Picture a woman whose knickers are made of brightly coloured nylon. A breathable gusset isn’t the first thing on her mind: she’s more worried about it heating up, melting even, if she gets within 3ft of an electric fire. Welcome to the 1970s, when saucy ladies wore sheer nylon scanties, pinned up their hair in rollers, kicked off their marabou mules and sipped Babycham. These girls are your new undie-spiration.
Lingerie styles inspired by the 1970s are romping off the shelves at Agent Provocateur. The actress Amanda Seyfried is pouring herself into the sauciest of synthetics for a Linda Lovelace biopic, in cinemas later this year, and images from a 1979 Victoria’s Secret catalogue have gone viral. Even the prime minister has admitted a crush on Cheryl Tiegs, the decade’s top model. The era’s lingerie is back, as is a desire for the frisson that went along with it. “Today, it’s inappropriate to have images of huge vulgarity jutting out of our tops,” says Caroline Cox, author of Grown-Up Glamour. “There’s a return to natural breasts and natural-looking lingerie.”
We are, according to Cox, in the grip of a pneumatic-boob backlash, rejecting padded bras and implants in favour of looser underwear, lower breasts, meatier thighs and rounder bottoms; 1970s underwear was designed to hold that kind of body, in thin, delicate, sheer fabrics. Teddies, sheer bralettes and frilly garters were all at home frolicking on the flower-print eiderdown, worn with split-to-the-thigh satin nighties and sheer dressing gowns to make the milkman stare. So how do we nail the aesthetic? “Practically everything was sheer, so you could see the nipple,” says Sarah Shotton, creative director of Agent Provocateur. “You could also see everything that was going on in your knickers. Suspenders were low-rise — it was like they hadn’t made an effort. The colours were banana yellow, electric blue. Even pubic hair was natural.”
The queen of lo-fi, high-sex lingerie here was Janet Reger, who, while the mainstream was saying an asexual yes to ecru knickers, broke the D-cup mould, yanked out the underwiring, dyed everything fuchsia and became a hit with the 1970s elite. Princess Margaret wore satin Janet Reger french knickers on Macaroni Beach, in Mustique, and Bianca Jagger and Angie Bowie rocked the new wave of matching sets in rainbow shades. The Page 3 girl Jilly Johnson starred in the label’s ads, ushering in a phase of lingerie liberation for British women. “My mother changed the look of underwear,” says Aliza Reger, chief executive of Janet Reger. “She introduced colour. Back then, a brief with a 3in side was scandalous.”
So, as we turn the Vaseline lens back onto our choice of undies today, we welcome the scandal. Pubic hair optional.