So relive '70s chic, just forget leisure suits

March 27, 1997|By Kevin Cowherd

IT'S TIME (well past time, some would say) for this column to weigh in on the most alarming trend in this country today: the return of '70s chic.

Walk into any high school and you'll see dozens of teen-age girls with long, straight hair wearing hip-hugging jeans and shirts with daisy prints and generally looking like Marianne Faithful: The Early Years.

Women are wearing blue eye shadow, lip gloss, platform heels and shiny, tight fabrics for that off-duty stripper look popularized in the '70s. For men, long, pointy collars are back and so are shirts with prominent seams and wide belt buckles, a curious melding of disco sensibilities with that just-back-from-the-rodeo look.

People are also listening to '70s music (latest sign of the apocalypse: the Village People consider a reunion tour) and doing '70s things like guzzling martinis until they pass out with their head in the ashtray.

Any day now I expect to see commercials for the AMC Gremlin, the ugliest car in history, or the Ford Pinto, a neat car if you could get past the fact that it tended to explode into a towering fireball if anyone accidentally tapped it from behind with a shopping cart.

As a man, what concerns me most about this return to the '70s ... no, that's not strong enough. What snaps me awake in the middle of the night, the bile gurgling in my throat and my stomach a cold knot of fear, is the possibility that the leisure suit will make a comeback.

As anyone of a certain age knows, the leisure suit was the single most hideous piece of men's fashion of all time.

I don't care who you were, the minute you put on a leisure suit, you looked like an out-of-work mambo instructor.

Leisure suits back in the '70s came in wonderfully understated colors, such as lime green, robin's egg blue, and the kind of dazzling white that would sear your corneas if you looked at it too long.

God, they were ugly! I know men who have actually gone back into their photo albums, removed all the pictures of themselves wearing leisure suits and burned them, rather than tossing them in the trash and risk having the garbagemen see them.

That's a lot of burned snapshots, too, because a lot of men wore leisure suits in the '70s. I once attended a wedding reception back then at which, of the 100 or so men in attendance, at least 50 were wearing leisure suits.

It was like being at a big cocktail party, and every time you turned around, there was William Shatner or Starsky & Hutch.

Anyway, given the fear and loathing it now inspires, you wouldn't think the leisure suit could possibly make a comeback.

But then I picked up the New York Times Magazine men's fashion issue the other day.

And there on the cover was New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter wearing something that looked like ... well, if it wasn't a leisure suit, Jack, it was a leisure suit's first cousin.

This baby was a shiny olive-green number with wide lapels and flat-front pants by Tommy Hilfiger, although you would have sworn it was made by the Gambino Family.

But what was even more frightening was that Jeter was wearing a short-sleeve cotton pique shirt with a collar wide enough to cook waffles on.

And the collar was worn -- this is where the hairs on the back of my neck stood up -- spread flat outside the jacket lapels!

Yes! Just like a leisure suit!

Well. I can't tell you how disturbing the whole image was.

I don't know how old Derek Jeter is -- early 20s is probably a good guess. But if he had any knowledge of fashion history, if he had any idea of how ridiculous leisure suits made men look 20 years ago, believe me, he wouldn't be wearing this, this Son of Leisure Suit get-up.

As frightening as the Times cover was, though, I took an odd sort of comfort in this thought: I have never, ever seen anything in the Times fashion issue that any regular guy would actually wear.

Every year, magazines like this unveil what they insist is the hot new look for men.

Then you go into the mens' stores and discover that all these hot new clothes are moving like, well, like floor mats for AMC Gremlins.

And then you find out that the designer responsible for that hot new look is now working at a Sizzler.

I bet those wide collars go great with a big, greasy apron.

Pub Date: 3/27/97

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