I couldn’t let August slip by without celebrating the 50th anniversary of Barbra Streisand’s thirteenth studio album, Barbra Joan Streisand. Released in August, 1971 this marked Streisand’s second album in the contemporary music world following February, 1971’s Stoney End. Both of these albums were produced by Richard Perry. Barbra Joan Streisand peaked at #11 on the Billboard Pop charts (certified Gold by RIAA), but in my opinion desevered far better. The album has stood the test of time and is still feels current. Though there are multiple outstanding tracks, just three songs were released as singles. “Where You Lead” managed to reach #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart but Streisand’s cover of John Lennon’s “Mother” only made it to #24. The last single, “Space Captain” didn’t chart at all. Joe Cocker recorded Space Captain in 1970 and if you love the song his grittier rock version is totally worth a listen.
Always one step ahead of fashion trends, Streisand’s look changed with the turn of the decade like the flip of a coin. This album cover reflects the shift in her style that happened in late 1969. Around this time Barbra began to grow her hair long and transition from the haute couture she wore in the 1960’s to wearing more casual and comfortable clothes, as most women were doing at the time. In the 1970’s women gained new freedoms and their fashion choices followed.
Looking like the picture of an early 1970’s stylish young women, the key art for Barbra Joan Streisand featured Barbra rocking a newsboy cap and a simple tie-dye T-shirt. Others photos taken by Ed Thrasher during a recording session for the album were used in a collage featured inside. Here we get a better glimpse of the full outfit, which included a simple pair of jeans.
Newsboy caps have a rich history dating back to 1571 England. Though the wool trade industry was booming in Spanish owned territories, it was not doing well in English and Ireland. In effort to boost the domestic wool industry, Queen Elizabeth I proposed a law that required all males (aside from upper middle class and nobles) over the age of six to wear wool flat top caps on Sundays and holidays or face a fine. The legislation was passed by parliament, although many found it ridiculous. Due to the class division, wool flat tops caps quickly became a staple of working class Irish and English men. When the law was lifted twenty-six years later, men had grown fond of their wool caps so they remained popular. They continued to be worn over the course of several centuries and were eventually brought to America with the masses of Irish immigrants. In the mid 1800’s as the Irish began to assimilate, flat caps started to evolve in both design and fabric options. Hats with eight-panels and a button at top center, which somewhat resembled the Scottish tam o’ shanter began to be worn as much as flat top caps. By the early 20th century, newsboys were often seen wearing these eight-paneled hats as well as traditional flat top caps, thus leading to their new nickname. The newsboy hat is called a multitude of other names including the baker boy, paddy cap, cabbie cap, golf cap, driving cap, derby and more. They quickly became trendy in Europe as well as America. Unlike its predecessor these hats were not just worn by the working class, they were worn by upper class men as well. Newsboy caps reached the height of their popularity from 1910 to the 1920’s and had mostly fallen out of fashion by the 1930’s.
By the 1970’s newsboy caps were making another comeback. Aside from the cover of Barbra Joan Streisand, Barbra brought the newsboy cap to the forefront again in 1972’s What’s Up Doc and would go on to wear another newsboy cap on the cover of Songbird in 1978. Streisand’s trendsetting power at the time certainly helped to boost this hat style’s popularity.
The other standout element of Barbra’s casual chic look was her fitted tie-dye T-shirt, which she wore with the short sleeve hems flipped up.
Tie-dye shirts are most associated with the hippie movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, but tie-dye has been worn in America since the 1920’s. The most noticeable difference in 1920’s-1930’s styles are softer, more blended colors in contrast to the vibrant psychedelic colors and circular motifs seen in later years. During the Great Depression, tie-dying clothing and home decor became a way for women to reinvent older items without spending money.
Tie-dye was first documented in Asia, specifically from 618-906 C.E. during the Tang dynasty when it was called xié. Dyes were made using all natural elements such as flowers, spices, fruits and berries that were then boiled with silk that was let seep during the drying process. The process of twisting silk and tying it with string was quite tedious. This type of clothing was eventually banned during Song dynasty (960-1279) for being too extravagant. In Japan, the art form (known as shibori) was used during the Nara period (710-794 C.E.). The term shibori is derived from shiboru, which means to wring or squeeze. Later, during the Momoyama period (1574-1614) a new tie-dying process called Tsujigahana, meaning “flowers at the crossroads” appeared. This involved drawing on cloth with a Chinese ink called sumi, embroidery and impressing foils such as gold leaf. This was likely followed with repeat resist dip dying, though the exact technique is still mystery. These effects created stunning garments that were highly coveted at the time. When men died, these garments were passed down as heirlooms, however when a woman died they were often given away to Buddhist temples who recycled them into decorations.
The popularity of tie-dye clothing continues to come and go every few decades. It most recently had a brief comeback in 2019. Streisand’s Barbra Joan Streisand cover look remains the perfect depiction of early 1970’s trends. It was as contemporary as the music the album contained.