What can we say about 1972? A plethora of sportswear, some insane evening clothes, and a wave of "menswear"—slouch hats, derbies, shirts, well-tailored jackets, and well-tailored pants bottomed off with ridiculously high, mannish shoes. A perfectly plausible look for some of the women some of the time, but where had all the girls gone? And where was the elegance in haute couture, now as committed to sportswear as it had ever been to glamour? The young in their jeans and their elder sisters in their menswear were the only females who seemed to know what to wear. Exceptions? More than we can list, but here is a try:
Capes were back again and looking marvelous, as in Geoffrey Beene's navy wool yoked front and back and swinging in between; or Victor Joris' plaid Inverness for Cuddlecoat; or Halston's suede or cashmere cape with hood. Pierre Cardin—Paris-New York did a ravishing day-into-evening dress, navy worsted crepe just to the knees, long-sleeved, small-shouldered, tucked from collarless neck to slightly below the waist—the prettiest day dress in too many springs. The only decor, one fresh white gardenia pinned up near the face. Bonnie Cashin did one of her eternal Cashin smocked coats, but short; just thigh-length, of white wool fleece piped in white leather, it was to be worn over Cashin's tight white leather pants. There were other white coats about, almost all of them wrapped and tied.
Another pretty daytime look definitely not in the menswear line was Kay Unger's black knitted T-shirt and skirt prettied up with pieces of printed cotton. Flowers, tiny ones, were printed all over the cotton blazer, the waistband, and the gores of the skirt. Or there was a sleeker idea by Pat Sandler, black and white polka-dotted shirt tucked to white tank top tucked into a crackling, fine-pleated black skirt—all one piece and extraordinarily convincing as three. Adele Simpson designed a nifty brown and white polka-dotted dress, at home day or night and accompanied by its own polka-dotted triangular shawl.
Bill Blass, a past master at designing beautiful dresses, did a winner for daytime, a bright navy dress spattered with white polka dots under a blazer of the same print with green and white daisies added. This was shown with a polka-dotted silk beret.
For late day and evening, there was no problem finding beautiful clothes if you could afford em. The smoothest, sexiest ones as well as the freshest were Halston's—and how he had caught on! Vogue devoted its Feb. 1 frontispiece to him, saying simply, H is for Halston. Although there ad been Halstons in some well-dressed women's closets for two years, suddenly everybody wanted at least one. It was Halston time, and no one could believe this could happen in a year when the rest of the fashion world was marking time, when great houses here and abroad were quietly closing their doors or hiding behind their perfume bottles. Roy Halston Frowick—known to most of us as Halston—had always had superb taste as well as superb timing; nothing proved it better than his spectacular rise to fame during an otherwise stagnant year, and his change of pace affected every other designer in this country and many abroad. Singlehanded, he revived the dolman sleeve and the halter for evening wear.
What accounts for Halston's incredible rise? Great talent, enormous respect for fabrics, and an anatomist's understanding of how women's body's really are, how they move, in what they look best. Knowing when to shift gears, as in his changed attitude toward fashion, Halston liked his women covered by day, bare at night. It was his night clothes that won him a lot of the earliest plaudits. No one had handled matte jersey this well since Madame Gres, who was still doing it. There were other similarities: the architectonic capes, the sense of motion, the insistence, which he shared with Norman Norell (who died in 1972), that women be nearly naked in his evening clothes, which implied a fairly superb figure. Risky? Perhaps; but in an era when more and more women were braless or willing and able to be, not too risky; and in an era that was more and more body-conscious, not so much risky as wise in terms of winning lots of enthusiastic, attractive customers. Also like Norell, Halston understood that women are, in fact, liberated in body and mind.
Halston came into fashion, after all, when the tailored menswear whammy had to be taken out of women's clothes rather than put in. Thus, his pants were not worsted like Norell's, but wool jersey, cashmere, matte jersey; and he liked them worn with more softnesses: his cashmere twin sweater set, the rage of the fall, or one of his superbly cut single sweaters worn under a fluid cape.
His cashmere capes and coats and cropped coats were remarkable. For evening, his shorter coats were often the softest, deepest velvet, tie-dyed in Redon flowers in Redon's meltingly soft palette: pale leaf green, pale pink, off-white, cerulean blue. Or he designed in suede, the butteriest suede to be found, or, for his Seventh Avenue collection, in Ultra-suede, a look-and-feelalike that was completely washable and half the weight of suede. Everything he designed was so popular that there was no way his businesses could keep up with the demand.
By spring, the use of tie-dyeing was confined almost entirely to Halston, who used it not only on velvet evening coats but on velvety black crepes tie-dyed in the same Redon sort of flowers, placed sparingly so that one wanted to see many more, on a long, bare slink of a dress that one would have thought would be antithetical to tie-dyeing. Not so; it was the most beautiful dress of the year. Halston also tie-dyed his wildly popular caftans. A particular charmer was black chiffon with man-sized golden daisies tie-dyed on it. These caftans, or djellabas, were loose, comfortable at-home things that swung with every movement, and the way they moved on anyone reduced even the hardest-bitten fashion editors to gurgles of joy.
President Richard M. Nixon's trip to Peking brought forth some quasi-Chinese evening dresses that were far less successful than most diplomatic efforts in that direction. The best of the lot were by Oscar de la Renta, but even those dated very fast and cost far too much—$495 was the going price, and for that, they should have been timeless.
Diane von Furstenberg was another young de-signer who showed her mettle—but in a far quieter way than Halston's—in the doldrums of 1972. Her silk and rayon wrapped evening dress was an absolute winner, printed with rust, grey, and teal on pure navy with long, tight sleeves and a deep, sexy neckline.
And Stephen Burrows, a designer who knew about softness before most of the rest of us, designed one of the most beautiful dresses of all time in ivory matte jersey scalloped around the edges: a small, wrapped, long-sleeved top, and a slim skirt that moved most beautifully. A ravishing dress for a small-boned girl or woman, and half the cost of a Halston.
Things seemed to be picking up, but only at this stratosphere. At lower levels (and some higher ones), the shirt was the new star.
The only positive thing about the summer of 1972 was that it proved, just about conclusively, that long dresses were prettier after five than short ones. Lots of pretty voiles and elasticized, shirred, old-fashioned long dresses appeared for very reasonable prices.
Also around for summer was a good bit of pongee. Irene McFarland designed a short natural silk pongee smock for Vera that was probably the best-looking summer day dress seen in several years. And Oscar de la Renta Boutique's dolman-sleeved natural silk pongee shirt and wide-legged matching pants looked nice on the right girl.
Scott Barrie, ever ready to help with soft, sexy evening clothes, turned out a beauty in black matte jersey. Halter-necked and completely backless down to the waist, it was held on only by the thinnest cords ever seen (they wrapped at the waist), and the skirt was thin as thin.
Fall brought very little that was new, except a feeling for softness and for twin sweater sets, thanks to Halston. And also thanks to Halston, a feeling that less jewelry could be more, like the ivory disks hung from silver and the flared ivory cuffs Elsa Peretti designed for Halston. There was also a feeling for paler, more flattering colors, although the menswear idea was still with us, as in the rash of shirts and chemises designed by everyone from Oscar de la Renta to his imitators. Notably absent were Norell and Halston, nonbelievers in anything but becoming clothes. De la Renta's evening chemises were beautiful and bare, but the daytime ones really needed belting.
Milliners were trying once more, and many designers went along out of a sense that all fashion would vanish if they did not encourage all of its practitioners' ideas. As Norell said in an interview just before the retrospective show of his clothes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in October:
"Why, I remember when women used to have casts made of their hands, so their gloves would fit properly. Now they don't even wear gloves any more".
True, true. And although gloves were as beautiful as ever and bags were not bad, shoes were in more trouble than they had ever been. The clunky platform-soled shoe of 1971 had taken vitamins. Now the platform could be 6 in. thick,
and although orthopedists warned that women could break their ankles, their legs, or several bones in their feet by wearing such teetering towers, women still wore them.
Hairdos, on the other hand, were smoother, neater; either just below the ears and nicely shaped, or drawn back into smallish, shining chignons. Makeup was more vibrant. The dark red nail polish had flopped with most women, but corals and bright pinks were appearing in lip-stick and polish, and blushers were the sine qua nons of all makeups, whether shiny or matte. Although 1971's makeup had been shiny and natural, 1972's was supposed to be matte.
Business continued to fall off badly in two special sectors of the economy throughout 1972, and modern fashion trends were to blame in both cases. With more and more men wearing their hair long, barbers in at least one State (Connecticut) desperately petitioned their governor for subsidies. And it was clear that the new liberation of the female figure had made girdles a glut on the market when a Boston manufacturer donated 72,000 of the elastic undergarments to Goodwill Industries.
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How hemlines changed and the maxi vs the mini