A Small Fashion Protest

“These long floating chiffons make any woman — small, tall, fat or skinny — pretty. But at $600 I could buy a color TV.”

The Washington Star, November 17, 1974

Every year about this time, the siren call of fashion lures me, a willing victim, to the shores of financial destruction. But this year, those insistent entreaties seem to be going over my head. I’m barely 5 feet tall, after all. Since the fashion industry has decided to take the plunge on hemlines again, I keep seeing ads showing 9-foot models wearing 6-foot long skirts that sweep below their knees.

These same models are enveloped in “steamer coats” and bundled up in thick-knitted sweaters with wide swathes of fur hanging from collars and cuffs. The “new” boots — not to be confused with the slim, zipped-up-the-calf old ones of yesteryear (last year) — are so loose-fitting they wrinkle and bag around the ankles like over washed pantyhose. They’re supposed to. It’s the swashbuckling look. And, of course, like everything else, they’re expensive. Yves St. Laurent’s saggy calf and suedes cost $105, but other versions run as high as $150, or the cost of a portable dishwasher or a perfectly adequate clothes dryer. Big plaids and checks are the big news, not to mention “big shirts” and Russian-inspired tunic blouses with generously-wide sleeves that make the short woman look dumpier than I consider necessary.

I guess I can’t complain about the voluminous capes that seem to be a fashion item this year. I’ve been wearing one for five winters, my stature be damned. Mine cost $35; I don’t know if I could afford one at today’s prices — I think they charge by the yard.

Suits for women seem to be back, too, many with heavy fur collars adding more bulk than glamor, except for the long and the slim, to little faces that shrink to pinheads above them. Cowl collars are also big — in more ways than one, I fear. How long it seems since women considered a new fall suit yearly a good wardrobe investment. Since at least before the maxi-skirt fiasco.

The “layered look” is bigger than ever this year. Starting with a shirt and scarf, add an overblouse or vest, then put on a jacket. Then look like a balloon. The thick-knitted sweater sets achieve this effect with only two layers. And while they’re lowering hemlines, designers are coming back with the chemise (known also in the 1950s as “the bag” and “the sack”). These are shapeless dresses that billow out from neckline to hemline and they are often pegged in to a knee-hugging fit leaving the wearer’s only option to wobble. I, for one, don’t plan to fight my way out of a bag — whether it’s paper or shantung.

But the chemise may well become fashion’s darling — for some. Last time around the style was excuse for a number of women to go off their diets for as long as five years. I must admit that those long floating chiffons I saw on Barbara Walters (she said hers was from Holly’s Harp) and Marian Javits at a Washington party recently would make any woman — small, tall, fat or skinny-pretty. But at $600, I could buy a color TV. (Frankly, if I had the money I’d opt for chiffon not color vision.)

For day, there are fitted two-piece dresses with long, over-the-hip tops, just the thing for below-the-knee and mid-calf skirts-for the tall. Short people are lucky if they end up with a couple of inches of skirt showing beneath the top. In contrast, there are some slinky, body-revealing “dressy” dresses, suitable for wearing to supper clubs or swinging parties, or wherever those models in the magazines are pictured slouching against a sateen balustrade.

So what’s left? Pants and tee shirts and sweaters and jackets, just like I’ve got hanging in my closet, an accumulation dating back to the maxi-age. I think I may just go out and buy a new belt and a couple of fresh scarves. (Although I’ll tell you right now, my husband wouldn’t take any bets on it.)



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Judy Flander

Judy Flander

American Journalist. As a newspaper reporter in Washington, D.C., surreptitiously covered the 1970s’ Women’s Liberation Movement.