As a teenager in the 1990s, I often felt as if I had caught a case of the 1970s. That is, the culture I was being fed—from the Red Hot Chili Peppers borrowing liberally from Funkadelic’s stash to Dazed and Confused to resurgent bell bottoms and ringer t-shirts, among many other touchpoints—had been incubating for nearly two decades. Part of that probably had to do with the children of the ‘70s coming of age, taking the reins and becoming the tastemakers. Part of it, too, was surely the 20-year trend cycle working its magic. And then, in 1997, Paul Thomas Anderson released Boogie Nights, his paean to the porn-y Los Angeles of the era, and managed to recontextualize the whole period.
Another 20 years later, the ‘70s are back again. Anderson’s latest, Licorice Pizza, is similarly set in Southern California in the 1970s. (The director also revisited the decade in his 2014 adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, meaning 30 percent of his nine films have been based in the decade.) And in that span, almost all of his fellow big-name directors, from Sophia Coppola to Spike Lee to David O. Russell, have paid their own tribute to the decad. And it goes beyond film: music, style, even cuisine has revisited the decade multiple times over in the 42 years since the Seventies ended. It’s usually in fits and starts—Dr. Dre digging through crates full of dusty funk records, That ’70s Show, Patti Smith’s 2010 memoir Just Kids and Rachel Kushner’s 2013 novel The Flamethrowers kicking off a new literary obsession with the era.
But this time around, the ‘70s have achieved full-on saturation. The feeling is everywhere all at once. It’s Licorice Pizza, but it’s also Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak borrowing heavy from points like the Ohio Players and Smokey Robinson’s A Quiet Storm to make An Evening With Soul Sonic. Jonathan Franzen took a trip back to the ‘70s with this year’s Crossroads. And have you looked at the Instagram account for the “luxury ice cubes” business called Disco Cubes? Luxury ice—an iconically ‘70s bad idea—is the perfect starting point if you want to work your way to getting a Togo sofa, a bunch of palms, and painting over your whitewashed walls in shades or rust and brown.
But maybe more than anything, the’70s are back in our outfits. The ‘70s touch everything these days, from the colors you’ll see dominating Uniqlo’s winter collection to the abundance of Fair Isle sweater vests on the market—exactly the sort that Paul McCartney wore while chilling out on his farm in Scotland after the Beatles broke up. It’s Rod Stewart showing royalty how to pull off a look and I think it’s whatever Russell Westbrook is trying to do here. Corduroy is everywhere, and we can’t get enough of bucket hats. Gucci threw a block party on Hollywood Blvd. with literally everybody you could ask for dressed up like they were about to hit Studio 54.
“That’s the era I most closely connect tailoring to being alluring versus a necessity,” the designer Kamau Hosten points out. Hosten’s work stands out in a crowded field of up and coming young designers for his embrace of cocaine white and heavily embellished shirt buttons, along with materials, textures, and colors like velvet, gold, and mesh. There’s nothing shy about Hosten’s Kamsten designs, and a big part of their appeal, at least to me, is the way Hosten seems to be thumbing his nose at the conventions of gender norms. The ‘70s, of course, were a time of big time masculinity; of mustaches, chest hair, and long cigars. But there was another side, too—a certain “decadence and sensuality that men embraced in the era,” as Hosten puts it. He lists off a number of his own style heroes from the decade: Marvin Gaye (“obligatory”), Richard Roundtree as Shaft, Gordon Parks in a double breasted blazer and Oxford. And, maybe unexpectedly, Yaphet Kotto as James Bond’s foil Dr. Kananga in 1973’s Live and Let Die.
The idea of “‘70s formalwear” conjures leisure suits, or Johnny Carson in some polyester thing that looks like it comes with matching carpet and drapes. But this is also the era of peak David Bowie as his various alter egos wearing a blue suit by Freddie Burretti as he sang “Life on Mars,” and then showing up to the 1975 Grammys in a wide-lapelled jacket with a white tie and a black brimmed hat. It’s the time that really kicked off Michael Jackson’s run of iconic looks—in a tux on the cover of Off the Wall. And it’s Pacino and Jack in a number of movies. Kotto is the perfect figurehead for this moment, Hosten says: “He made tailoring look smooth in a way that suggested it wasn’t meant for meetings, but a pure sense of enjoyment. Like, ‘Fuck, I look good.’”
Of course, none of this is exactly a surprise. Trends move in rough 20-year cycles, the thinking goes: in the aughts we were real into the ‘80s, the 2010s had the rallying cry of “The ‘90s are back!” and now people who lived through the Von Dutch era are begging people not to make low-rise jeans a thing again. But the whole ‘70s thing truly feels a little different—less a matter of playing dress up and more a reminder of a different way of being. Tom Wolfe famously described the “Me Decade” as “the greatest age of individualism in American history,” when “All the rules are broken.” Was it truly a “Third Great Awakening?” I’m not so sure. But it certainly looks like the last of something: of a kind of free-wheeling, arts-inflected, failure-friendly kind of culture.
It’s coming at the right time. Things have been ugly for so long. People have not been having as much sex as they used to. If you still like wearing sweatpants seven days a week, then I guess more power to you. I do not. But when I think about how I want to live these days, I want to treat my life a little bit like it’s the 1970s. That’s why we’re always revisiting the Me decade: because it was a really bleak time, but people made it look so great.