Gloria Vanderbilt, the socialite to the manor born, promised to give the 99% “the million dollar look.”
Imagine, dressing like a Vanderbilt!
Once upon a time, but not that long ago, a regular gal could be dressed head to toe by American royalty. And this was no fairy tale.
For the millions of young women in the 1970s and ’80s who might never be able to live the posh life of summering in Newport, could, for a small price dress like a Vanderbilt. There were the Gloria Vanderbilt patterned scarves, blouses, and the ubiquitious large plastic eyeglasses.
But it was with blue jeans that the heiress left her lasting fashion imprint.
The storied name of Vanderbilt was once scrawled in elegant script across millions of baby boomer’s butts.
Modeled by the chic heiress herself her socialite status was played up in ads. One TV commercial in 1980 shows a glamorous Vanderbilt saying “They’re the jeans with the social staus. Girls with private jets and fancy pets think they’re the tops.”
But they were also affordable luxury for the average American woman with aspirations.
A cash-strapped secretary could be turned into a swan. Literally. The infamous dark denim jeans with the trademark embroidered swan on the front coin pocket, took the country by storm when they first debuted in 1976 .
For a period of time just as designer jeans were becoming glorified, Gloria Vanderbilt’s bottoms were the tops.
While Millennials likely view her simply as Anderson Cooper’s mother, my parent’s generation remember Gloria as the “Poor Little Rich Girl” whose melodramatic custody battle became known as “the trial of the century.” Captivating a depression-weary public for 13 straight weeks, they watched in wonder as this sad little girl grew up to be a real glamourpuss, her socialite life captured in the glossy pages of Town and Country and Vogue.
But for my generation, this great great granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt founder of a vast railroad fortune and granddaughter of Cornelius 2nd who built the Breakers the most sumptuous of Newport summer cottages will be remembered as a powerhouse in the status designer jean revolution.
For women like myself who came of age in the 1970s we watched her make a quantum leap from the fashion pages of Harpers Bazaar to the commercialism of Seventh Avenue.
The granddaughter of a Commodore had turned into a commodity.
The status jean revolution of the mid-1970s was just beginning. Branded on the back pockets by a known name designer, jeans became the country’s status fashion.
Jeans themselves were evolving becoming form-fitting, a drastic move away from the traditional Levi’s more relaxed, baggy dungarees favored by teen juvenile delinquents of the 1950s and student protestors of the 1960s.
As jeans became tighter, morphing into a second skin, no one wanted to wear jeans that were loose and unflattering.
The quest for the perfect fit became the holy grail of jeans.
As women’s consciousness were being raised, their body consciousness was being raised along with it. Perpetually dieting helped by all the new Lite foods, while exhausting themselves from countless jazzercise classes, a seventies gal was ready to show off her toned body.
But these new tight jeans that hugged every curve of your body were unforgiving. Not only were they snug, but also stiff and hard to bend and breathe in.
Enter Gloria’s perfect fit forgiving jeans.
Gloria revolutionized the stretch jean – her dark denim jeans were not only curve-hugging and tapered in just the right places but you could actually bend in them and breathe in them. No easy feat.
In the mid-1970s, she was designing blouses for Murjani a N.Y. based fashion company. A merchandising expert Warren Hersch had the idea of doing a high profile high society name to put on their designer jeans. Turned down by both the Rockefellers and Jackie O, he approached Vanderbilt who jumped at the chance of doing a line of jeans with a great fit. It became a game changer.
By 1979 hers were the highest selling brand of designer jeans.
Jordache might “give you the look you wanted to know better” and “nothing might come between you and your Calvins” but Gloria Vanderbilt promised to “hit all the best places.”
Despite the Vanderbilt pedigree, these jeans might still have been frowned upon in the exclusive clubs of Newport, but for disco dancing, they were perfect to boogie the night away.