Tom Wolfe called the 1970s the "Me Decade."
Across the land, Americans seemed determined to escape from the wars and social movements of the previous decade. Disillusionment with national and global action led many to look inward and find solace in discovering more about themselves.
A magazine entitled Self sold thousands of copies. Women demanded respect as equal partners. Fashions veered toward the outrageous and ridiculous, reflecting the glorification of rule breaking and self-expression. The sexual revolution took hold from the inner city to the small town. Therapy sessions mushroomed as Americans in all walks of life searched to find "the real me."
Every rule of fashion was shattered in the 1970s. Lapels, ties, and collars, reached record widths. The polyester leisure suit, available in a palette of citrus and pastel colors, was extremely popular among young males. The jacket, pants, and vest were often worn with an open collar to display thick necklace chains nestled in exposed chest hair. Hair was large and long for both males and females. Afros proved popular. Sideburns were long and bushy.
Bellbottom jeans and hiphuggers were the rage on many college campuses in the early 1970s. Platform shoes, which sometimes added as much as a foot to a person's height, were introduced. Despite the machinations of the fashion industry, skirts remained short for much of the decade, and the string bikini shocked or delighted millions on America's beaches. In the late 1970s big name labels become appealing as thousands of Americans rushed to purchase expensive designer jeans.
The sexual revolution had its roots in the 1960s, but this trend moved from the college campuses to the average American household in the 1970s. Birth control was more widely used, and young people experienced more sexual partnerships with different people. Venereal diseases became much more widespread.
As women asserted themselves economically, socially, and politically, the idea of remaining trapped in an unhappy marriage became less and less appealing. Consequently, the divorce rate soared. An 1974 book entitled The Courage to Divorce encouraged individuals to put their own happiness above that of their spouses and children.
Nowhere was the self-indulgence of the 1970s more evident than in the fads of the decade. New forms of therapy were introduced to help a person find oneself. Disco music and the disco scene capitalized on the widespread desire to forget daily troubles and just have fun. Temperature-sensitive mood rings were a bogus attempt to display inner feelings outwardly. Public streaking showed a desire to break society's norms and to show comfort with one's own body.
The height of the ridiculous was reached in 1975 when an entrepreneur named Gary Dahl sold common rocks to thousands of Americans advertised as the pet rock. These "pets" were peddled with accessories and guidebooks, incurring the wrath of cultural critics across the nation who believed a new low had been reached. Whether Americans were searching for meaning, escaping from the daily grind, or simply looking for a good laugh, the 1970s marked the height of self-expression, mixed with a healthy dose of absurdity and poor taste.