rtclIt wasn’t so long ago that the Seventies were being tagged as uninspired as far as fashion went. Nevertheless, in recent seasons the “Me” decade has become a source of inspiration for a lengthening list of sportswear designers.

Looks that defined the Seventies – bell-bottom pants, maxi coats, vests, platform shoes, beads, ribbed knits, and cloche hats – are surfacing in collections for fall, resort and spring.

And early indications at retail are that consumers too are embracing it.

Women, tired of the tailored Eighties power wardrobe and now confident of their place in work force are opting for a softer, simpler and more casual style, designers said.

The Seventies derived much of its flavor from the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, when such movie queens as Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn held sway. Designers are probably pulling more from the Seventies simply because its easier to remember.

However, their memories are selective. That aspect of the Seventies, which gave it its bad name as a source of fashion inspiration, is not about to ring up any significant sales, some designers said.

Severe bell-bottom pants, multicolor stripe ribbed knits and three-inch platform shoes do not win unanimous praise among designers.

Vests, easy jackets, loose pants and unrestrictive dressing do.

“I think of the Seventies as a time when American design was really coming into its own,” said Calvin Klein, whose signature resort collection and fall, resort and spring lines for CK Calvin Klein all sprouted some Seventies themes.”then there were the hippie looks. It was really a fun time.

“I’m feeling it now – the whole Seventies style,” said Klein. “Seventies music, for example, sounds great again.

“I’ve gone back and looked at prints and flowers I used to do in the Seventies and used those for inspiration for my signature collection, and with CK I’ve used the influence of the shape of the pants in the jeans area of the collection,” he said. “When I think of the Seventies I think of freedom. The freedom of jeans, the freedom of the shape of the pants.”

Consumers are embracing more liberated dressing as a backlash to the tailored, “Dynasty” look that epitomized the Eighties, said Adrienne Vittadini. She started to get the Seventies fever for fall and is continuing it into resort and spring.

“Fashion is cyclical and people are getting away from those structured, rigid architectural looks,” she said.

“For fall, I started feeling things were getting softer, closer to the body,” said Vittadini. “I loved what Halston did during that era.”

Designers expect the shelf life of the Seventies, though, to be much shorter than that of the Sixties which has inspired designers for almost a decade – witness the everlasting trapeze dress.

“The Sixties were much broader in the clothes that were done,” noted Louis Dell’Olio, senior vice president of design, Anne Klein & Co., who will add a subtle Seventies flavor to his spring collection after making a major statement with it for resort. Looks included midriff-baring tops, long flowing skirts and dresses, and full bell-bottom pants.

“One of the strong things the Seventies had was the whole return of the ethnic look, the gypsy, the flower children, Haight-Astbury, that hippie dippy look. A little of that goes a long way,” he noted.

“The Seventies were about loosening up and people love casual clothes,” said Dell’Olio.

Some designers noted that a lot of what has been dubbed Seventies is open to interpretation since the Seventies drew much of its inspiration from the Twenties, Thirties and Forties.

“I remember in the Seventies everyone was saying, |Everyone is doing the Twenties,”‘ said Norma Kamali. “The Seventies are more a point of reference than an actual interpretation.

“I’m doing bias-cut pants and people say,|Oh, they’re bell-bottoms … they’re Seventies,’ when what they are is biascut pants,” said Kamali. “But the Seventies were the last time people remember seeing that shape so they say they’re Seventies.”

“People are going through a difficult time and there’s a softer attitude that they want when they’re wearing clothes too, freer and more individual like in the Seventies,” she said.

Randolph Duke agreed that the Seventies reference often was a catch-all term. “This is a decade of mixing things up and the Seventies were about mixing things up,” he said. “Maybe that’s why a lot of things that are being called Seventies aren’t actually Seventies.

“The long bias-cut floral dresses the models are wearing are being called Seventies when they’re more Sixties,” he said. “The Seventies also borrowed heavily from the Twenties and Thirties – the cloche hat, the sweater sets.

“It started for me with my fall line,” he said. “Going forward it will continue but it has been less about the hippie influence and more about men’s wear fabrications, berets, wide pants.”

So whatever happened to that Seventies stigma?

“The whole reason the Seventies are getting more interesting is because freedom and individuality is coming back,” said Tracy Reese, the 28-year-old designer for Magaschoni. “The Seventies is still the most poignant decade for people my age.”

“As designers we don’t have to go to the library,” she said. “We can study the Seventies in our own family album. Everyone always thinks the Seventies were so tacky, but there was also that sleek lady.”

“There were some ugly Seventies,” agreed Vittadini, “fringe boots, bell-bottoms done drastically. The Sixties were a much more important decade. There were so many different looks, from the sexy to Courreges, but I love the sleekness of the Seventies, the pared-down look.”