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Fashion Throwback Thursdays: The 70s revival and how I came to embrace it

01 Oct 2015

It seems that the recent 70s revival is like a winter cold that just won’t go away. If you’d asked me over a year ago if flares were ever going to be ‘in’ I would have laughed you out the door.

In my early teens, my mother handed-me-down a pair of high-waisted flared jeans which had wide strips of fringed darker denim at the bottom of the legs. I instantly cut them into shorts, despite my mother’s suggestion that I could “wear them to a 70s themed party one day”. I had no foresight. I had no idea that, come the Spring/Summer 2015 collections, models would be strutting down the catwalk in thigh-high platform boots, colourful patterned shirts and patchwork denim.

Even my mother, who once loved those flares, restricted them only to fancy dress, because she didn’t think they would actually become cool again. They were flares, FLARES I tell you, and they should have stayed where they belonged – in the 70s – the decade that style forgot! So why was everyone lusting after them?

Image: Indigital

(SS15 Looks – Womenswear: House of Holland, Louis Vuitton, Tommy Hilfiger; Menswear: Katie Eary, Prada, Topman)

Yet I thought that maybe, just maybe, this 70s revival was an awkward phase we were going through and, after a year, we would realise what a horrible mistake we had made. But a quick browse of the latest high street collections reveals that denim button-down skirts, paisley shirts, crochet waistcoats, fringed jackets and suede anything are still – to quote Zoolander – SO HOT RIGHT NOW.

And, if I can learn to love double denim or socks and sandals, which were once strongly established fashion faux pas, then I don’t see why I can’t embrace bell-bottoms. I clearly need to have a more open attitude. So I typed “70s fashion” into the Google Images search bar to find some inspiration, yet I found that, among all the groovy guys and girls that popped up, there were very few PoC.

Image: Google

Image: Google

However, I knew for a fact that my Chinese family were rocking these trends too at the time. So I decided to dig out some photos from the family archives to add some more diversity into our landscape of the past.

Here’s what I found…


Circa 1972. This photo of my mother, aged 13, was taken outside of the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square, London. She had just moved to the UK with her older brother and my Po Po (maternal grandmother) to join my Gong Gong (maternal grandfather), who was already here working in Chinatown. This photo was taken by a friend of my Gong Gong, who owned a good camera, for the purpose of sending back to the rest of the family in Hong Kong who had not yet emigrated here. My mother bought these flares because purple was and is still her favourite colour.

IMG_20150927_0001Circa 1973. This photo of my mother was taken by one of her younger brothers in the flat that my family rented on East India Dock Road, in East London. My mother ironed on the patch on her jeans herself.IMG_20150927_0008Circa 1976. The rest of the family had emigrated to the UK by this point, including my mother’s younger sister who is pictured standing next to her. The whole family had just moved into a council flat above Crisp Street Market in East London. My mother made the outfit that her younger sister is wearing. She notes that this photo must have been taken during her fifth year of secondary school, as she learned how to sew while doing her CSE in Needlework (the equivalent of a GCSE for all you young folks). My aunty refers to this as her “curtain dress” and it made my cousin laugh a lot when my aunty showed this photo to her.IMG_20150927_0007Circa 1976, Autumn. This photo was taken in Trafalgar Square on a day out with Helen, my mother’s school friend, and my mother’s youngest brother. She does not remember who took the photo. My mother made the shirt she is wearing under her coat for herself, but she recalls it was very ill-fitting. The shirt was fastened with ladybird-shaped buttons that she shoplifted from Woolworth’s – the first and last time she has ever attempted to steal something. She didn’t want to pay for them as they were apparently very over-priced.IMG_20150927_0004This was definitely taken in 1976 as my mother remembers it as the children’s first family Christmas all together in the UK. This was the first time they ever celebrated this Western festival. The painting above the mantelpiece was made by a failed Chinese artist, who was a business partner of my grandfather. The brown wallpaper was very typical of a 70s home.IMG_20150927_0003It is written on the back of this photo that it was taken in 1977. This is my mother holding her 18th birthday present outside her youngest brother’s bedroom. She only remembers that this was his room because of the horse on the door (he was born in the year of the horse in the Chinese zodiac).

IMG_20150927_0005Circa 1977. Taken in the council flat. The bar behind her was picked up from the flat’s rubbish tip downstairs and was used to display knick-knacks rather than alcohol. The windmill was brought back from my mother’s trip to Amsterdam.

IMG_20150927_0006Circa 1978-9. My mother notes that the belt around the waist has since come back into fashion.IMG_20150927_0009This photo was taken in 1979, when my mother returned to the house where she grew up, in Sheung Shui, the New Territories, Hong Kong. The house was made of just wood, tarpaulin and corrugated iron. My mother’s paternal grandmother still lived there, but alone. The purpose of my mother’s visit was to plead with my great grandmother to reunite with the rest of the family in the UK. She agreed to move and flew back with my mother.

Looking at these photos made my mother feel nostalgic and sad remembering her grandmother. Through this exercise I have learned a lot more about my family which is very valuable to me. As for my fashion education, I’m not sure I will be emulating any of these exact looks any time soon, but I have been inspired to look for similar items from this season.

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