The Retro Movements

Every 20-25 years we tend to see a repeated pattern of fashion. During my own life I was able to see early 60s mod fashions transformed unto the glam pop fashions of the early 1980s. In t eh 1990s the blue collar working class look that made Irish punk music popular in the late 1970s seemed to mesh with the modern outlook against corporations and the grunge look was adopted. Many people assume that once the year 200 hit, we would all be driving hover crafts and eating space meals. The music of this era reflected that expectations. Art and pop music from the 1980s is now being revamped with an electronic sound and futuristic themes. Marketing companies watch, expect and may even initiate these trend patterns. If we are able to predict retro trends, then are we really unique individuals with progressive ideas? Do any of us have a unique thought or are we just regurgitating old ideas in new packaging? What is it saying about a trend when it’s repeated? Here are some examples that demonstrate even though a retro style has been reinvented; the cultural statement it makes has altered over time.

One particular fashion trend example is feathers. These were popular first in Western culture during the 1920s silent film era when America’s first “IT girl” Clara Bow was often seen wearing feather in a glamorous style. Only the rich and glamorous could afford to wear exotic feathers, as they were not easily obtained, so they were a sign of socioeconomic status. Then in the 1960s feathers were re-popularized with a more natural look among hippie types. Feathers were worn in the hair or even dangling from clothing demonstrating a wild or “savage” look. This was part in response to the anti-war movements and embracing a nature loving lifestyle. Strangely, feathers came back briefly in the early 80s but in a more flamboyant style and related to the drug culture. Many people would be seen wearing feathers attached to an alligator clip, referred to as a roach clip because they were handy for holding marijuana cigarettes when they burned down. Currently feathers are often seen worn in the hair and as earrings, harkening back to more earthy times, even trying to recapture the Native American look.

Clara Bow in feathers circa 1920 Hippie with feathers circa 1968 Feathered clip hanging from rearview mirror – circa 1980s Current ad for feather extensions


Another great example was when Justin Timberlake “brought sexy back”. He donned three piece suits, fedoras and “winkle pickers”, long toed shiny shoes, a style that had not been popular since the 1940s. All the leading men in early film from hunky tortured souls like Humphrey Bogart, (who even had a fedora named after him) to rough and tough gangsters like Edward G Robinson & James Cagney, pictured below sported fedoras. It was a sign of a made man.


Suits with Fedoras worn by 1930s film stars

Justin Timberlake brings sexy back

While the main reason these styles faded after the 40s was that the emergence of automobiles called for new clothing that accommodated riding in cars that didn’t have windows or tops, they soon became associated with older generations and lost their appeal. In the 1970s, a fedora was seen as terribly outdated but Michael Jackson gave it new life in the 1980s and then Justin brought it back in the current decade. Other “slacker” look trendsetters such as Ashton Kutcher (pictured below) quickly jumped on this trend in order to maintain their popular image.

Since the 1960s, men have been wearing unattractive fashions such as loose clothes, saggy jeans, tacky colors, and overall unkempt appearances. ZZ Top taught us in the 1980s that every girl is crazy about a sharp dressed man, even if he has a three foot long beard. Timberlake also showed guys that its takes svelte and confidence to truly win the ladies over, popularizing another retro comeback.  In summary, fashions and trends do show a pattern of repeating but rather than just redressing an old look, they have become tools that each generation can call upon and revise to help express their current social needs.  I think it would be fascinating to study some fashion trends over time as well as analyze current trends and what they are expressing about our modern world.

~Angela Nolan

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