Monday, February 19, 2018

Stoned Out Of My Mind: Early 1970s Black And Puerto Rican Fashion

This is a nice cut from the early 1970s. I enjoyed songs like this one well enough, but I didn’t buy the records. I always run things like that through a racism-alert filter, but this one passes that test. I was buying plenty of records by black artists, Graham Central Station, Muscle Shoals records, Fatback Band, Stax/Volt/Enterprise, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Hi Records, lots of Reggae, Fela and other African acts, and more, but just not any of this smooth, almost Doo-Wopie northern, urban Soul.

I did listen to it on the radio. That would have been “The Big RL,” WWRL, in New York City. I liked it, but I felt like groups like the Chi-Lites, with their matching outfits and smooth vocals, were out of date. Now of course that’s not a problem. All of it, and me included, we’re all out of date by now.

It’s a good cut, though. Great song; great production; entertaining premise. A couple of nice plays on words. And a great performance, the Chi-Lites were very good.

I can’t listen to this music without thinking of the clothing styles at the time. The clothing worn by young black hipsters, specifically. Not the platform shoes and multi-color everything, not what you might call Pimp Style. The young guys didn’t wear that stuff. It took money to dress like that. The young black men were clothes-conscious, but they preferred a simpler fashion of dress.

Low-top sneakers in many colors came out in the early 1970s. Purple; red; green. They were bright, too. They were popular with young black men, so I’m thinking that they must have been Converse. The black guys always preferred Converse to Keds. But then again, the first non-black or white sneakers that I ever remember were Keds. They were out already in the early 1960s. Not bright colors, just like olive green, earth tones, very subtle. Hard to look that up, probably.

They wore those bright sneakers with t-shirts that more or less matched. Very often, silk t-shirts that were sold in up-scale clothing stores that catered to the black population in Flushing, Queens. White t-shirts were very popular, and went with everything. They’d wear these with chinos, maybe black chinos as well and the kaki. Starched and pressed, if I recall.

Those fellows were the customers at a record store that I worked at around that time. We got along fine. Why shouldn’t we have? I know, I know. But recall the times. It’s worth pointing out.

In the Puerto Rican community of the early 1970s, the real style-leaders were hard core gangsters, and you had to go to Brooklyn or Manhattan to find them. I remember them, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever even seen photographs of the styles that they pioneered. They wore denim jackets, but they would steal furs from women on the subway, cut them up, and sew fur collars onto the denim jackets. That was a good look. They also were among the first to shop the vintage clothing stores for nice old pleated dress pants, very dressy. These guys were mostly thin, and the tight denim jacket with those baggy-ass pants was a great look. I copied that look myself before I moved to Los Angeles, and I made quite a splash when I got there. I never had a fur collar on my denims, though. What I did do was stitch small highlights of color into the collars and cuffs, so little that it was hard to see. Subtle, but killer. I liked that look.

I’m pretty sure that the PRs liked the colored sneakers, too. But they also liked to wear expensive, very conservative Oxfords. (Better in a fight!) I copped that look, too. Mine were Florsheim’s Oxford Weaves (brown).

See? This is what happens when you get to my age. Listen to a nice song on the YouTube, and all of a sudden, it’s taking you on a tour of memories in files that have not been reviewed in decades. I’ve seen a lot, and done a lot, and it’s nice to be reminded that I wasn’t always the quiet, rather dull man that you see before you. I was never cool, but I was hip there for a while.

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