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Retro revolution! Clothing with a cause retailored for millennials

Styles symbolic of social change in the 1960s and '70s are being snapped up by customers in their late teens through 20s seeking to make their own fashion statements.

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‌ Photo Credit: Newsday/Neville Harvey

 At Charlotte Russe, a store for fashionistas in their teens and 20s, the silver “Disco Ball Bodycon Dress,” channeling the decadent and sensual '70s, sold out quickly.

TB Dress has reimagined the dashiki — synonymous with the civil rights and Black Power  movements in America of the 1960s — and remade it into a slim-fit men’s shirt to appeal to young customers seeking to defy convention.

And it’s the '90s all over again for Urban Outfitters, with combat trousers, oversized sweaters and grunge-inspired looks in their fall lineup, representing the decade when more casual styles countered the glitz and opulence of the 1980s.

Styles reminiscent of those from the 1950s through the '90s — many that were symbols of social change — are being snapped up in increasing numbers. And many of the customers who are buying them are in their late teens through 20s — too young to have participated in movements during those decades.

A movement of one

Some young people are starting a new brand of movement based on just the look of the clothing, adopting these styles in a protest that reflects their millennial spirit. By wearing vintage pieces, some are rebelling against mass-produced fashion.  Others seek out modern reproductions and looks inspired by the past, fashion authorities and Long Islanders say.

 Amanda Reilly, 28, a freelance illustrator and artist who lives in Ronkonkoma, says she finds that mixing vintage clothing with modern styles gives her a “personal look.” She adds that her vintage collection ranges from the early 1900s through the '80s and says it was her mother's and aunt’s hand-me-downs from the '60s and '70s that got her hooked on designs from those eras.

You are what you wear 

“Clothing is one of the most important vehicles for conveying politics," says Denise Green, director of the Cornell University Costume and Textile Collection and an assistant professor of fashion design. "Look at ‘Make America Great Again’ — it’s a hat," she says. “What’s happening with the youth culture today is about limited edition and exclusivity. The ultimate limited edition is a vintage piece.”

Green adds that some fashion businesses and brands are capitalizing on this new “resistance,” with “drops” of limited-edition pieces that are hugely hyped to quickly sell out.

She says the new fashion rebels are “searching for their uniqueness in the world” by resisting mass-production clothing.

Urban Outfitters, which features a separate vintage collection, embraced the retro trend in its general offerings for spring, summer and fall this year. In addition to a nod to the '90s, '60s-inspired granny glasses, John Lennon-style caps and a modern spin on go-go boots were featured, along with '70s jumpsuits, mididresses and crop tops. Also included were '80s Madonna-esque bustier tops, oversized hoop earrings and bleached denim. 

And the '80s made a big comeback on the fall 2018 runways in the form of large shoulder pads, sequins, power suiting, crazy animal prints, puffed sleeves, gold lame and neon at design houses including Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, Moschino, Anna Sui, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Prabal Gurung, Halpern and Gareth Pugh. 

“Fashion designers have always looked back at past periods in fashion history for inspiration,” says Emma McClendon , associate curator of costume at The Museum at FIT in Manhattan. She adds that, for example, 1920s-inspired styles became a huge hit after the release of the 1974 film version of “The Great Gatsby,” starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.

“The people buying these versions of '20s fashions were not old enough to remember the decade, but the clothing of the decade had become fashionable again through the prism of popular culture,” McClendon says. “The same is true today. Although the target consumer for a retailer like Urban Outfitters is not old enough to remember the '60s, '70s or '80s, they see these eras and sartorial styles across culture -- in film, television, magazines, etcetera -- and the styles look fresh again to new eyes.”

Serenity Hart, 28, a model who lives in Hicksville, says she loves fit-and-flare dresses from the 1950s and 1960s, and she likes to mix and match them with contemporary pieces. She was introduced to vintage as a child when she and her dad shopped together at Goodwill and other thrift stores.

Hart says, “You can find something rare and know no one else is going to have it.”

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