Have you ever been invited to the 70’s themed party, but didn’t know what to wear? In this article I will explore the fashion of the 70’s, so that you no longer have to guess. Let “That ’70s Show” begin and tune in the disco mode.
What influenced fashion of the 1970’s?
Fashion always responds to what is happening in the world at any given time. The 70’s were no different. The Vietnam War and Cold War resulted in the Anti War Movement, whereas the end of the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Liberation encouraged self-expression through style. Designers responded to these events by adding glamour, sweetness or just plain fun to a gloomy and really frightening landscape, which people wanted to escape. This escapism is reflected by the revival of many art deco motifs and soft, flowery Edwardian style.
But apart from politics – music, movies and subcultures also influenced what was cool or acceptable in the 70’s fashion. Glam rock and disco pushed the boundaries to popularise exaggerated and provoking clothes. David Bowie is my favourite artist from this era and he embodied glam rock to the perfection. His Ziggy Stardust looks and fruitful collaboration with Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto are bewildering up to this day.
From rich to poor, from now most people were aware that wearing specific clothes symbolises being a part of a specific group. This trend was started in the 60’s fashion but now evolved bigger than ever. Punk rock was an interchangeable part of the 70’s fashion for the mavericks, as body hugging clothes were the total opposite to the wide garments of this era. If one designer who specifically catered to them pops up in your head right now and her name is Vivienne Westwood you are right. Her “Let It Rock” shop opened in 1971 changed the name multiple times, offering distressed, outrageous and even fetish clothes.
By the end of the decade the cultural hotspot of the 70’s was in New York, where legendary Studio 54 was a place to go for everyone who’s anyone.
Major fashion trends in the 1970’s
During this decade there were so many trends that it would be hard to focus on just one of them. After all, this decade was all about freedom and experimenting. From many tv shows you might associate the 70’s with bell bottoms and fitted shirts, which is certainly true. But there was much more than this one style. Above all in most cases fashion embraced comfort with wide clothes and leaving corsets or girdles in the past.
Denim on denim
The 70’s was the time when denim finally took over – literally. It was no longer fabric for workwear clothes, but fashionable material for both men and women. It was a thing and it was often bleached, providing a breath of fresh air. Hence denim on denim was a popular choice for many. Designers couldn’t miss this occasion and also jumped on the hypetrain, one of the most successful was Calvin Klein.
During the first years of the 70’s hippie style was still at the forefront. This back-to-the-earth philosophy was transferred to clothes in the form of oversized silhouettes, folky details and fringes.
Most of the movements in the 70’s have roots in England, especially in London so the style was a cultural signifier. To show their rebellious nature people wore distressed cardigans, skinny jeans or latex pants and Doc Martens. Tartan patterns, provoking imaginary, safety pins pierced through clothing and other DIY elements were characteristic for punk movement members. Skinhead movement reached its peak in the 60’s but at the end of this decade it saw a revival. Typical skinheads wore button down shirts or polo by brands like Ben Sherman or Fred Perry, braces, straight cut jeans or cargo pants and sturdy Martens.
Okay, this is what y’all been waiting for. We can’t talk about the 70’s without mentioning disco and clubbing culture. Surprisingly, it became popular in the late 70’s and burned out as fast as it gained popularity. As the music was powerful, creative and catchy so were clothes. High platform boots were a craze for both men and women, as well as high waist pants with exaggerated bell bottoms. The fashion idea was to be seductive, sexy and glamorous. For some women it meant wearing sheer, body exposing clothing like backless halter tops. To shine under the lights sequins and glitter were also popular. Men preferred wide and sharp collars, wide lapels and colorful motifs.
From runway to nay
High fashion was focused on pre-a-porter and divided between easy-to-wear outfits and fantasy garments. If you are a fan of eyewear then you would love signature sunglasses that were popular during the 70’s.
Retailers tried to copy fashion trends from the runway by using cheap materials to maintain an accessible price point. For the most part this material was polyester, which severely affected the quality of the clothes, you don’t even have to touch them to see the difference. In fact polyester was so popular that the 70’s were named the “Polyester Decade.” (although in comparison to today it is still like a drop in the sea).
Famous designers in the 1970’s
Speaking of designers, it was very hard to choose just a few. I decided to write about three, who in my opinion, had the biggest influence on the landscape of 70’s fashion. Write in comments who would you add to this list, I’m looking forward to seeing your picks. There will be no Vivenne Westwood here, only because I already mentioned her in this post.
Diane von Furstenberg revived the wrap dress, the silhouette that was first introduced in the 30’s by Elsa Schiappareli. It fitted to the fashion idea of the 70’s in all aspects, as it is comfortable, easy to wear and empowers free body moves. Diane von Furstenberg describes it the best in her quote:
“All I want is, I think that through the dress, my message is to always tell women that they can be, and they should be the woman they want to be. What we do is celebrate freedom and empower women, and sell confidence, because, in the end, it’s the confidence that makes you beautiful.” – Diane von Furstenberg
Halston was a successful American designer who specialised in streamlined clothes. He kept unnecessary details to minimum, providing classy and chic designs, to some level similar to those of Calvin Klein. One of his signature pieces is shirtwaist dress made of ultrasuede material. Halston’s designs were perfect for every situation, from dancing to dinner at a fancy restaurant.
“Made in Italy” wouldn’t be the same without iconic Emilio Pucci. His designs focused on refreshingly bright colors and abstract shapes printed on fabric. It is like balancing on the line between luxury and avant garde, so obviously people loved it.
Of course this isn’t everything that could be said about the 70’s fashion. If you want to read more I highly recommend resources that helped me with writing this post. I will comeback to you with my take on the 80’s style soon.
“World of Art – Fashion since 1900” book by Amy de la Haye and Valerie D. Mendes