May 12, 2016

The 70s are having a moment.


Over the past few months, shop windows have exploded in an array of suede and fringe and button down skirts. Ad campaigns and Instagram accounts proffer sunny patches and leisurely lunches, long legs sprawled out on the grass, even longer hair cascading into nature. Together, these images convey a specific narrative in which the 70s are depicted as Arcadian, bucolic. Edgy yet inconsequential. The age of youth.

As such, we glorify the decade—in its entirety—as a time of liberation and ease. When rules slid away and young people ran off into those aforementioned, sunlit fields. And we know this just isn’t accurate; nothing is ever as simple as the visual rhetoric makes it out to be. But, again and again, designers and fashion houses repackage and sell the past, brimming with nostalgia.

For this photoshoot, we wanted to challenge the cyclical, effacing nature of trends and question why we, as a society, always and inevitably, romanticize our yesterdays.

Our photoshoot takes place at present-day Pembroke, the site of the coordinate women’s college that merged with Brown in 1971. Pembroke—with its white-gloved traditions and passionate feminism alike—emblemizes the blurring of past and present, the contradictions between new and old. Our images, models, and styling could be from either era—the 70s or now. Because, honestly, not that much has changed. We want to emphasize continuity and to parody simplified narratives.

Even into the 70s, women at Pembroke were subjected to a variety of bizarre, arcane activities, dictated by how they “should” act. Pembrokers learned which forks to use, how to walk with books on their heads. They were still having “posture pictures” taken, a perverted occasion on which women were photographed in their underwear and then received a grade for their posture (to be factored into their GPAs, of course).

Students of color faced still further difficulties—Rogeriee Thompson (’73), for example, has spoken extensively about the pressures upon black students to choose between activism and a white, Ivy League education. Civil Rights and social uneasiness characterized her entire undergraduate experience, in both an exciting and an unfortunate manner. She explains, “It is hard to say with the education I got that anything was missing. The only thing that I do regret…we weren’t able to get beyond all those racial boundaries.”

After the merger, many of these antiquated activities disappeared, and women were able to fight against those that remained. Women of Brown United fundraised to repeal anti-abortion laws. When Louise Lamphere was denied tenure in 1974, it ignited a class action suit and increased awareness of the lack of diversity in faculty. 

In short, it was not a simple time—no era is. And much of the anxiety and oppression of the 70s peals loudly, even today. So why do we keep selling the past, instead of engaging with it?

In putting forth these romanticized images of bygone days, we comfort ourselves. For, if we can reminisce on our most tumultuous times and only see flared jeans, then maybe our present can also be paraphrased. It is a coping mechanism that, according to music journalist Simon Reynolds, “abolishes history while nibbling away at the present’s own sense of itself.”

As an alternative to confronting our own moment, we collapse all decades into one. We mine each era for what we like best and, in doing so, we express what we long for most (equality and an uncomplicated, natural life). Because romanticizing the past isn’t really about the past at all—it’s about the present. To look backward is to look into a funhouse mirror—one that makes everything look just a little bit brighter, a little bit better. 

But if we look forward, I wonder: what will we overlook?


Writer: Sarah Bochicchio

Models: Chloe Karayiannis, Isabelle Thenor-Louis

Photographer: Adam Malkin

Creative Direction and Styling: Editorial Team' 15

Hair and Makeup: Florina Heredea