the eternal allure of sunset strip groupies
The inimitable Cat Marnell takes a break from writing her hotly-anticipated memoir to muse on 70s groupie style.
I'm a huge fan of groupies in general: hip-hop groupies, 80s hair band groupies, you name it. But only Sunset Strip groupies circa the late sixties and early seventies are my style icons. With their wild-colored lingerie, platform wedges, feather boas, costume jewelry, sequins, tube tops, brightly colored fishnets, gold hot pants, teeny-tiny skirts, bitches were hot to trot! And their outfits were B-A-N-A-N-A-S, as Gwen Stefani would say. Groupies dressed to get noticed—in a crowd at the concert, in the Continental Hyatt hotel lobby, or outside the limo.
I first learned all about these exotic birds when I was 21 and an intern at a fashion magazine. My editor's father had been tour manager for the Rolling Stones and The Who in the 70s (he also booked the plane that went down and killed Lynyrd Skynyrd, but - that's a different article). Accordingly, my editor was obsessed with groupies, and then I became obsessed with them, too. There were so many greats: Sable Starr, who allegedly got her start by hooking up with Iggy Pop when she in junior high; Lori Maddox, or Lori Lightning, who was hanging off of David Bowie's arm at age thirteen (but had moved on to Jimmy Page's by fourteen); the beautiful Pamela Des Barres, a.k.a. Miss Pamela, who worked as an au pair for the Zappa clan in Laurel Canyon on the side and would go on to write the greatest groupie memoir of all time, I'm With The Band.
Every night at Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco was a fashion face-off! I'd do anything to go back in time and see these foxes there in the flesh, but I can't, of course. The next best thing is an amazing magazine from the 1970s called Star: if you ever come across any back issues on eBay, buy them at once. I have two. The articles read like a guide to groupie style: "Sable had on a black widow wide-brimmed hat over her kinky-blond natural hair […] and a colorful Japanese-looking kimono with wide open slit sleeves exposing a tiny sequin vest and black bikini panties with a scarlet red pair of garters holding up her black stockings," a writer reports in a story titled 'SUNSET STRIP GROUPIES: Who, What, When & How!' "As for Queenie [Glam], she wore a silver lame hot pants suit, revealing incredibly spidery long legs on six inch silver wedgie platforms." Ugh, now I need a pair of six-inch silver "wedgie" platforms. You know?
And the best part is that these cool girls were all, like, creative high school students who still lived with their parents! I mean, it's easy to become a style icon when you're a rich rock star's wife like Bianca Jagger with a closet full of Halston. Groupies were much more resourceful and imaginative: they sewed their own miniskirts and shopped at Salvation Army for vintage clothes back when "vintage" meant dating from the FDR administration. "While my teenage counterparts were happily modding around in brand new, mini metallic/flowered get-ups, I preferred the frothy see-through peek-a-boo-ness of 20s handmade lace […]" Miss Pamela writes. "[Or] the drape of a long beaded cape, dragging the ground behind me, dropping silver and jet beads with every dance step." Swag!
Groupie beauty was amazing, too: the wild hair, the clown-eyed makeup, the post-hookup lipstick smeared just so. I love the look of sparkly stars glued around the eyes—a look I like to replicate at home, using clear false eyelash glue to keep them in place. But I'd really like to try the strawberry ice cream-flavored douches that Miss Pamela used when she was Mick's go-to girlfriend. He became so obsessed with the...flavor, I suppose, that when he returned to England, he pressured then-girlfriend Marianne Faithfull to start using them (she refused, incidentally—though she dutifully tried using jasmine oil instead).
Yup! The groupies were hot and fun like no one else. And their lust for life showed in their style. They're still around—some of them, anyway. A few years ago, Pamela des Barres was having money problems and put up a bunch of her clothes for sale. Devastatingly, I, too, was broke at the time, and couldn't afford to buy anything. Miss Pamela came out with a clothing line called "Groupie Couture" after that, but that shit went out of business. Hey, nobody said that being groupie was lucrative. But it sure looked glamorous.
We'll be rolling out stories by our favorite writers on their personal style icons all week. Read them all here. Who's yours?
Text Cat Marnell
Photography Ed Caraeff for Getty Images