Book Review: 70s Fashion Fiascos by Maureen Valdes Marsh

Marsh2006Although the silly title to this book may have boosted sales, I think it does a disservice to the contents. Maureen Valdes Marsh does insert her share of “weren’t folks quaint in the past” comments. But behind this is serious research, illustrated by photographs from Montgomery Ward’s and other catalogs. You can find images on Walsh’s Pinterest page.

Divided into eight short chapters, the book examines major trends in seventies fashion, like the explosion of polyester, the move toward more colorful menswear, and the rise of the platform shoe. I was particularly interested in her examination of how the pantsuit for women went main stream. From her I learned about the “pants-in” of that decade. She convinced me that daily newspapers can be an excellent source for studying this fashion shift—pantsuits quite literally made headlines.

Another surprise was the diversity of the catalog models, particularly in menswear. Stylish black men with discrete Afros modeled leisure suits, dance clothes, rakish hats, and platform shoes. Young black women posed with white models in polyester shirtwaists. There were no older women, but perhaps Marsh wasn’t looking for them.

My 2006 edition of this book, first published in 1996, includes a fairly current short list of vintage clothing dealers. While the bibliography is skimpy, I did discover two fabulous treasures. An archive for Montgomery Ward is held at the University of Wyoming, while Southern Methodist University has records from JC Penneys from its 1902 until 2004.   I can already see some research trips in my future.

Thanks for the gift, Jen!

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3 Responses to Book Review: 70s Fashion Fiascos by Maureen Valdes Marsh

  1. Jen O says:

    Your welcome, Lynn! Glad to see this little book is a successful addition to your library. I hope it helps you in future projects.

  2. I ordered this book online and am reliving the seventies thanks to its memory-jogging illustrations. My husband just gave me the complete set of original Bob Newhart shows (1972-1977), and his wardrobe made me want to confirm the awfulness of plaid polyester suits for men. Jerry Robinson’s turtlenecks with jackets are also very true to 70s adult life. I’m enjoying the book — but will have to re-read carefully: I haven’t yet seen the words “paisley” or Gunne Sax, although the illustrations show how important they were. Thanks for reviewing it!

  3. Jo says:

    I hadn’t heard about this book, and I would be put off by the title, so thanks for the review. A quick look at the images from the book on Pinterest seem to show that the exact dates aren’t included. Is this really the case? Or are the dates listed elsewhere?
    The title reminds me of the opening for the Hippie Chic exhibition that I went to in 2013 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. My friend had done a serious, well-researched exhibit and catalog on the “trickle-up” of hippie styles to fashion designers. Even then, many attendees viewed “hippie” style as a joke and showed up in what looked to me like Halloween costumes.
    Have you seen the website, Wish Book Web, http://www.wishbookweb.com/. It has full Christmas catalogs from several major clothing retailers (J C Penney, Sears, Montgomery Ward, etc.) from 1933 to 1988.

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