Shopping for Clothes, Trends include Denim Styles from Huntington Beach

Retailers find '70s back with twist: Clothing and materials from Me Decade is once again becoming hip.
By Doretta Zemp

Fashions from the 1970s are everywhere. So is the music. Plaid is back. Ponchos and denim have taken on a new life of their own. These are just some of the more obvious trends of the Me Decade that have solidified as big business in these look-at-me days.

Interior designers are choosing plaid wall coverings, furniture and accessories for home decor. Furniture stores, harking back to the age, are again showing sectional sofas.

Leland Van Andler of Lelands Just For Fun costumes in Hermosa Beach says that '70s costuming is the No. 1 interest of his 25- to 55-year-old customers.

Today, music piped over loudspeakers in malls and other retail venues often echoes the era. Doris Endler, a supervisor at Manhattan Beach Trader Joe's on Rosecrans Avenue, says she chooses to play '70s sounds because, "It's what I and my friends grew up with."

Endler's sentiment echoes that of many in the huge market segment -- the baby boomers, those born from 1946 to 1964, who include about 76 million people.

This group, according to a 2002-2003 study by AARP and Roper ASW, is as fickle when it comes to choices and brand loyalty as the younger demographic is. They've bought their home and the furnishings. Their children no longer demand their attention. They can spend their discretionary income as they please.

Last year alone, they spent nearly $400 billion on such items as apparel, beauty products, travel and entertainment.

As smart business follows the numbers, smart business also plays the familiarity game; familiarity produces ticket sales, viewer interest and incentives to buy.

"Grease," the most commercially successful 1970s rock musical, which became in turn the highest grossing of all Hollywood musicals in 1978, was recently staged at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. The February run sold out.

The 1974 movie "The Longest Yard," which starred Burt Reynolds, is being remade for a May release with Adam Sandler in the lead role. Burt Reynolds has a part in the film as well.

With a backdrop of Led Zeppelin 8-tracks and Farrah Fawcett posters, Fox television's teen sitcom "That '70s Show," starring Ashton Kutcher, is enjoying an eight-year run. Some of the '70s legends who have appeared on the show are Tommy Chong, Shirley Jones and Charro. Sponsors include Ford Motor Co. and Target.

As familiarity tweaks sales, Paul McCartney as the Super Bowl XXXIX halftime entertainer was a sound choice. McCartney still is a top-of-the list baby boomer favorite. Although the Beatles as a group came up in the 1960s, McCartney held a formidable presence as a solo artist on the '70s charts.

McCartney wasn't selling anything at the Super Bowl, per se, but weren't the 78,000-plus attendees and the multimillions who tuned in also entertained by Anheuser Busch, Toyota, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, and not to forget, Degree deodorant for men'

Pendleton traditional wool plaid shirts -- de rigueur for those who grew up in the '70s -- still sell well in all age groups.

But it's a NOW generation of plaid that sells today. Plaid blazers in vibrant colors are selling out at Banana Republic. The fashion-conscious man is willing to try hot pink or bright green. He also likes the colorful cotton Ralph Lauren Polo plaid button-down shirt sold at Robinsons-May. Kohl's, where the Ralph Lauren Chaps line of button-downs is sold, calls the look "the newest sportswear collection for him."

Jason Furutani, a twentysomething cashier at Whole Foods Market in Torrance, says he has more plaid shirts than he can count. His hip counterparts might choose a funkier treatment such as the wide plaid tie worn with a short corduroy blazer and plain white V-neck tee.

The '70s was a more leisurely time than the turbulent '60s, and more invigorating than the '80s. Young men flocked to stores for the denim suit. Today, the denim suit is back, but mainly worn by today's youth. (Thankfully, the '70s polyester leisure suit worn by older men hasn't re-emerged.)

'Denim is pervasive in the 21st century; it's in all manner of tailoring, especially jeans. Levi Strauss, the main denim jeans fabricator in the '70s, isn't the behemoth it was. Fiscal 2004 full-year net sales were $4,072 million compared with $4,091 in 2003, which were down from 2002. But jeans by countless other makers have flooded the market.

The younger set, who have outgrown the baggy jean grunge look but still wish to assert their independence, is choosing denim as though they invented it. This might include avant-retro models such as the pinstriped suit with denim lapels designed by Howe Denim of Huntington Beach that will hit surf and skate shops in June.

Grizzly clothing store of Hermosa Beach, a block off the sand, is embracing the decade with retro jeans, such as those with whip-stitching (a hand-stitched trim). Grizzly's stock of denim includes bold striped blazers with matching pants, and wide-leg denim pants in a variety of colors.

Grizzly also stocks full warm-up suits of the variety not seen since Bjorn Borg won Wimbledon. In addition, there is what 27-year-old manager/buyer Ryan Keenan calls "deadstock." These are quality leather jackets that were made in the '70s but never sold. Now they're big ticket items and selling well to the Grizzly demographic of men mostly in their 20s.

A walking '70s historian, Keenan points out that there was more than one approach to fashion in the decade, but that it was the disco craze in the latter half that inspired the look most remembered. Outfits worn by John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever" (1977) were representative.

Women's wear is having a '70s sellathon, especially in ponchos, hip-hugger bell-bottom pants and, like the men, every variety of jeans.

Not everybody likes the look. Ava Redd, who works in Gardena, was 15 years old in 1977. She has a 1977 photo of her mother wearing hip-hugger bell bottoms held up by a beaded wide belt, both of which are popular today.

Redd says, "I didn't have a problem with that stuff then, but I don't like it now." Although she is slim and could look good in anything, she calls today's bell-bottom pant (now called flare leg), "unflattering."

Lila Fontno of Redondo Beach is more tolerant. "All the major retailers are selling them. I don't want to miss out, but the right fit is hard to find." Then, she cautions, "Just because a store has your size and you're OK exposing your belly button, doesn't mean it's going to look good on you. I mean, some women I've seen look so ridiculous."

Ponchos have topped the must-have list for the third year in a row. These blanket-like cloaks slung across the shoulders have taken the place of sweaters for all age groups. They come in various fabrics and colors, but crocheted ponchos are the big sellers.

This follows a '70s trend that started with the lady of the house learning to crochet things other than the doilies and tablecloths. This included crocheted bikinis which -- no surprise -- are now available at Macy's, Nordstrom, seen in Newport News' spring catalog, and elsewhere.

Capris are back as well. Old Navy calls capris "the look of the season." Not to be outdone, local Ross stores recently added a capri rack with nothing but the calf-length pants that fashion-conscious women couldn't do without thirty years ago.

Today's fashion magazines are showing numerous styles from the '70s, including flared gaucho pants, "the wedge" (earlier called platform shoes), shiny gold and silver-tone bags, and oversized espresso-tint sunglasses.

D'Arte Connection in downtown El Segundo sells all of the above. "We're not afraid of retro. Retro-forward is a big look today," said Marie Gray, one of five owners of this boutique, which also has stores in Downey and Huntington Beach.

"We look for innovative designers who understand the women we serve," Gray said. Now in their second year, Gray says sales are spiraling upward. She expects that the store eventually will grow out of its 600 square feet of space just as the Downey store did in the second year when the sales floor was doubled.

From the simple D'Arte storefront window display, the passer-by might not suspect that inside the ambiance and clothing choices are upscale daytime-evening chic, many with a '70s flair.

Interest in the '70s is also coming from another segment of the buying public: grown children of boomers who purchase the '70s styles for themselves and for their children: Teen girls can't do without jeans and bare midriff tops (the same skin exposed in the late '70s).

Preteens are showing up in tie-dye T-shirts and pedal-pushers (shorter versions of the capri). Young girls are wearing what used to be called "sizzlers," very short dresses with attached matching shorts.

Grizzly's Ryan Keenan believes that Southern California, with its casual way of living that personifies leisure, exerts much influence as a trendsetter, and the retro '70s theme is one more example.

D'Arte's Marie Gray says there's been a general movement away from formality -- and what better era to express casual living than the 1970s.

Doretta Zemp is a contributing writer and sociology professor at the University of Phoenix Southern California, located in Manhattan Beach.