Decades before working girls fell in love with Carrie Bradshaw’s designer wardrobe, they longed for Mary Richards' tailored separates.
Like Bradshaw, Richards -- played by Mary Tyler Moore, who died Wednesday at 80 in Greenwich, Conn. -- was a thirtysomething working journalist who stylishly balanced her professional with her personal life.
And like we did with Bradshaw, women of the freewheeling '70s wanted to be Richards. They emulated her hair, her makeup, her apartment -- even her hat toss.
“They saw who they wanted to be, how they wanted to look, and how they wanted their lives to be,” said Clare Sauro, curator of the Robert and Penny Fox Costume Collection at Drexel University. “They saw themselves reflected in her.”
At a time when America was used to seeing women on the small screen as housewives, Moore's character braved the male-dominated workforce in miniskirts and go-go boots. As she moved up the ranks, she turned to tailored separates and jersey pantsuits. Blouses were long-sleeved and soft, often with a pussy-bow detail. She liked neutral hues: mustards, muted browns, and burgundies. It wasn't about the label -- although costume designers employed Evan-Picone to fashion her on-screen wardrobe -- it was about the look and the vibe.
“They did such a good job evolving the character,” Sauro added. "She starts out as an ingenue and we just see her develop. As she finds her place in the world, you see those amazing separates in jersey and plaid. It's tailored and chic, but it's also feminine and practical."
Richards would mix and match separates that would repeat throughout the season, creating a more realistic look.
Moore had a fashion reputation in Hollywood before the Mary Tyler Moore show aired. From 1961 to 1966, she played housewife Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Creators wanted Moore to adopt a June Cleaver look -- meaning, she'd always be in a dress. But Moore wouldn't have it. Instead, she wore cigarette pants and ballet flats. Her reasoning: Women did not vacuum in good clothes.
“This was a big deal, as people were a little outraged because you can see the curve of her bum,” Sauro said. “The reality was that she was immediately something women responded to and looked to as a style-setter, championing a realistic view of women’s lives on television.”
Her influence can still be spotted in the closets of working women today.