My own hair used to reach the middle of my back, and a mate's afro filled his 2nd year University matriculation card photo so that the background colour couldn't be seen. We didn't know why we grew it; herd instinct was one reason, but maybe it was because the days of 'hair design' hadn't arrived.
Whatever clothes guys wore in the 1970s, whether they were straight or square, they had morehair. It was definitely longer or bigger than hairstyles today, but probably not shinier, because 'conditioner' was something from a psychology experiment and people just didn't have showers every day. You certainly weren't faced with row upon row of scientifically-formulated hair enhancement liquids either, because there wasn't a supermarket on every street corner and your local chemist had only a limited selection. Consequently shampoo choice comprised:
- Silvikrin (too girly for fellas)
- Vosene (too medicinal and reminded you of the nit nurse at school)
- Huge plastic bottles of Palmolive (the student's choice on economy grounds)
Plus, long hair had its drawbacks...
It used to drive me nuts when my long hair whipped into my eyes on windy days, or when the fan heater I used as a hair dryer (what, buy a hair dryer? They're for girls!), would cut out from overheating long before my hair was dry. Nowadays I feel scruffy when my grey hair reaches the tops of my ears.
For the ladies, the one defining hair-do of the 1970s has to be the eponymous 'Farrah Flick'. Named after Farrah Fawcett of Charlie's Angels fame, the style consisted of the loosely permed hair being drawn in a wave which usually covered one eye and gave that much needed dramatic effect when required.
Having Your Hair Cut
There were hair boutiques, of course, but they were frequented only by women. Young, male cool cats were left with no other haircutting options but ex-Army-style barbershops. Despite the fact that even short hair was long hair - a bank worker's haircut covered the ears and came over the back of the pointy collar of his purple shirt - you'd have to be careful what you asked for, or you'd get a lot more than your split ends cut off. On the walls of such establishments were yellowing photos of grinning guys in collars and ties who all looked like sleazy, older versions of your dad.
However, once you'd got your hair sorted out and you'd splashed on a handful of overwhelming Old Spice or 'Gingham' (creating a cloud of heady, adolescent heaven on earth), the next consideration before a night out was what to wear.
It was only from about 1973 onwards that trousers made from about four square miles of fabric began to make an appearance, together with shirt collars so big that you glided if you fell over. People think flares are cool today, but they forget they can choose whether to wear them. In the 1970s, at least until punk came along, you lived in flares and nothing else. Everything was flared, from:
- Brushed denim jeans
- To loon pants
- To three-piece suits
- To straight leg jeans that got made into flares with the addition of a triangle1 of (usually floral) fabric.
Appearing everywhere, in various forms, it's surprising that flares lasted as long as they did. As well as being vastly wide, they were also vastly impractical. There was the small matter of tripping over them going down stairs. They used to flap like a flag on a pole in a high wind2, they doubled in weight when you walked along a wet street, they used to fray at the bottom in a matter of weeks. Plus, if you bought cool shoes3, no one was ever going to see them underneath a foot of overhanging fabric. That's why platforms had to be invented. Another thing to remember about flares is that often the crotch was so tight that even now there are children of the 1970s out there still wincing at the memory.
Growing Up in the 1970s
A typical school uniform in the 1970s might include a Harrington jacket, a Ben Sherman shirt, 'Tonik' Levi Sta-Prest, and Frank Wright loafers. Apparently, you had to wear this ensemble or risk the wrath of older boys calling you a poofter.
In School But Out of Uniform
Picture the outfit: flared stone-washed jeans, a three-inch wide and tool-patterned leather belt, denim shirt open (revealing a white body, best hidden) and (horror of horrors) a silver bullet on a chain round the neck and a steel identity bracelet.
If you wanted to look really cool, the essential top was a long-sleeved scoop-neck T-shirt with flared cuffs. If you could get one with embroidery and little inset mirrors, so much the better. A cheesecloth shirt with about 50 buttons, wasn't a bad choice either. Throw on a German Army greatcoat or, if your mum was buying, a duffel coat, and you could be looking good, studying engineering on a full government grant at any university in the land. Groovy.
What with olive green and white striped tank tops matched with Rupert the Bear, checked flared trousers, it may seem incredible now that people were actually colour co-ordinated in the 1970s. In fact, there was a great system involving bunny rabbits printed on the labels of tops or bottoms, to help people co-ordinate their clothes. If the top had the same animal as the bottoms, the colour suited. That just goes to show that there was no other way of telling which colours went together.
Though going to work necessitated the wearing of suits (flared obviously), it didn't mean that you had to compromise on style. Two- and three-piece suits could be easily cheered up with a wet-look fluorescent orange shirt and a pair of super-thick soled boots.
Sadly, Flares Go Out of Fashion
Perhaps my most embarrassing fashion mistake was turning up to a Stranglers concert in Glasgow wearing a safari jacket with real leather elbow patches. Everyone else was wearing ripped t-shirts, drainpipe jeans and safety pins. Several women took old aluminium kettles with them as handbags.
1977 saw the coming of punk. People needed no encouragement to join the movement. Punk was liberating in that it enabled anyone to think of themselves as a musician. It was a genuine style revolution but unfortunately people did not listen to its innovators who said you should do your own thing, in your own way and screw the consequences. Aping those leaders was not the point, but people did anyway.
Among the most memorable features of the punk revolution were the hairstyles. Mohawks, and any other spiky hairdos, were accomplished with a home brew of starch, sugar, water and a varying amount of time spent at the ironing board trying hard not to burn yourself too badly with the iron while perfecting the shape of your hair.