Overnight, it seemed, "authentic" materials like wood, leather, metal, and ceramic were transmuted into synthetic equivalents. The world was suddenly full of skeuomorphs; that is, objects made of the new materials that imitated, needlessly, the superseded characteristics of the old materials, with fake seams and stitching, dummy screws and rivets, and imitation wood-grain and fabric "effects". Car interiors, radios, glassware, toys: anything that had once been made from expensive "real" stuff was now available in a cheaper, plastic alternative.
Naturally, designers soon began to exploit the new shapes, textures and colours that moulded plastics made possible: simple things like airtight plastic containers or carrier bags were a radical novelty back then. At the same time the older materials acquired the cachet of being the real thing, inevitably more exclusive and costly, like the real wood and real leather interior of a luxury car. Apart from being expensive, such "real" materials required care and maintenance, which went against the labour-saving, disposable, no fuss ethos of modernity. Incredibly, there was a brief period of misery in human history when nylon sheets, shirts and underwear -- drip dry, no need to iron! -- were considered quite the futuristic thing.
It wasn't long before a reaction set in. The pop-antiquarian conviction that old stuff is real stuff was, confusingly, both a reassertion of the benchmarks of affluent good living -- can you afford to wear real wool? -- and also a critique of that consumerist "cult of the new" of the 1950s and 60s. This ambivalence about the virtues of The New was a contradiction at the heart of much of "counter-culture", which was, despite its progressive claims and good intentions, in practice quite backward-looking, elitist and even snobbish. That reflex counter-cultural rejection of "commercial" production values in favour of the hand-made and artisanal -- as exemplified by old stuff -- was, in a mass society, a pretty anti-democratic instinct.
Really old stuff, Bordeaux, August 2010
You didn't have to take things that seriously to embrace a fashion trend, of course. In the 1970s there was still enough old stuff installed or lying around in kitchens and sheds for the qualitative contrast of old and new to be an everyday experience. To the discerning, the superiority of a "proper" white vitreous enamel bath over a new plastic bathroom suite in avocado green was self-evident. The fashion-conscious rescued ornamental Victorian cast-iron fireplaces from skips, or uncovered them from behind the plywood facings of efficient but soulless modern gas fires. There was a fad for decorative old bottles and ceramic jars dug out of rubbish tips; antique mirrors and enamel Edwardian advertising placards were scavenged from pubs and shops under refurbishment. Even jukeboxes and pinball tables from the 1940s and 50s seemed more alluring than their contemporary versions. In retrospect, the late 60s and early 70s were remarkable for their obsession with the design-cues of previous decades.
This charity-shop nostalgia -- what would nowadays be labelled "retro" -- was utterly futile as a form of resistance to consumerism, but it did (and does) express a longing for lost authenticity and continuity that is a sort of wound in the contemporary western psyche. It must have been around then that the words "old-fashioned" shifted from a pejorative term to a marketing strategy. What greater guarantee of integrity, flavour, reliability and all-round goodness, could there be than "old-fashioned"? That is, apart from "traditional", "original", "farm fresh", and all the other dog-whistle phrases marketeers learned to deploy.
You might also say it was around that time that post-modernism emerged as a sensibility, and that "lifestyle" began to be seen not as a product of background and upbringing but as a modular set of consumer choices. But, mainly, I think it marked the point where a country like Britain developed a disabling self-consciousness and began to become a fantasy theme-park museum of itself. A skeuomorph, even, with all the old, useless bits carefully preserved.
Perigueux amusement park, August 2010