Reeling in the years: It’s the 1970s all over again

John Kelly
Columnist August 21, 2013

Not long ago, a large manila envelope arrived at my house. Inside were blackmail photos of me.

I’m glad to say that I’m wearing pants in all of the pictures, though I’m not so proud of one particular pair. Imagine the most seizure-inducing plaid pattern you can: yellow, red and blue threads of genuine polyester, woven together to create a flammable fabric, then cut and stitched so that the legs flare out at the bottom and are hemmed in three-inch cuffs.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

These are the pants of a stone pimp. I was 11.

All I can say in my defense is, it was the 1970s.

I thought of the ’70s during a quick family trip to Brooklyn last weekend, our first ever. We spent a lot of our time there driving under various elevated roadways. I felt like Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection,” a movie that I suggested my 22-year-old daughter see immediately upon our return to Washington.

“It’s really evocative of the ’70s,” I pointed out.

“I don’t care about the ’70s,” she said.

Kids today. I would never have told my grandmother I didn’t care about the 1940s. Of course, her generation survived the Depression and defeated fascism. My generation invented the Pet Rock and listened to Steely Dan.

I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about that benighted decade lately. The exhibit “Searching for the Seventies: The Documerica Photography Project” is at the National Archives through Sept. 8. It consists of photographs taken across the country for the EPA, of all people. (I hope you’ll share your own ’70s photos. Details below.)

Every time and place has its fashions. Brooklyn is awash in what are known as hipsters. I’m not so good at recognizing the female of the species, but the males really stood out: tight jeans rolled up above the ankle, no socks, chunky brogues, a short-sleeve check shirt buttoned all the way up to the neck, tattoos and complicated facial hair.

They were marvelous, actually. They were so much fun to look at, which is the whole point of going to New York in the first place. My Lovely Wife and I would excitedly whisper to each other like birders: Look, that one has a little hat! That one has a scene from Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” tattooed up his arm! That one is carrying bottles of artisanal rye whisky in a leather and jute knapsack!

One morning in the Williamsburg neighborhood we walked past a grooming lounge, its large French doors thrown open to reveal the scene inside. Male hipsters were reclining in barber chairs as their beards, mustaches and sideburns underwent routine maintenance. It looked like a lumberjack spa.

There was a relaxed vibe and the pleasant scent of sandalwood and wax. Not for the first time I cursed my inability to grow mutton chops.

I also thought, “Forty years from now, someone’s going to show you a photo from this era and ask, ‘Did you really dress like that?’”

But I’m in no position to criticize. I can’t disown those trousers of mine. They were my finest dress pants, and I can remember how happy I was to have them, even if I didn’t have many opportunities to wear them, not being invited at age 11 to many discotheque openings.

The full outfit consisted of those pulsating pants, a yellow shirt with a spread collar as big as a condor’s wingspan, a floppy bow tie (!) and a pair of brown leather platform shoes. Dangerously cool.

But also: dangerous. Occasionally when I walked, the heels of my platform shoes would get caught in the deep cuffs of my pants and I’d find myself tripping. It would have been the perfect ’70s tragedy if I had gotten tangled up and fallen under the wheels of an AMC Pacer, its driver momentarily distracted by the malfunctioning capstan of his dashboard-mounted eight-track tape player.

The song he was trying to listen to? “We’ve Only Just Begun,” by the Carpenters: White lace and promises, a kiss for luck and we’re on our way.

That ’70s show and tell

I searched through The Post photo archives to find local pictures from the 1970s. Go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly to see them. And please share your old photos, too. Scan images that just scream the ’70s to you and upload them by following the instructions at wapo.st/70sphotos. I’ve also posted a picture of my crazy outfit there.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local