Fashion in the '80s

The Thermostat Look

'When times get tough, colors get brighter’

Lawrence O’Toole January 7 1980
Fashion in the '80s

The Thermostat Look

'When times get tough, colors get brighter’

Lawrence O’Toole January 7 1980

The Thermostat Look

Fashion in the '80s

'When times get tough, colors get brighter’

Lawrence O’Toole

Fashion in the ’80s will—and one man’s feel of the crystal ball is as good as another’s—be a function of finance, or lack thereof. Readers of Vogue or Gentlemen's Quarterly will be wise to have on hand John Kenneth Galbraith’s latest massive missive on the pecuniary peccadillos of the times. Allowing great leverage to the vagaries of the future, it may be possible to see the ayatollah alb and cassock take up where the Nehru suit left off, and the Iranian fashion industry corner the market with its stunning snoods and chic chadors. And while such small prophecies may be interesting, amusing and/or a trifle unsettling, the fact remains that money will determine, more than ever before, the direction fashion will take. According to many Canadian designers—not to mention common sense—dress in the ’80s will be conservative, calculated, bright but muted, comfortable and relaxed and, in northern North America, tending to warmth.

Visions of the future have always indulged themselves in the fantastic and far-out, which has more to do with visionary literature (Brave New World) and entertainment (Buck Rogers, Star Wars) than practical matters. Leo Chevalier, Canada’s most successful designer, makes a salient point that, with one of the glitzy space suits from Starship Enterprise, going to the bathroom can require as much effort as moving apartments. Knitwear, says Chevalier, will be the fabric of the ’80s: “When public buildings and homes are required to lower their temperatures, warmer and quilted clothes will be a necessity. And because of economics, people will be paying more and buying less. And when times get tough, colors get brighter.”

“People will rely on the basics,” says

Vancouver designer Jill Holliday. “Styles will be simpler; they’ll have to be to cut costs.” Simon Chang of Montreal sees clothes becoming an investment: “People will be cautious, selective and go more toward the classic look. We’ll have to redefine why we buy clothing: is it comfortable?; is it wearable?” Metaphorically and perhaps even spiritually speaking, the ’80s will be the decade of the sensible shoe. Harsh economic realities and austere, conservative thought will make it difficult for fantasy to have an edge in as practical a matter as dress. The extravagantly calculated eccentricity of New Wave couture could become the dinosaur that Mary Quant and Carnaby Street now are. Instead of the op art divertissements of the mid-’60s and the medieval motley of the late ’60s, people will, as Toronto designer Pat McDonagh said, “look for that one really good jacket.”

It all sounds as exciting as Mamie Eisenhower’s wardrobe, and it means

that designers catering to the mid-price market face one of the biggest challenges ever. Some designers, such as Chang, claim that natural fibres will lead the way, while others say the price is going sky-high. Man-made fibres such as polyester and acrylic cost less and will likely be used more extensively. As always, happily, there’s the halflunatic fringe of design, and the only hope for playfulness and fantasy; as ever, and not so happily, Yves Saint Laurent will be creating for gargantuan incomes and Karl Lagerfeld will still be stitching for the jaded.

It has been women’s fashion that has, by the nature imposed upon it by historical definition, embraced change. As a newsworthy and social phenomenon it has always depended upon change for its livelihood. But men’s fashion, which only became interesting in the ’70s mostly through the rising and eyecatching influence of the gay subculture, will probably experience a more stimulating growth than women’s. The entire cycle of the century that women’s clothing has already covered several times hasn’t really even begun to be investigated by men. Following the loose, draped and relaxed look that arrived in the ’70s via American sportswear designers such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, men may well find themselves fitted into the ’40s—with modifi-

cations. Trousers will be wide, loose, with slashed pockets at the front, and maybe a ready-built belt. Girdled for such a long time at the neck, waist and thighs, men may choose to eliminate the flapping appendages of ties, collars and lapels.

Sporting what Bogart and Alan Ladd wore, the ’80s man, with little time for the frivolous and with little historical inclination for the same, will return to the basics—as laid-back as the basics can be and with a lot more color thrown in for stimulation. The ’40s look is flexible enough to be fitted to all shapes, just as the American designer sportswear of the past few years for both men and women took flight because of its flexibility. (Most designers agree that the U.S. will lead fashion in the ’80s, but at the same time express greater fondness for the cool, uncluttered and durable look and feel of current Italian design.) Due to durability, the fur coat, though costly, will be a desirable, premium item. The myth of the mink still holds its allure. The furs that young men promised their mothers, they’ll keep for themselves. But not everyone will be able to afford one. Sensing that, high-class designers have already

rushed into the fray with imitation fur, which has the triple advantage of looking like the real thing and defraying both cost and frost at the same time. Leo Chevalier says that Canada, as a matter of pride, will never go imitation fur. Pride, often, especially in the realm of fashion, is what you have when you have nothing else.

Another Montreal designer, Marielle Fleury, agrees that the ’40s could be a reference point for men, but for women it will be “back into the ’50s.” As women, post-liberation, turn more and more toward autonomy professionally, it won’t be surprising to see a less formfitted ’50s suit with a more cursive line and assertive coloring.

The picture, which may not be as grim as it’s painted, looks like this: ready-to-wear, very functional, colorfully classic, non-uniform, shorn of wasted fabric and confusing ornamentation, man-made fibres for the most part, nondisposable, simple and possibly elegant, and above all an investment. Designers, particularly the higher priced houses, may find themselves esthetically up-in-arms, and with no choice in the matter.

Oscar Wilde once wrote that one must either wear a work of art or be one. If such is the case, a lot of people may have to get their acts together for the ’80s.