Today I found something interesting at a thrift store. It was an old LP by a woman I never heard of. What caught my eye however was the fact that there were 3 images of her on the cover, each of which featured her wearing what appeared to be skintight, shiny, spandex pants. Before I try to describe any further here is the what the cover looks like: I was instantly intrigued by this cover. I knew that those are not disco pants that she is wearing. They couldn’t be. There were no back pockets. Plus those outfits look to be one-piece, though I’m not completely sure. This album was not from the late 70’s or early 80’s. This album had an early 60’s vibe to it. But there is no denying that she is wearing nylon/spandex. After getting home I did some research and found out the record is from 1959. That alone confirms that they are not disco pants but we can surely see that this is certainly an early origin of those wonderful pants I spend a lot of time writing about on this blog. It would be nearly 20 years before shiny nylon/spandex pants would become so popular that men and women could both be seen wearing them–at least in the celebrity world. A natural question that occurs for me is why did it take so long for these pants to become mainstream? What was it about 1978 that finally allowed such a fashion to come into being? Of course most will answer, “It was disco, stupid! That’s why they’re called disco pants.” And that could very well be an answer if not the answer. But everyone knows that these pants were not just worn in disco circles. They were lovingly adopted by disco-hating, big-name rockers and country music artists. Was it just the atmosphere of 1978 that allowed such tight, shiny pants to become popular? Maybe, but leather pants had been in style for music artists going back to the 50’s with Elvis, then the early Beatles and then the Doors and Steppenwolf through the late 60’s and early 70’s. And as I can attest, leather pants should only be worn as tight as possible but they are not very comfortable that way. Nylon/spandex pants would have been a far superior choice because you still get the shiny and skintight without the uncomfortable factor. In fact, one of the first times I wore my disco pants, a friend confused them for leather pants. Anyway, as I researched this Gretchen Wyler lp on the internet I came across another photo of her in tight, shiny, disco-pants-like attire: Obviously that seems to be a similar outfit to the ones on the record cover. But it was from an appearance on the Bob Crosby Show, according to the owner of the photo. Again, there is no denying that these pants are of the same material later used to make spandex disco pants. Their shine, their fit, their elasticity and the way they hang on the body completely confirm that this was an early version of disco pants, but probably reserved only for the world of dancers during this early period. This whole discussion has made me think of another place I saw pants that resembled disco pants but also from a time that would have been too early for them. Here is the image: That’s from the American Graffiti movie/album soundtrack. We know the movie is from 1973 and set to take place in 1962. And the pants she is wearing in this design surely look like disco pants but neither year would support that theory. And we all know that disco pants were very popular at roller skating rinks. She apparently is a roller-skating waitress wearing some sort of skintight shiny pants. I’ve never seen the movie so I do not know whether there is any such character that this drawing is based on. [if anyone out there does know, I’d love to hear about it]. But I can only deduce that these pants must be similar in nature to the ones Gretchen Wyler wore in her photos–probably at the time meant only for dancing, aerobics or other form of physical activity that demanded ease of movement. I don’t believe these pants were street-wear during the 50’s or 60’s for celebrities or for the less-than-celebrities.
This also brings me to the character of “Sandy” in the movie Grease. Grease was made in 1978 but set in ’58-’59. The part everyone most everyone remembers about the movie is the ending where Sandy makes a remarkable transformation from a conservatively dressed girl to a very sexy, provocatively dressed one. Everyone nowadays seems to think Sandy wore disco pants during that final scene. As I’ve written about this before, Olivia Newton-John, who portrayed Sandy, claimed she was sewn into the pants and that they were of a sharkskin material. I think we all realize that there is no need to be sewn into actual disco pants because they are a second skin by nature. So if what she says is right then it’s quite possible the film may have been made with time period correctness and those were not spandex disco pants. However, further research has informed me that pants were an actual pair from the 1950’s that had a broken zipper. So when she talked about being sewn into them she meant that she put the pants on and had the broken zipper area sewn shut. Thus everyone who thinks they were disco pants is wrong even though they do look remarkably similar. I would love to see those pants in person and just end this mystery once and for all.
So a very interesting find today at the thrift store. I discovered that shiny nylon/spandex pants go all the way back to the late 50’s. And they very much resembled the disco pants that would come less than 20 years later. Hope you enjoyed this little trip through recent history with me.