Overcoming my fear of bell bottoms
The clothing of the ‘70s creeps me out. So why am I dressed from head to toe in polyester?
It was noon on a Thursday, and instead of eating a delicious lunch, I was in a dressing room at Savers. My normal clothes were in a pile on the floor; in their place, I was wearing a chocolate-brown pair of polyester pants and a bright red polyester shirt.
Outside the dressing room, friends/co-workers Jenanne Bull and David Robert were waiting for me to emerge. I looked at myself in the mirror, tried to control my gag reflexes, sighed and slowly opened the door.
David looked at me, started chortling uncontrollably and turned the other way. Jenanne started laughing as well. She was partially amused, partially embarrassed.
“Gee, Jimmy, those pants are tight,” she said.
Apparently, I was, um, leaving little to the imagination.
After trying on several pairs of horrible shirts and pants, I settled on my outfit for the next evening’s Bell Bottom Bash: the polyester shirt I was wearing in the above incident, a pair of almost-as-tight, tan-colored polyester pants (featuring the Haggar Expand-o-Matic waist, thank you very much) and a green corduroy button-up shirt featuring a fuzzy pattern on the back. John Murphy, the RN&R general manager who was also scouring the store for garb, described it as looking like “the carpet out of a Holiday Inn.”
I put my real clothes back on, grabbed my new (figuratively speaking) outfit and headed out of the dressing room with David and Jenanne to go looking for a blond Afro wig to complete the ensemble. As I clutched the clothes, I was somewhat grossed out.
I hate the clothing of the 1970s. I hate, hate, hate it. It’s disgusting, overly tight, overly outlandish and just wrong. I am serious. I have often claimed that I will leave the States should bell bottoms regain substantial popularity, and the thought that I was conceived when these clothes were all the rage makes me de-value myself as a person.
These thoughts were going through my head as I walked by a woman who did a double-take—she looked at me, she looked at my outfit, she looked at me again, she looked at the outfit again.
“Don’t ask,” I said.
She smiled. “Are you going to the Bell Bottom Bash tomorrow? Because I am too!”
Jenanne, who is a costume designer by night, jumped to the woman’s aid. Meanwhile, David and I looked unsuccessfully for a wig, while John tried on some women’s shoes to complete his ‘70s look (he’s not a cross-dresser; he just found a pair of cloggy-type shoes that worked). A few minutes later, I paid the good folks at Savers my $17.13, and the horrible outfit was officially mine.
It was Friday night, and I got out of my car at the Reno Hilton, the site of the Bell Bottom Bash. The free party was put on by 92.9 The Hawk, and the RN&R was a sponsor or something. Whatever. All I know is that I was in public wearing crap, and I was embarrassed. From the neck up, I looked fine. I didn’t find a wig, and my hairdo and glasses had to stay in 2001 mode. But from the neck down, I looked like an extras’ reject from Saturday Night Fever. In addition to the green Holiday Inn shirt, the red polyester shirt under it and the Expand-o-Matic pants, I had on a gold chain (drawing the eye to my chest hair, God help me) and a gold bracelet.
What I won’t do for this freaking newspaper.
I met David and another co-worker/friend, Carli Cutchin, for dinner. I was relieved to be around some fellow ‘70s freaks. Except that Carli looked just like normal; she likes the clothes of that era, and she somehow makes them work for her. She had on a black acrylic turtleneck and some tan polyester pants. Meanwhile, David had on brown corduroy bell bottoms (GAG) and a green/maroon/gray “fake” silk shirt that was unbuttoned far enough for everyone to learn that he has zilch in the way of chest hair.
“I’m British!” he explained.
After dinner (during which we got more than one strange look), we headed downstairs for the Main Event, where we met up with Jenanne and John. He had on an extremely tight vest ("My nipples are hurting!” he shared, quite unnecessarily), a black shirt with playing cards on it, Dacron/polyester black pants and the women’s shoes. Oh, yeah, his hair was slicked back and dyed black.
“I am trying to look as ‘Travolta’ as possible,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jenanne looked relatively normal, with an orange/red plaid top ("puke-colored, she said) and a brown polyester skirt ("poop-colored").
There were a lot of people there. And there were a lot of people who were either sensibly too mortified to dress in ‘70s garb, or who were too stupid to remember what ‘70s garb looked like.
“Unlike the ‘80s, which were a big blur to me,” John observed, “I do remember the ‘70s. And I don’t remember so much tie-dye.”
John was right. There were people in tie-dyed things everywhere, dressed like hippies. They must not have gotten the memo about hippies being primarily a ‘60s thing.
Carli noticed another anomaly.
“In the half of the ‘70s I was alive, I lived in Humboldt County [Calif.], and I remember a lot more pot,” she said.
We chatted while we listened to the band, Jake Armer and the Hot Dogs, slaughter some tunes. Then, the DJ fired up classic hits of the ‘70s. We got up and approached the dance floor, and I tried not to be too horrified by the tight polyester, the outlandish colors and the platform shoes that surrounded me.
And then, something happened. I would try to deny it, but there’s photographic evidence.
As screens toward the back of the dance floor played clips of retro TV shows, recorded off of Nick at Nite, TV Land and Superstation TBS (the logos in the bottom right corner of the screen gave it away), people shook their respective groove things. Carli, John, Jenanne and I grooved to “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson, “Brick House” by The Commodores and “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry, while David took photos and tried not to fall down from laughing so hard.
After those three songs, I came to my senses and realized what I was doing. I went and sat down to watch the chaos. Clips from Charlie’s Angels, The Jeffersons, Love American Style and Laverne and Shirley provided the backdrop for the disco-dancing throng.
And everyone looked horrible.
I really had a blast. It was a good time; it was just an ugly good time. But after the night was over, I slinked back to my car, sped home and changed back into real, non-hideous clothing.
As I looked at my ‘70s outfit in a pile on the floor, I was appalled that photographs now existed of me in those very articles of clothing. And I was frightened to know that, yes, one of those very pictures of me would end up in the paper.
And now I hate bell bottoms and polyester even more. The Bell Bottom Bash was fun. But bell bottoms still make me gag.
And that’s $17.13 that I will never get back.