My Levi's Cords

Anyone who came of age in the '70s has dealt with the painful reckoning of their yearbook photo, or really ANY photograph from that time. Hands down, it was the most hideous fashion decade of the last millennium, with the possible exception of being a man in the Court of Versailles or during the Victorian bathing era.

Those were the days of hip-hugger elephant bell pants, granny dresses, quianna shirts with long, pointed collars, (what is quianna and why won't it spell check?) mushroom cap hair for men or the long, straight butt-part Duane Allman do with bushy "swinger" moustaches and Farrah Fawcett bat wings and layers for girls. These are just a few of the fashion-don'ts that made us Mod-Squad-cool back then.

But there is one item of clothing about which I do wax nostalgic. My colored Levi's corduroys. Price: $35, which was a lot of chinkaloopas in high school. I undertook hours of babysitting whiny, snot nosed kids and cleaning houses to pay for those cords. And then as a high school senior I bagged the job of grocery cashier, guaranteeing a regular income stream and a forced membership in the union.

I can still picture my stash of cords, folded in the bottom dresser drawer, lined up like muted earth colors of the rainbow, navy, gray, camel, maroon, dark green and pale blue. I liked fondling them, laying out what I'd wear to school the night before and rotating the colors to display my growing collection.

Back then I slightly favored the sky blue and forest green pairs, two shades which are still among my favorites. The more you washed, the softer and more supple they became. Unlike other relationships we have with our possessions and the need for the newest version, in the world of cords and jeans, more use equaled more cool. In my upstate New York town, during our nation's bi-centennial year, the entire look was topped off with the iconic plastic Goody comb stuck in the back pocket. The flip of those wings had to be perfectly maintained. We were good to go.

Those of you Levi's jeans and cord wearers, lets pause reverentially to think about the leather tag stitched on the back right hand side of the waist, displaying your inseam and hip size like a butcher's cut of meat. Given the societal paranoia women exhibit over revealing their exact ages and dress sizes, this was a bold move. We never thought about the fact that the pants were fitted for boys, that Levi's had yet to discover a woman's hips or come up with their brilliant concept of personalizing jeans to a woman's body. We never questioned the fact that we wore garments cut from the patterns of starving slim-hipped California Gold Rush miners. It was all about the uniform. Let's not kid ourselves, it's no different today. My twins are working me hard for those majorly expensive rubber rain boots that people once wore exclusively to muck stalls in England.

I was speaking at an event recently where there were a number of Levi's marketing department employees in attendance, and it took a mere five minutes for us to devolve into fond memories of our cords. We all recalled the pre-back pack years when high school halls were jammed with girls in shag hair cuts clutching books to their chests, all sporting the multi-colors of Levi's from the waist down.

I honestly don't know quite when the cords era ended. I don't remember outgrowing my pairs or taking them to college (although I must have) or even giving them away. They may live still in some drama department costume closet or in a back lot in Hollywood waiting for a JJ Abrams-produced TV pilot. They may have ended up on a container ship of second hand clothes to Africa, but the odds are they are long gone.

About six years ago, J Crew decided to trot out a line of colored cords and I was drawn to the bright display as I entered the store, the way a gambler heads to the black jack table. It was instinctual. I ran my hands over a pair of lipstick red ones and proceeded to make them mine. They were a bold choice and a total embarrassment to my kids when I wear them, even now. But I have to admit, in my cords I feel totally at home, like a younger, more sassy and plugged in version of myself. Just wearing them takes me back to a simpler, less complicated time in my life, although even writing that sounds somewhat cheesy. Perhaps if you came of age in the '70s you might understand what I mean.

On a recent weekend with some high school pals, we opened our yearbook from 1978, half-wincing, half awestruck at the absolutely awful styles that reigned. It was so much worse than we remembered. The haircuts, those head gear braces straps that wrapped around the skull (really? was that emotional scarring necessary?) the eye glasses (think Charles Nelson Reilly), the over-abundance of facial hair, the unibrows on Miracle Grow. Don't get me started. Our black and white doe-eyed looks of innocence in the face of so many fashion crimes were cringe worthy. How could we have been so oblivious?

There I was, standing with the rest of the yearbook staff, my loud polyester print shirt shining, my bangs feathered and curled back like the Flying Nun about to lift off. And yes, there they were, my baby blue cords, slight flare at the leg, riding down on my hips, hanging over my wooden platform shoes. Total proof to myself and my children, that I had once been the living end, the absolute height of fashion.

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