Sour taste of fashion's nostalgia

1st January 1999 at 00:00
DOES anyone else out there share my alarming symptoms? I shriek when I see my nine-year-old and her school friends, rush for tranquillisers or a stiff drink after teenagers pass me in the street: clad in garish clashing purples, and yellows, and reds.

The emetic is seventies fashions - those clumpy platforms, skin-tight trousers descending into flares, and indigestible appalling colours mismatched from a nursery kid's paintbox... those terrible-taste sights we prayed never to see again, worse than stiff petticoats from Doris Day's 1950s, or leather mini-skirts from the heyday of Carnaby Street.

Perhaps it's just sour grapes. You're accosted with how ancient you must be when a nostalgia boom doesn't even stretch back to your own youth. Teachers hovering on the right side of 40 may be jetted back to debauched drunken nights and young Kenny Dalglish haircuts: my vintage is the ex-hippie staffroom "sads" with the cords and Rolling Stones LPs.

Perhaps teachers should be relieved by an alternative to the ubiquitous uniform of blue denims, now declared hopelessly uncool by today's youth who are bankrupting jeans manufacturers. Perhaps it's much less alarming than the new fad, spread from the fashion metropolis of Airdrie, for copying checked mini-dresses from Australian soaps. Or perhaps since teachers are hardly known for their high taste in couture, they have no right to criticise youth fashion at all.

As a devotee of Dusty Springfield, flower-power, feminism and Old Labour, I certainly don't. That mental combination - wigs, mascara, flowing robes and scandals, dungarees and creased trade union suits - is definitely a shriek.

But my reaction is not just sour grapes, honestly. For sixties veterans, these regurgitated fashions also bring distinct memories of dismay and disillusionment.

It was the decade when we asked: How on earth did the sixties turn into the seventies? How could some of the best, most complex and dangerous popular music turn into the shallow safety of glam rock, the Osmonds, David Cassidy, The Sweet, and the thumping monotony of Noddy Holder's "Merry Christmas"?

The seventies saw the Woodstock dream turn sour in drugs and self-destruction, and the idealism of American or Northern Irish civil rights replaced by bitter violence and communal hatreds. I spent much of the seventies crunching over broken glass during the daily bombs and sectarian killings in Belfast.

In some schools, rash ill-planned progressive experiments discredited much-needed moves to child-centred education. Even the brief, refreshing punkNew Wave outburst only ushered in two decades of Thatcherism, with its culture of make money for me.

Of course there's arrogance in that veteran's view, since many people in the seventies did the actual tireless work of turning sixties idealism into reality - Women's Aid is only one example. There's just nothing in the seventies fashion revival to remind us of all that: time to design an anti-apartheid commemorative kit?

Last week, a friend told me she'd just been to a 1980s nostalgia party. That's when you realise how totally out of it you are. I couldn't begin to imagine what it would be like - or what made Duran Duran so distinctive.

I just wish young people last year hadn't wound the clocks back. Our era had faults and silliness in plenty, but it looked forward - with excitement and hope. It was a good time to be alive. Wouldn't it be great to see young people again carving out new ideals and styles and cultures as the Millennium approaches? Having to do it under New Labour is quite a challenge though, I guess.

Robot suits, clone shoes and pagers could be hit with sixth-formers hoping for swift progress up the ladder of party candidates' lists. Star Trek outfits would look good for visiting the Millennium Dome. but at least we in Scotland have the genuinely exciting prospect of the new parliament to inspire us.

There must be something better than the jingoism of tartan scarves and tammies (another loud shriek - I just remembered the Bay City Rollers). Since land reform, many of us fiercely hope, is likely to be top of the agenda, kitsch Highland dress designed by hated Victorian lairds is definitely off the menu.

I suggest that for that momentous day, pupils throw off their flares and platforms and teachers their anoraks, while both don in solidarity the ragged clothes of those thousands of tenants driven from their homes in the Clearances. This will reconnect them with a past whose injustices will, to a small degree, at last be acknowledged and addressed. At least some of us earning fortunes from freelance journalism or supply teaching won't need to buy many special clothes for the occasion.

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