Friday, January 10, 2014

Iconic Moment: Linda Ronstadt Wears A Cub Scout Uniform Onstage



By Randi Reed

It’s been buried under her many other musical accomplishments, but in the mid-1970’s, Linda Ronstadt was a rock and roll pioneer. Post-Janis Joplin, and before Pat Benatar, Linda Ronstadt shattered the thick glass ceiling and walls that ensconced the music business at that time by becoming the first female solo rock star to sell out arenas. (Ronstadt was also one of the first--if not the first—mainstream female crossover artists, receiving airplay on rock and country radio simultaneously. But that’s another post for another blog.)

Indeed, Linda Ronstadt was the first female rock star to even be considered viable as a large venue headliner. She proved herself thoroughly, becoming one of the top-grossing rock artists of the 1970’s. In honor of Linda Ronstadt’s well-deserved induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we take a look at one of her most talked about onstage looks at the time: a Cub Scout uniform.

Linda Ronstadt onstage, 1977. (Photo: Ralph Hulett)
Unlike today, in the 1970’s, musicians weren’t courted by top designers. Even if they had been, the formality of designer clothing at that time wasn't what most rock stars would have wanted to wear. A few stars had friends who designed one-of-a-kind items for them, but for the most part, rock artists, particularly women, had to figure it out on their own. Thrift store shopping was where most female artists got their stage clothes, and Linda Ronstadt was no exception. One of those thrift store outings yielded an outfit that caused a sensation: the Cub Scout uniform she wore onstage in 1977 during her Simple Dreams tour.     

At five-feet-two inches tall, Linda Ronstadt’s proportions were right for boys’ clothes. She wore the Cub Scout uniform with strappy flesh tone wedgie sandals and her usual hair and makeup, which took any androgyny out of the outfit. This made it completely non-threatening at a time when, as a woman in a business full of men who weren’t used to working with women, some people might have felt...unsettled, let's say. The outfit was a smashing success: guys thought it was sexy, and girls wanted to be like her, or to be her best friend.

In later radio interviews, Ronstadt would say she just bought the Cub Scout uniform because she thought it might look cute. She couldn’t have picked a better time:

W
hether Linda Ronstadt realized it or not, during the height of the feminist movement of the 1970’s, in the boys’ club atmosphere that was prevalent in the music business at that time, wearing boys’ clothes onstage made quite a statement. It was also an acknowledgment of the sentiment expressed by most of the male musicians who knew her: she was one of them. It may have been subconscious on her part, but that’s the message that was sent and received.

Linda Ronstadt with her band, Simple Dreams tour, 1977 (Photo: Ralph Hulett via http://waddywachtelinfo.com)

And everybody who saw it thought she looked damn cute.


Even now, decades later, looking at the photos, it still works. There has been no shortage of female performers paying homage: not long ago, Madonna sported a Cub Scout uniform on a red carpet. It’s also reminiscent of something Katy Perry might have done earlier in her career. 

B
ut remember, Ronstadt wore it first.

How cool is she? (Photo: Corbis Images. Orig. Photographer Harry Diltz?*)

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*Finding correct photo credits for this post was particularly difficult, as many photographers captured images during this period, and some archives were purchased by other photographers. One was incorrectly dated 1985. I suspect that date reflects the date of a new copyright by a new owner. If you're the copyright owner and I've credited the wrong photographer, please let me know and I'll correct it.

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