if you were famous in the 70s, at some point you made it to Studio. It was all quite grand, in a distinctly '70s way: Once, on her birthday, Bianca Jagger rode into the club on a white horse. Busboys went topless in teensy shorts. And, an oversized spoon famously hovered over the dance floor, periodically shaking “cocaine” out on the dancers beneath it.
If you’ve never seen an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, then you’re in luck: Your next big binge-watch has arrived. Even after its last episode aired some 36 years ago, it remains one of the best American sitcoms ever, with a fantastic ensemble cast that had at its core Moore’s character Mary Richards — a 30 year-old career girl who moves to Minneapolis and gets a job as an associate producer at a TV station. The show was way ahead of its time in depicting Mary’s priorities as a single woman: She had many boyfriends, but never seemed especially preoccupied with finding a husband. Her neighbor and best friend Rhoda, played by Valerie Harper, was such a standout that she got her own spinoff series — as did Cloris Leachman, who played Mary’s uptight landlord, Phyllis. And, everyone’s outfits were beyond.
There were three Charlie’s Angels on the popular '70s crime drama, but Farrah Fawcett is the one responsible for making the show a cultural phenomenon. And, the thing responsible for elevating Farrah Fawcett to said status was her hair, which about half the female population between the ages of 14 and 50 tried to execute at some point. (Alas, none came even close to approximating Farrah’s glossy, winged mane.) Men also obsessed over Fawcett, and focused on a great deal more than her hair, too: Her iconic swimsuit poster sold a whopping 20 million copies.
One of the first electronic arcade games, and probably the first widely popular one, Pong — which was essentially electronic table tennis — seemed like the future come to life. That is, until Space Invaders.
Halston was probably the first American fashion designer to actually become legitimately famous, and this makes a certain amount of sense: With his slightly haughty, crazy-sophisticated persona, he came off like nothing so much as a movie star playing the role of a fashion designer. His dresses were at once sexy-slick and subtly feminine — and deeply popular among the movie stars and models who would crowd his famous townhouse for after-hours parties.
Want more? Head over to Girls of a Certain Age for more of Kim France's must-read fashion & pop culture commentary.