Sunday, June 1, 2014

That 70s Woman: the palette, the pendant, and the power

In putting together this outfit, I wanted both to pay homage to and gently satirize the 70s and early 80s feminist movement (also known as Second Wave feminism, the first one being the movement focussed around achieving the vote for women). Those women, just one generation older than I am, did so much wonderful work, the benefits of which we all reap today.

Here, I dress like them and imagine I am one of them as I raise a tentative feminist fist, trying to feel the power women have been denied for so long.

I had several yummy role models for this outfit and attitude. 

First, there was bohemian Jewess, Rhoda Morgenstern, as played by the amazingly beautiful Valerie Harper, first in The Mary Tyler Moore show, and then in her own show, Rhoda. 

To me, as a child, I felt that she, not Mary, was the beautiful one whose unconventional style and moxy I wanted to emulate. Her look was that of the modern, liberated woman, still influenced by the hippie movement in which I was raised, but nicer, cleaner, classier.

It helps that Valerie Harper is a feminist in real life. Here she is at a rally promoting the Equal Rights Amendment (the ERA). 

I'm also told that she herself styled Rhoda Morgenstern's outfits, which were so important in establishing Rhoda's character.

Even today, I think I conflate Rhoda and Valerie more than I should: such beauty, such style, such a role model!

The second "person" I wanted to copy in my look was the fabulous Libby Wolfson, played and created by Andrea Martin in her SCTV days. (SCTV was a great, Canadian, sketch comedy show which launched the careers of many famous comedians.)

All props to the second wave feminists, but, by the early 80s, there was room for some gentle satire about them and their movement. This gentle satire is what Libby Wolfson was all about: supposedly liberated but actually very insecure, concerned with global feminism but more concerned getting a good manicure and losing weight... the woman who was often a contradiction of the very person she was trying to be.

My friend, Sal, dressed as a 70s feminist
Women like this did become a bit of a stereotype, as the members of any identifiable group do. But any fun I make here is made with love -- for their movement, for their perhaps overly optimistic idealism, for all the things they achieved for me and all the women who have come after them.

And, yes, their fashion sense. 

My attention to detail in my "mockery" is a sign of my respect: I have to get it just right or not try at all. So did my friend, Sal, on Halloween sixteen years ago when he dressed as a feminist, high school guidance counsellor, circa 1974.

Earth tones? Check. Enormous sunglasses? Check. A-line skirt? Check. Macrame? Check. Huge earrings? Check. Earthy jewerly? Check. Weirdly hideous pendant necklace? Check. (We'll come back to those pendants later.)

He even carried two classics under his arm: Woman in Sexist Society, and How to Meet Men Now That You're Liberated. Libby Wolfson would love that second book.


Except not. It's a real issue, even today, isn't it?

Still, some gentle fun is, well, fun. If you have the time, do watch this video of Libby Wolfson and Sue Bopper Simpson as they launch their ground-breaking play, I'm Taking My Own Head, Screwin' It On Straight, and No Man's Gonna Tell Me That It Ain't.

Pure gold.

Sue Bopper Simpson was the goy, while Libby Wolfson was the Jew so she had the hair, the wonderful big, poufy, almost out of control hair of the 70s feminist Jewess. 

Skirt: from JQ Clothing; Shirt: Reitman's; Boots: Ecco; Cane: Life; Sunglasses, necklace, pendant, bangles, and ring on left hand: vintage; Right hand ring and earrings: Birks
It's a must for this look. My hair does it in its sleep.

I've been parting my hair in the middle these days, like Rhoda did.

Mostly, I'm trying to look like the women I thought were hopelessly beautiful and sophisticated when I was a kid. Looking back, I think I had a little crush on Rhoda and other women of her particular type of beauty and style.

Hedy Lamarr
Of course, many styles draw on fashions past and the 70s feminist look was no exception. Even as I harken back the 70s in my look, Rhoda's look was itself harkening back to the 1940s and women like Hedy Lamarr, with her centre part and "exotic ethnic" (read, not wasp) look.

In trying to find images of 70s feminists who resemble me, I found that I had to search for specifically Jewish women to find the right hair. That's how I found this great image of a woman's Passover seder. This seder is marked as almost certainly feminist by the absence of men, the throw pillows on the floor, and above all, the man's yarmulke on the woman who is saying the brocha (blessing) over the wine. 

And the hair. Look at all that glorious Jewish hair!

By the early 80s, women were perming their hair to look like this, with quite disastrous, frizzy results, but not yet.


And let's not forget Jewish eyes...

...ensconced in huge sunglasses, a la Gloria Steinem, perhaps the world's most stylish feminist, and arguably the most stylish feminist of her generation. What a beauty!

So the sunglasses were necessary too. My head is huge and my hair big so I can pull of bug-eye sunglasses. They're great on days when I just don't feel like wearing makeup but feel that I look a little dragged out.

If you do a search for 70s feminists and leave out the word "Jewish," you will find the same looks, minus the curly hair. Instead, you'll find lots of long, straight hair, a reaction against the extremely unnatural coifs that were de rigueur in the 50s and early 60s. 

Here, we find Marlo Thomas, yet another icon of second wave feminism, asserting through her look that femininity need not be in conflict with feminism. 

But, yes, it was a different kind of femininity.

As with the hippie movement, it borrowed, or appropriated, depending on your view, from the "ethnic" fashion of other cultures. Check out her "ethnic" skirt...

... and mine...

... and Abba's...

...and Rhoda's.

This too could be seen in the 40s and 50s, but only as an "exotic" or "folk" look for a supposedly "exotic ethnic" woman, as with Hedy Lamarr.

It was best if the skirts were A-line, but better if they were also wrap around. (Thank Dianne Furstenburg for designing the always forgiving wrap dress.) 

And the colour palette for said skirts, and entire outifits was ubiquitous: oranges, reds, browns, mustards, and even pinks. They positively scream 70s.

They also made their way into interior design. Check out the colour scheme of Rhoda's hip attic apartment above Mary's.

Check out Milo on my living room chair... Okay, that was just an excuse to post a photo of my cat.

As with all interior design and clothing trends, this one could get pretty awful. Yes, her jumpsuit does match her sofa, and her drapes. Yes, it does.

(Do also note her afro, a hairstyle meant to reclaim natural African-American beauty. This was a decade for proclaiming natural beauty as superior to artificial beauty. No hair straighteners needed.)

Yes, the upholstery here does match my skirt. Yup. Yes, it's pretty God awful.

But the idea behind it was a kind of back to the earth look.

The hippie "back to the land" movement carried through into more earthy fashions and the rise of a health-food movement that we still see today. (This is an amazing carrot dahl with soda biscuits that Beau made for us the other night.)

This emphasis on the natural was also reflected in jewelry trends of the decade. Instead of the flashy jewels and faux jewels of the past, now more natural elements were used: wood and polished rocks were particularly popular.

It would seem that no 70s feminist could look just right without a weird pendant. Here's Jane Fonda, emerging out of the ashes of her earlier Barbie looks, into her own feminism and activism for which she is still known.

Here's Marlo Thomas, pendant and all, telling the world's children that they were free to be whoever they were, regardless of biological sex or race.

(On a totally unrelated note, doesn't Marlo look like Kate Middleton here? Wow.)

The pendant was so associated with activism that even this Seventeen Magazine shoot had its models protesting... something... in a fashion shoot.

And always that same earthy colour palette with the pendants.

When I got my pendant, I immediately dubbed it my consciousness raising group pendant.

I always imagine consciousness raising groups meeting in the basements of houses like this one, maybe while the men were out bowling or something. Girls' night in was integral to feminism.

Consciousness raising groups were simply groups of women getting together and "rapping" about their lives. In the process, they discovered that problems they thought were exclusively their own -- dis-satisfaction with being housewives, sexism in the workplace, rape, incest, body image issues -- were common to many other women.

The women who have talked to me about these groups paint a picture that always seems to include a lot of pillows on the floor...

... something also parodied by my pal, Libby Wolfson...

... and echoed in this photo of the first editorial board of Ms. Magazine. That's Gloria Steinem on the floor, still so gosh darned hip!

I had fun pretending to be one of those early second wave feminists in front of this period appropriate house.

The house is perfect, even to the point of clichés. Let's get a closeup of that orange yarn thingy, shall we?

Even closer. Has it been there since the 70s?

Remember all those macramé and yard creations? They've been spoofed too: in the wonderful, dark comedy, Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, a feminist woman hangs herself on a macramé plant holder. Okay, it's not funny, exactly but, well, read or watch the play and you'll see what I mean.

Here, though, scattered amongst the yarn creations, we see more of those cooperative babies, frolicking on cooperative toys, in a 70s palette. This was a generation raised by feminists who tried hard to help their sons and daughters learn that they need not be restricted by the sex with which they were born. It was a grand experiment.

Which brings us back to Marlo and her Free to Be You and Me series for children. Just make sure it's in the right palette.

Wouldn't it be great if we could do away with the highly gendered clothing styles for children today and return to the 70s, with their androgynous outfits? Yes, feminism was responsible for that too.

Oh that palette! On me.


And on my kitchen.

It suits me because of my own colouring, with my dark, Jewish eyes and my auburn, Jewish hair. I wear 70s colours a lot, complete with very yellow gold. I like it even as I sometimes mock it.

But let's talk about boots for a second.

Even as a child, I loved those caramel, knee boots. I wish I could still wear the versions of them with high heels but my disability renders that impossible.

Still, I think I look pretty authentic in these ones. What do you think?

The boots remained ubiquitous with skirts as we moved forward into the 80s.

But we moved into a duller palette...

A still from Network. Faye Dunaway sports the beige of the career woman of the time.
... dominated by beige, and some beige, and some more beige.

Meryl Streep, in Kramer vs. Kramer, a feminist movie if I ever saw one. I have a raincoat exactly like this one. You can see it here.
And so we bid goodbye to the 70s and their particular brand of colourful feminism.

Gone but not forgotten, their legacy lives on.

(I'm linking this up to Visible Mondays on Not Dead Yet, and on Spy Girl's 52 Pick Me Up.)


  1. I love bright colors on you - they suit you very well! Boots are indeed a very cool thing. I am yet to find tall boots which fit me. Your jewelry is very pretty, as always. I think wooden long necklace would go great with this outfit too.

    It was interesting to read about 70s, I enjoy the visual aesthetic of that decade, the bright colors, the shapes, the jewelry, the interiors... it was fun and free. I am not that familiar with the movement you talk about here, I think it was different in my country. But visually it looks very familiar. Glad to see you having fun, Charlotte! :) xxx

    1. I imagine whatever feminism hit your country manifested itself differently under communism.

      Are tall boots too tight around your calves? I understand some "plus size" (how I hate that term) clothing companies make great tall boots for women with curvier legs.

  2. Such a great post. You look great in your '70s-inspired outfit. The boots are wonderful, and your bling too. I love that era and also appreciate its paradoxes: the hideous interiors and orange and brown colours; the wonderful shapes and amazing bling and accessories. I loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show growing up but have a new-found appreciation for Rhoda - she rocks! Found you through Visible Monday, btw. xo

    1. So glad to hear you found me through Patti. I never know who's reading me or how they found me.

      Rhoda is so great.

  3. A very interesting post. And I learned a new definition for hair... I have that hair, too, even though I don't have a drop of jewish blood in me (nope, typical scandinavian /nordic: pasty pale skin, very light eyes of indeterminate blueish greenish greyish shade...). I hope that one day I will be able to embrace my big curly hair (which is also of the baby soft scandi variety instead of the fabulous mane of the "exotic" beauties in your post)...

    1. Oh, do embrace your hair! Curly hair somehow lets people know, "I don't conform." I like that.

      I too have extremely white skin, though I also have freckles. I've never minded being super white, not aesthetically, but it does make me very uncomfortable in the sun or in heat.

  4. What a captivating post! I grew up in those years and I can still remember very clearly. At the fashion, the decor, the lifestyle. Everything was very colorful and patterned. I liked it. It exuded so much joy and pleasure in fashion. Your outfit looks super nice. I love the combination of pink and red, and these colors fits quite fabulous to you.
    Thanks a lot Charlotte, I enjoyed this post very much. Love the first picture most ;)

    have a wonderful week

  5. I really enjoyed this retrospective of fashion and feminism in the 70's - Rhoda Morgenstern was my idol back then, and I too conflate the character with the actress! Thanks for sharing with Visible Monday, you look wonderful in those brights.

  6. You used the word 'de rigueu', that was awesome. I had totally forgotten about those enormous pendant necklaces. The colour palette is burned into my memory. You can rock any outfit I'm starting to think.

    1. Oh, there are plenty of outfits I can't rock. You just won't see me wearing them, that's all.

  7. Oh My! Such a visual fest of many of my favorite things in here. Colors, era, style!! Love every bit of it! Gonna start following you!