The year 1974 was not one of fashion revolution, but rather a year of concrete, stable ideas of what even the most fashion-conscious consumer wanted. Because of the inflationary state of the economy, the ready-to-wear industry played a major role in the fashion scene in 1974.
The Consumer Influence. Fad clothing no longer was in demand, and fabrics could no longer be sleazy. Good workmanship became a prime factor and quality a key word. Clothes had to be more wearable, more classic, and more versatile, not only in silhouette but in fabrication and wear as well. What the average consumer spent her money on, be it a dress or sportswear, had to enhance her wardrobe. Women rebelled by no longer accepting the dictates of the designers; they bought and wore what they felt was right for them.
One of the most frequently heard terms in the fashion field in 1974 was "the contemporary customer". Designers such as Stephen Burrows, Clovis Ruffin, Scott Barrie, and Sonia Rykiel had been designing with this customer in mind for several seasons. In 1974, however, the concept exploded throughout the ready-to-wear industry and at all price levels. Who was this customer? Collectively, she was one of the nearly 29,000,000 females in the 18- to 35-year age-group. She was fashion oriented, of course, but also practical, and she wanted clothes to complement her busy, casual way of life.
Fabrics. The contemporary customer was very influential in the 1974 fashions. The new look was even softer, more fluid, and more feminine. The winning fabrics were soft, packable, and wear-able twelve months a year in most geographical locations. Nyesta, BanIon, Qiana, and jersey became even more widespread and popular. The colors that won out were the dark greens, deep berries, rusts, and aubergine purples, and the same shades in more muted tones. In bright shades, green, gold, red, and orange were out in front. The dusty shades of green, pink, and blue led to the introduction of pastels much earlier in the year than usual. The natural shades, from bone to mocha, continued to boom.
It was the year of the print explosion in dresses, in sportswear, and, above all, in shirts. Prints ran the gamut from traditional florals and geometrics to huge selections of Art Deco, conversational, animal, and engineered pictorial prints.
Sportswear. Sportswear continued to expand in the misses as well as in the contemporary and junior area. Skirts were back. The midcalf length was accepted in Europe, but American designers had learned their lesson. Although midcalf lengths were shown by many designers, including Oscar de la Renta, Halston, and John Anthony, they were just one of many lengths featured. The junior and contemporary customers were the first to want to show their legs again, and in spring they wore the printed 25-in. skirt in crepe de chine. The misses customer followed in more conventional fabrics.
Sweater dressing remained one of the strongest influences. Fur-trimmed sweaters (Bill Blass was one of the initiators in 1973) became a household word for many. They ranged from high-priced, luxurious fur collars and cuffs on tuxedo fronts to pretend-fur collars. Tweeds were followed by solids, and darks by pastels and metallics. Longer, looser, softer, and more feminine sweaters were worn by young and old alike. Many interesting openwork stitches were introduced, as were new, brighter, lighter fibers.
The "big tops" and "popovers" continued to be worn with pants and even over skirts. Tops continued to lead the volume fashion picture. Sweatshirts in any fabric (including chiffon and velvet for evening), T-shirts, hooded tops, and camisoles were newer additions.
Dresses. One of the most publicized fashions of 1974 was the chemise, brought back by Yves St. Laurent and other designers. It was immediately copied at all price levels. With a belt or sash added, giving the wearer a choice of how daring she wanted to be, it became known as the "naive chemise". It was available for day in soft fabrics, in solids as well as prints, and for evening in long, beautiful chiffons, georgettes, velvets, and other opulent fabrics.
Pajama pants outfits were another addition for dress designers and manufacturers. Introduced as a casual evening look, they soon became the answer to what to wear for lunch as well as dinner, and they were followed by long-skirt outfits that took over as fall progressed.
Dresses for day changed little. Supersoftness was everywhere. Shirtdresses in printed soft fabrics, especially those designed by Diana von Furstenberg, led the parade. Blousons, two-piece gore-skirted dresses, and wraps completed the major fashion picture. Late in the year the "Big Dress" made its appearance with or without sash. It was an easy look.
Dresses for evening also concentrated on soft, feminine styling. Bareness remained in halter dresses, strapless dresses, and low, plunging necklines. Some designers added a soft flyaway top, bed jacket, cardigan, or capelet. Many dresses had matching fringed or ruffled stoles. Trims of feathers, fur, or rhinestones, and allover sequins were in stronger evidence than in 1973.
Several designers, including Mollie Parnis, introduced the "restaurant" length, about midcalf, which was used mainly on covered-up, sophisticated dresses. The short cocktail or dinner dress remained a comparatively minor factor.
The year brought in the Russian influence in Cossack tunics, dresses, pants, and quilted jackets. Peasant looks appeared from all over the world and all ethnic backgrounds. The influence was felt in the larger variety of natural fabrics, in the many handmade looks in heavy knit outerwear, and in the use of embroidery, stitching details, elasticized necklines, and lacing and smocking on dresses and blouses.
Romantic looks, beautifully executed by Oscar de la Renta, were available for day and evening. Dresses, long skirts, and blouses had details of lace and ruffles. Lace dresses and separates added still more romance. Toward late fall the "fatigue" look arrived from Europe, either in khaki or olive.
Coats and Suits. Coats did not have a banner year, although there was fashion excitement in this area, including marvelous full coats with dropped shoulders and yoke interest, in beautiful fabrics. The cape, another exciting addition, appeared in outerwear fabrics for day—full, very billowy, and mostly hooded. For evening, capes were sexy looking, always soft and flowing, always hooded, and mostly done in velvet, velveteen, satin, or soft knits.
Because of a tremendous increase in the price of wool, however, buyers were reluctant to invest much money in the new coat looks. Fur-trimmed and untrimmed, real and pretend leather, and suede coats were well represented and sold well. It was another disappointing year for suits. Although skirts made a comeback, the pantsuit and wardrober continued to outsell the skirted suit by a wide margin.
Accessories. Jewelry was the star performer in this category. The superstars were tailored metal chains (the snake chain and the Boston link were most popular) and chains with beads, with stones, in gold, in silver, or in mixed metals. Lengths varied widely, although the 15-in. chain was one of the most popular. It was a year for subtle glitter, nothing gaudy or showy. Earrings continued, mainly in hoops and wedding bands. Bracelets lost some of their popularity, with only the bangle bracelets remaining on the fashion scene.
In handbags, leather was the key word, and the East-West silhouette emerged as a major look. Top handles and keyhole handles in both leather and fabric bags were in. Even the shoulder bag was old hat unless it had top handles. Evening looks in satin and peau de sole with multicolored crystal beads complemented the ready-to-wear fashions.
Scarves made a comeback—long scarves, short scarves, big squares, and little squares. The in-scene featured two and three scarves worn together: solids with patterns, lights with darks, and color with color. The newest touches were the lettuce edges, scalloped edges, and lace edges.
Hats were back, not in the old millinery concept of a hat for every occasion, but with a casual feeling. A hat was something fun to lift not only your outfit but your mood, be it the cuffed knit hat, newsboy cap, beret, felt cloche, or big floppy hat.
Shoes continued to get higher and higher for part of the year; wearable fashion, however, won its rightful place. Pumps with higher but sensible heels returned. Open backs made an appearance, and sandals continued to look right. Boots became a fashion item to complement the Cossack look and the longer lengths.
Hair was short and casual, and makeup subtle. The young took on the look of the late 1920's, with short, curly hair, dark nail polish and lipstick, and well-rouged cheeks.
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