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Why Did Everyone Wear Their Collar Over Their Lapel During The ’70s?

It was a time of broken fashion rules and showing off how hip you were—and for some, the more androgynous the better. Whether you were into glam rock or disco, dance floors were awash with bold colors, shocking patterns, and mixed textiles. Men’s fashion of the 1970s was all about being unique…just like everyone else.

Photo: WikiMedia Commons/Towpilot

In Film

In the iconic movie Saturday Night Fever (1977), John Travolta’s Tony Manero was king of the discos. He danced his way across the screen wearing extremely tight bell bottom pants and wide retro collars. And when he wore a jacket, the collar lay stylishly over the lapel.

This style was also highlighted in the wardrobe of professional con man Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) in Ocean’s Eleven (2001). The movie was a remake of the 1960 version, where you’d actually expect to see the collars out. But only Peter Lawford’s character wore it in that fashion, and it barely counts because it was over a baggy cardigan sweater.

Did Pitt get away with it in 2001 because he was attractive? Or did the movie’s costume department try too hard, using contemporary threads to approximate the retro look? That might be up for debate, but most theater goers laughed out loud when Danny Ocean (George Clooney) quipped, “Ted Nugent called. He wants his shirt back.”

Photo: WikiMedia Commons/C. Erik Ridderstedt

Pecs Out, You Sexy Beast

Women didn’t corner the market on trying to attract attention with plunging necklines. The collar-over style, already exposing the upper chest, was often augmented by unbuttoning more buttons, sometimes to the waist. Hairy or smooth, jewelry or none, showing off the manly chest was a must for the wannabe sex symbol.

Photo: Pxfuel.com

Not Original

The style didn’t originate in the 1970s. Long before it was paired with bell bottoms, this forced-casual look was right at home on a younger Elvis in the 1950s. It could also be found on David Niven in the film Separate Tables (1958) and much earlier on Errol Flynn in the 1930s. Some of the earlier versions also incorporated an ascot successfully. One thing most of these examples have in common is that the stars wearing them were typically slim and attractive.

But the look was also used anachronistically in film to communicate that a less attractive character had an outdated fashion sense, such as the boisterous Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). Eddie looked creepy rather than retro, with his collar over his leisure suit lapel. And it was perfectly done for the obliviously awkward character.

Other times, films intentionally costume the characters to match a time period. This can be used to communicate a character is a crook or mobster. Effectively done examples include Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in GoodFellas (1990) and Donnie (Johnny Depp) and Lefty (Al Pacino) in Donnie Brasco (1997), both set in the 1970s.

Photo: menswear-market.com

Comeback?

So, unless you want to look creepy or like a mobster, or you have a face like Pitt’s, it’s best to leave this in the 70s, right? Not so fast. GQ featured the Pitti Uomo Spring/Summer 2019, showing off Florence street-style. And among the highlighted pictures of best-dressed men? Pointed collars of various sized outside lapels. Maybe it’s true that everything old is eventually new again, given enough time.