Often, when I watch a season of catwalk shows, the same character keeps coming into my mind. This is not because I’ve got special powers; it is sort of the point of having a whole month of fashion shows – to establish the character who defines that season. It’s in the clothes, obviously, but also the music, the hairstyles, the way the models walk. The character might be Paloma Picasso one season and Debbie Harry the next. It’s been Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface at least twice in the past decade, and it’s Grace Kelly about one season in three. But watching this season’s collections was a first. Because the catwalk muse was my mum.
OK, not my mum specifically. A lot of people’s mums. All those of us with 1970s childhoods – which, the front row demographic being what it is, is a lot of us – were having the same experience, because the muse for this season is the 70s Mum. The silky, thrift-shop faded blouses at Chloé, the denim skirts with plaited leather belts at Gucci. The pinafores at Sonia Rykiel, the broderie anglaise blouses at Erdem. These were glossily updated versions of clothes we’ve seen in our childhood photo albums. If you can picture yourself learning to ride a Chopper bike or watching Happy Days on TV, then the mum you can picture in the background is the woman you want to be this season.
I was born in 1973, when my mum, Nadine, was 25. So I have a proper 70s mum. A hot one, too. She still is beautiful, my mum, but you should have seen her then – although, maddeningly for the purposes of this article, she has surprisingly few photographs of herself. Most modern 25-year-olds Instagram more portraits of themselves on a single girls’ weekend than survive of my mum over her entire 20s. Also, in most of the ones from 1973 onwards she is virtually pushed out of the frame, obscured by yours truly, the fattest butterball of a baby you have ever seen in your life.
Still, there is some fashion gold to be found. In one shot, she’s wearing what appear to be a pair of dungarees. That picture was taken at a feminist meeting in Dalston. I mean: does it get more 2015 than that? Chanel’s catwalk show this season was a staged feminist march, complete with flares and centre partings, placards and loudspeakers. My mum’s feminist meeting outfit is that catwalk moment, crossed with the Tennessee denim overalls designed by Alexa Chung for AG Jeans, which have been 2015’s most-hyped fashion item so far.
As any costume designer for a period drama will tell you, recreating the look of an era with faithful historical accuracy never works. The 70s Mum look is not about wearing your mum’s clothes from that decade, it’s about finding clothes that look 70s to a modern eye. This is not about memory, it’s about nostalgia. Which is lucky for me, because my mum doesn’t have any of her clothes from that era – the reason eludes me, when she has hung on to box files of potato-printed “artwork” by me and my sister. Although it is hard to see exactly what she is wearing in the photo she found, which is grainy and faded, she thinks it was a blouse, tanktop and trousers, not dungarees. No matter. On set, we end up taking various elements from different photos of my mum and layering them together: a tan suede coat over dark denim Miss Selfridge dungarees, with a fine, light blue shirt and burgundy wedge sandals.
The sandals – high but clompy, the sort you wear on the beach in August and that then come in handy for killing spiders in September – are key. Like method acting, dressing a role starts with the shoes. The 70s Mum look may have reached ubiquity on the catwalk this season, but it’s been percolating in fashion for a while, pioneered most spiritedly by the aforementioned Chung, and by Stella McCartney, who repeatedly cites her mum Linda’s style as a reference.
Chung has always used a 70s shoe to add a bit of spin to her look: thick-strapped leather sandals like the ones your mum bought at markets and wore on holiday; Converse; Birkenstocks. As far back as 2010, McCartney’s summer collection was a homage to Linda: button-through denim sundresses, eyelet-blouses, high-waisted, wide-legged trousers and a cork-wedge sandal called the Linda, which has become a Stella classic, appearing each year since. The shape, fabrication and colour changes each year, but it is always unmistakably a 70s Mum shoe.
When I interviewed McCartney a year ago, she talked about her mum as a style icon not just for her clothes, but for her spirit. “She had a beautiful ease with herself,” McCartney said. She talked of “being aware of the balance of my mum and dad”, about Linda as “pioneering”. Which is interesting, because it is clearly about more than cork wedges. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the 70s Mum is back at this particular moment in time, when feminism is again at the heart of popular culture.
You can tut about Beyoncé standing in her knickers on stage in front of lights spelling out Feminist, you can complain that Lena Dunham isn’t saying anything that hasn’t been said before, but that’s exactly why these things are meaningful. It’s precisely because older generations tut at and don’t get the new era of feminism that it is a new era. And, somewhere along the way, a kind of style synergy has conjured up as icons another generation of women who were calling themselves feminists and getting tutted at.
The 70s Mum look is quite distinct from 70s style in its disco-glitter, Studio 54 incarnation. It’s more homespun and less glossy, more textured and less slick, more vintage and less futuristic. If there’s a celebrity icon, it’s Jane Birkin on holiday in the south of France with Serge and daughters: all faded denim and scoop-neck T-shirts, washed-out cheesecloth and tousled hair, holding a wicker basket or a white china coffee cup. The wisps of hair in the face, the gaps in the teeth: it is a particular type of perfection that looks deceptively achievable. The Jane-Birkin-making-daisy-chains reference has been revisited again and again, in film and fashion: think of Kirsten Dunst’s white blouses in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, set in 1970s Michigan, which revisits the look with a suburban teenage twist. It’s a look that seems to resonate in a photo of my mum in a white broderie anglaise blouse, so we found a matching shirt and skirt for me to wear, with yet another pair of clompy sandals.
My clothes are from French Connection; my mum describes the original blouse as “one of my all-time favourite jumble sale finds. Virtually everything I wore in the 70s came from jumble sales, which were far more common than they are now, and secondhand clothes shops, which were economical hunting grounds in the days before the lucrative trade in vintage. Past Caring on the Essex Road [in Islington, north London] was a favourite haunt. I don’t remember it feeling like a hardship, to dress myself this way. Far from it: I enjoyed being clever and I loved the thrill of finding bargains. Three pure silk nighties all in one swoop, or a pair of 1950s platform shoes with towering heels that I called my Billie Holiday shoes. But if you are clothing yourself in this way, your look is sure to turn out eclectic.”
That eclecticism feels subversive now. Fashion in its 21st-century incarnation has had its kinks straightened out. Putting on a brightly coloured crochet knit over a sky-blue poloneck feels both retro and way more daring than any miniskirt. One of the outfits from that decade that my mum, who was a teacher, remembers best “was when I was interviewed for my first full-time job, in 1979. I wore a simple, fitted green cotton dress that I bought for the occasion from Marks Spencer. It sticks in my mind because it was very rare to splash out on a brand new dress from an Oxford Street shop.” Also – because some things never change, and this is the sort of thing that makes a girl remember a dress – “It brought me luck,” she tells me. “It was a very hot day and the selection panel remarked on how cool and collected I looked in my green dress. I got the job.”
I showed my mum the photos. “They do say 70s to me,” she said. “Although, actually, I don’t think I ever wore dungarees.” Ah, well. The glory of nostalgia is that you can take artistic licence with the details. And anyway: you might want to dress like your mum this season, but does that mean you will listen to her advice? Of course not. Sorry, Mum.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor on her mother, ex-Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis
Mum is about 16 in the picture below and looks a lot like my younger sister. I sort of know her voice at this age, because she kept a diary and it’s very sweet – a bit Enid Blyton. She was 16 when she went to a party for an 18-year-old who turned out to be my dad, so that era was caught up in them getting together. They’re not together now, and she has been married to my stepdad for more than 25 years, so this feels like a very different chapter.
I remember watching Mum get ready to go out in the 1980s and thinking her outfits were so exciting and glamorous. There was one dress in particular that I was always smitten with – it had a black velvet bodice and a gold skirt with black polka dots. She’s still got it somewhere, maybe in the fancy-dress box.
I used to love dressing up in her wedding dress when I was about seven. She had dyed it purple and stuck sequins all over it for a play. I am not sure how my dad felt about it, even though they weren’t together any more. It looked great, though.
We have a very similar style these days. We both wear a lot of A-line dresses in bright colours. In fact, we recently turned up to a charity event in the same dress.
Mum still looks really brilliant. She is turning 60 this year and is such a good advert for it. She doesn’t wear things that are too young for her, but she manages to keep that sense of fun.
Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds on her mother, Esther
My mum is my style icon. When I was thinking about the styling for the new album, I started looking at old photographs of her, inspired by her love for a dungaree and her haircut. When I cut my hair in a bob last year, both my mum and sister couldn’t believe how much I looked like Mum at that age. Her hair has pretty much always been that length, though now it’s white and silvery.
She was a really beautiful woman, still is, but she is the least vain person I know. I tell her, “Mum, you were such a babe. You should have milked it more.” My dad took this photograph – I think they must have been in Sunderland, where they were living. My mum was a secretary at Sunderland Polytechnic and she met my dad while he was studying there.
When it comes to eye makeup, her look has not changed: she has worn khaki green eyeshadow every single day to bring out her green eyes. She has a very natural grace about her. I remember going on holiday with her when I was seven, and she wore this jungle-green dress with a gold leaf pattern. Sadly, I’ve not inherited anything from her – she never kept anything. Even that dress has gone.
She was quite liberal regarding how I dressed, growing up. My dad, less so – he could not bear hipster jeans, whereas I just wanted them as low as possible. I loved being styled as my mum for this shoot. It made me think about her more as an individual on her own path, with her own experiences, possibly going through the same things as I am now.
• Marina and the Diamonds’ third album, Froot, is out now.
The Staves on their mother, Jean Staveley-Taylor
Emily Staveley-Taylor, 32
I remember finding a photograph from the late 70s of our mum on the beach, wearing a little yellow shift dress that looked so cool. I asked where it was from and she said she made it. I don’t think she had much growing up, so a lot of her clothes were handmade. She had a few prized possessions, like her Biba eyeshadows. I still have one of them. I don’t use it, but I like to keep the little pot on my desk. Looking at these photos, I just think she was so gorgeous. She still is.
Jessica Staveley-Taylor, 28
Our mum’s style is similar to ours – quite relaxed and comfortable – but she’s also chic. She always has a nice brooch, and she and our dad lived in Paris for a couple of years before we were born, so she is partial to a beret. It is weird looking at these photographs, because you realise your mum was a once a girl following trends and trying stuff out. This free, independent young woman with her life ahead of her, living in Paris. She looked so cool.
Camilla Staveley-Taylor, 25
I’ve got this amazing velvet coat that we had in our dressing-up box that Mum used to wear at university. I found it in the attic recently, and I’m going to fix the broken lining and start wearing it. As the youngest, I remember my mum with lots of very big hair. She’s gone for more of a straight, sleek look now, but she used to have a less tamed version of Farrah Fawcett’s style. She always has a go at me for dressing too manly and not being feminine enough. I tend to wear big boxy things, but when I look back at photographs of her when she was younger, she wore exactly the same sort of thing.
• The Staves’ new album, If I Was, is out on Monday.
Interviews: Abigail Radnor. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Fashion assistant: Hannah Davidson. Hair and makeup: Sharon Ive at Carol Hayes Management, using Clarins. Set design: Lee Flude. Dexter rug, £199, made.com. Hair for Marina: Ben Moth. Styling for the Staves: Rachel Bakewell. Stylist’s assistant: Roberta Hollis.