Nostalgic threads

(Edmonton) As reflective alumni return to the U of A to celebrate their reunions this Alumni Weekend, minds will be cast back to days spent on campus, pondering the whereabouts of long-lost classmates and favourite professors, and laughing at the memorable fashions they sported back in the day.

From beehives to bellbottoms, from platforms to parachute pants, we look back on unforgettable fashions of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s with the help of couture fashion designer Michael Kaye, ’88 BA.

The optimism of the Kennedy government in the U.S. and the First Lady herself were highly influential on fashion in the early 1960s. Jackie Kennedy’s structured Chanel suits and pillbox hats in pastel hues would become an iconic style.

Even the space race had an effect on fashion. “There were space-age mini-dresses that stood away from the body�they looked like rockets,” Kaye says of garments created by French designer André Courrèges.

For women, the ’60s marked the beginning of liberated fashion�bright colours, wash-and-wear synthetic fabrics and higher hemlines. “People were getting away from the Father Knows Best, June Cleaver looks of the 1950s,” says Kaye.

It was an age of classic silhouettes�capris, culottes, tailored suits, skinny jeans and little black dresses made popular by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Many of these styles have resurfaced thanks in part to ’60s-set television series Mad Men, which recently debuted a line of clothing at mainstream clothing outlets.

By the late ’60s and early ’70s a cultural transition embracing peace and love spawned hippies with free-flowing hair and gypsy-esque clothing on campuses across North America.

“The Vietnam War and issues with the FLQ [Front de libération du Québec] were ongoing in the early ’70s. There was a lot of protesting and anti-establishment, so young people were showing their rebelliousness in their fashion choices,” explains Kaye.

Tie-dye, bell-bottoms and sky-high platform shoes were widely popular with both men and women. “Stick-straight hair and very clean looks, à la Marcia Brady, were also very in,” recalls Kaye. “And the maxi coat down to the ankles was especially fashionable in Edmonton’s climate.”

The disco era would take the place of the hippy age in the mid-late ’70s. Jersey wrap dresses, polyester three-piece suits, and leotards inspired by the John Travolta film Saturday Night Fever were must-haves before a “creation through disorder” punk craze, originating in London, appeared in the latter part of the decade.

“Ah, the big ’80s,” recalls Kaye, who spent his days on campus smack dab in the middle of the decade. “Fashion was all about having money and being rich. More was more.”

Mainstream media, including television and music, were highly influential in fashion of the decade. The television series Dynasty encapsulated the concept of excess perfectly, featuring power suits; big, feathered hair; shoulder pads and jewels. Magnum P.I. inspired men to wear moustaches. Fans of Jane Fonda took spandex leotards, legwarmers and headbands outside of the gym. And for the first time, designer labels became a major status symbol as consumers eagerly flaunted the names of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.

Eighties fashions were nothing if not diverse. Running the gamut from New Wave to alternative, from Madonna’s street urchin look to popped-collar preppy, there was a style for every taste.

While alumni returning to campus might roll their eyes at the fashion choices of their youth, ironically, students at the U of A today have taken many of their style cues from fashions of yesteryear. Perhaps it’s true what Henry David Thoreau once said: “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”

Alumni who graduated in the '60s, '70s and '80s will celebrate their reunions at Alumni Weekend Sept. 22 to 25. For more information on festivities and events happening throughout the weekend, visit us online.