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In the 1970s, flared trousers and platform shoes were obsessions among the young and hip. Punitha Kumar speaks to several fashionistas to get a glimpse of what fashion was all about in their heyday, and how they managed to remain trendy despite their conservative backgrounds
THE 1970s was the era of bell-bottom trousers, afro hairstyles, tight tops, mini skirts and platform shoes.
Chitra Shanmugam recalls those days with fondness. The executive in a private company said she was lucky as her mother was "considered a fashionista" and allowed Chitra to wear trendy Western clothes. She said her mother would even suggest ideas to the tailor.
"The trends were midi (knee-length) skirts, umbrella-cut and frock dresses, palazzo pants, mini and flared skirts, bell-bottoms and ballroom dresses.
"I often danced with my late father and went ballroom dancing with him in my tailored dresses," she said.
If the event was formal and required a more sophisticated look, capes were worn over sleeveless dresses.
"My personal favourite was the butterfly cape."
Chitra, 49, said her father would always keep an eye out for his three daughters during functions.
"He was a protective man."
Another trend was the cabbage-cut hairstyle, which would raise eyebrows today.
"However, it was popular then and was the most requested cut by fashion-savvy youngsters," said Chitra, who is from Penang.
The mother of one said she was often commended for her tasteful style and was glad her conservative family did not oppose some of her more Western clothes.
Retiree June Mohamed said in the 1970s, most clothes could be had for less than RM50. Most would be hand-sewn.
"All you needed were some sewing skills, enough material and a sewing machine."
The 62-year-old said the sewing classes she attended for 12 months at a vernacular school in Chow Kit after work benefited her in many ways.
"It started out as a hobby and soon, I was inspired to produce outfits from various fashion magazines. At one point, Diana, Princess of Wales, was an inspiration."
She said almost 80 per cent of her clothes were hand-made. "But I stopped making them when I retired."
June said her family never discouraged her from trying out new Western styles.
"I used to love wearing knee-length skirts, long-sleeved blouses with matching scarves, and three-inch heels."
As for her hair, June said she always preferred to keep it short.
"The look many girls went for then was the beehive, done by teasing and lifting the hair up and combing it backwards to create more volume and a fuller look."
Retired teacher Ranjit Kaur said her style during her teenage years was influenced by her mother. Later, it was her husband.
Ranjit, 67, said her mother made sure her five children were well dressed as society's perception of them was important. Her clothes were tailored and dresses all fell below her knees.
Her husband later forbade her from wearing sarees as they exposed the midriff and would bring "unnecessary attention".
"I had long and luscious hair that reached my thighs, like those in shampoo commercials."
Ranjit, who now sports shorter hair, said she had her first haircut when she was 28 years old. Her husband did it.
"During my days at Universiti Malaya, I had a beehive, as it helped keep my long locks in place. When I was a teacher, it was usually dressy blouses, flared trousers, and platform shoes or high heels to complete the look."
She said men often wore kipper ties (known for its breadth and gaudy colours), bush jackets (long, cotton jacket usually with four flat pockets and a belt) and sported muttonchops (wide sideburns popularised by Elvis Presley).
Private university senior lecturer Tan Lay Hun may now be in jeans or long trousers most of the time but "there was a period where I often used bright red lipstick to add a pop of colour to my outfit."
These days, however, she prefers to go "au naturale".
She said during her younger days, she preferred strappy sandals and A-line skirts but now, it's earthy-tone blouses, long trousers and covered shoes.
The 40-year-old from Kuala Terengganu had many Malay friends and neighbours when growing up and was thus, inspired by their outfits.
"Even my mother's favourite outfit was the sarong and a baju kebaya and I often wore baju kurung or kebarung, a combination of both the kurung and kebaya to work."
Tan said her most important fashion rules were to remain casual and comfortable.
"Hence, during my teenage days, I preferred long-sleeved cotton outfits and paired them with either long carrot-cut pants or skirt."
She said the blouses had puffed sleeves and were elaborately cuffed.
Not a heavy spender on clothes, Tan spends more on accessories, shoes, handbags and perfumes.