What do we picture when we think of 70s fashion and outfits? Some of us might imagine flowy hippie skirts, others recall tall boots and disco jumpsuits that shimmer on the dance floor. All of this was present in the 1970s, but there is a lot more to explore in this fascinating decade. The 70s style played with the old and new, the modern and pastoral, bringing to us many trends that are still around today. Let’s take a look at this groovy time in fashion history and all it had to offer.
Looking to the Past
The fashion that loomed large in the 1960s––between the short shift dresses of the mods and the flowing prints of the hippies––carried over into the early 1970s. Older women still relied mainly on the feminine styles of the 50s and 40s. All these looks slowly evolved over the 70s into something more chic, tailored, and comfortable.
It’s often said that trends return every 30 years, and the 70s fashion trends were no exception. Designers gazed into the past for their own inspiration. Yves Saint Laurent was one of these, his boxy World War II era-type coats causing a stir in the fashion scene. The 1930s and 40s were ripe with opportunities to explore.
Sexual Revolution and Feminism
A lot of 70s fashion was a reflection of new sexual freedoms, particularly for women. Many opted for more masculine styles, such as pants suits, jeans, jumpsuits, and boxy coats. Trousers were more commonly worn by women than in any previous decade. There was also a greater emphasis on making womenswear more practical and comfortable, as reflected in the wrap dresses of the time.
Gazing Into the Future
Evening wear was decidedly more modern than some of the more nostalgic daywear. Glamorous materials like satin and velvet took over; sparkling sequins and glittery silhouettes dazzled on the dancefloor. Feathers were added for extra luxury. Risque halter tops with plunging necklines were especially trendy.
Fashion Icons of the 1970s
There were many stars and designers who influenced the popular looks of this decade. While the list goes on and on, here is a brief look at some of these and how they contributed to the prevailing style.
Bianca Jagger and Mick Jagger
The lead singer of the Rolling Stones and his Nicaragua-born wife Bianca had a big impact on the fashion world of the 1970s. Mick Jagger’s paisley three-piece suit and Bianca’s infamous white Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo jacket were enough to secure their iconic status in and out of the studio.
Bianca also wore slick sparkling evening wear in trendy nightclubs. She is often said to have been the muse of designers at the time.
David Bowie is still widely known today, not just for his music, but for his eccentric and flamboyant style. His Ziggy Stardust tour that took place in 1972 and 1973 featured colorful and unique looks; sharp broad shoulders, one-sleeved jumpsuits, and shiny red platform boots were just some of the styles he sported. Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto designed these iconic looks that played with masculinity, femininity, and an otherworldly essence.
It was mainly actress Diane Keaton’s role in the 1977 film Annie Hall that had a lasting legacy on the fashion world. Her character wore traditionally masculine clothing; baggy pants, a wide-brimmed hat, a black vest, and a tie created an androgynous look. The Ralph Lauren designed wardrobe inspired many women and designers to go for a similar style.
The influence of the 1960s hippie style showed itself through the use of handmade materials and a DIY look. Knitting, embroidery, patchwork, dying, beading, and crochet were just some of the methods that designers began to incorporate into their designs.
Everyone Could Participate in Fashion
While there were many different styles, certain aspects are undeniable of the decade. Even Vogue stated at the time: “There are no rules to the fashion game now.” There was an emphasis on comfort, individuality, and a mix-and-match approach. Ready-to-wear clothing became more easily accessible during the decade.
That meant that fashion trends could reach a wider amount of people at more affordable prices. The 70s has been referred to as the “Polyester Decade,” due to the synthetic fabrics that made this shift possible.
Paisley was a big deal in this decade. This pattern made of swoops and swirls could be found on everything from blouses to boots, to curtains. In terms of colors, the range went from bold and bright colors to muted and earthy. White had a bit of a renaissance, becoming a popular choice for many clothing pieces. Tie-dye also became a staple of this decade, though mostly on younger people and hippies.
Exotic, colorful prints were popular, especially on those classic flowing caftans. Animal prints also experienced a resurgence during this time. Leopard and cheetah print rose in popularity. The zig-zag chevron style also had a resurgence.
The Infamous Bell Bottoms
Also called wide-legged pants and flare pants, this is a look most of us associate with the 70s era of fashion. While some bell-bottoms were blue or brightly colored denim, many women wore high-waisted cotton and polyester versions. Palazzo pants were the widest style, broad and flowing from hips to ankles.
Lots of Denim
While denim had been around for nearly a century by the 70s, it hadn’t started entering the mainstream until the 50s. Initially, jeans were seen on rebellious youth and the working class. Later, feminists wore jeans in support of gender equality. By the late 1970s, denim became commonplace in womenswear. It was often embellished with patches, flowers, and other stitches.
Hot pants were a brief trend at the beginning of the 1970s. The ultra short shorts had about 2-inch inseams. Most were very high-waisted. They were often paired with chunky mary janes and knee-high socks.
They were actually popular winter wear when paired with a heavy coat and turtleneck. Most shorts were made of denim, polyester, and cotton during this time. Later in the decade, longer shorts were more common. Many mimicked the safari look with big pockets.
Although the mod-type mini-skirt of the 60s was still popular, ultra-long maxi skirts became a growing trend. They were yet another take on the prairie, or granny, look. Often high-waisted, these flowing garments frequently came in floral, patchwork, or tribal patterns. A lot of hippies made and quilted skirts like these out of older garments.
Dresses and Bodysuits
Women in the 70s could be seen in jumpsuits at work, on the go, and even at evening soirees. They came in many materials, from stiff denim to stretchy polyester. Jumpsuits were usually flared at the pants and even the sleeves, though sleeveless styles could also be worn. It’s no surprise that these became so heavily associated with the disco scene––they were ideal to move and dance in.
The Prairie Dress
The prairie dress, also called the peasant or granny dress, was a popular style amongst young people and hippies. This look played with a mix of modest Edwardian fashion and hippie folk art. Most were long and flowing, embellished with lace and embroidery. Some had draped ruffled collars, others featured a stretchy bodice and spaghetti straps.
Diane von Fuerstenberg was largely responsible for the wrap dress trend of the 70s. What made this style so popular was a host of things: it was comfortable, simple, and could transition easily from work attire to evening gown.
Their flowy nature was also great for dancing at the disco. More casual dresses were often in cotton and polyester, while fancier evening iterations came in chiffon and gold lamé. Today, the wrap look can be found in dresses, shirts, and even swimwear.
Plenty of dress styles that had risen in popularity in the 60s carried over to the next decade. Although there were still a lot of tailored dresses, there was less of an emphasis on waist definition as there had been in, say, the 1950s.
Mini dresses with dropped waists and jumper dresses––similar to an overall dress––as well as tunics were common. These were often worn over turtlenecks. Polyester double knits were also a usual style. In terms of embellishments, you would often find large buttons and long collars.
As the 70s progressed, dresses did shift into a more waist-tailored style. A-line shapes, belts, and pleats helped create a feminine form. The button-up shirtwaist style was quite popular for dress tops. Flowy dresses with bell sleeves and floral patterns came into style for teens and often featured drawstrings around the waist.
T-Shirts and Crop Tops
T-shirts started their rise to prominence in this decade. It was a popular way to show off funky slogans or support for your favorite band. Many T-shirts sported the ringer style with dark or light-colored bands around the sleeves and collar. A more common alternative to the T-shirt was the form-fitting knit crop top or polo shirt.
Blouses and Tunics
The blouses of the 1970s were generally modest, like peasant blouses, buttoning all the way up to the neck. Wide collars and bows at the chest were popular additions and many featured balloon-type sleeves. Silk blouses became more affordable during this time, though some had to settle for less comfortable synthetic options.
Tunic shirts and prairie blouses offered a more comfortable alternative to the traditional blouse. Floral and patchwork prints decorated the peasant-like prairie blouses; these also featured wide, sometimes square, collars, and breezy sleeves. Tunic shirts were loose-fitting and long. They allowed for a wide range of motion and generous space to hide a tummy or wide hips. Stretchy belts created a waist-cinching effect.
Hippies brought about the clog craze of the 70s. They were inspired by the footwear worn by workers in Sweden and the Netherlands. These chunky shoes featured wooden soles and were sometimes painted with flowery designs. The heel was usually left open, making it easy to slip in and out of them.
Although they were originally a nostalgic callback to the 1930s, there are few who don’t associate platform shoes with the 1970s. Whether they were attached to Oxford-style shoes or sequin-studded boots, many had a pair in their closet. They were most popular at the disco. Some were as high as 5 or 6 inches.
Strappy sandals became a popular summer look during this time. First worn by the hippies, they started gaining more mainstream traction. They were often accompanied by platform heels or flower accents. Sparkly versions could also be found in the disco.
Athletic shorts became more mainstream during the 70s. Cotton twill or terry cloth were popular fabrics for athletic tanks and shorts. Jersey jumpsuits, jogging suits, and tennis shoes made their way into popular athletic wear. Sneakers began to be worn more casually, signaling their rise in the 1980s.
Androgynous Men’s Fashion
Though this article is mainly focused on women’s fashion, men’s fashion of the decade is not to be overlooked. The divide between genders became more blurry, allowing for some crossover in styles for both men and women. The “Peacock Revolution,” as it was called, allowed men to wear bold, funky colors and prints that stood out in a crowd. Some thin men even shopped in the women’s section.
The silhouette for men in the 70s was mainly tall and slim. High-waisted pants and belts emphasized a small waist. Shirts and slim-fitting turtlenecks became tight and streamlined. As with women, wide pants were fashionable. Some magazines even sold matching jumpsuits that could be worn by men and women. Towards the end of the decade, broad-shouldered tops and jackets became more popular.
The Beginning of Punk Rock
Although it wouldn’t find more of a mainstream audience until the 80s, the end of the 1970s saw the emergence of a new style: punk rock. It took off first in the UK, spreading to the rest of Europe and North America. This subversive look emphasized denim, a DIY style, and a bit of a shock factor. Young people ripped shirts, work black leather pants, and platform black boots. Safety pins were common embellishments.
The Legacy of 1970s Fashion
The lasting impact of this decade can be seen in fashion all around us. Wrap dresses, mini skirts, and platform sandals are just some of the styles that still have a steady grip on mainstream clothing. Even bathing suits take inspiration from the 70s!
Accessories like knee boots, a floppy hat, and sunglasses stole the spotlight. With thrifting and upcycling vintage clothes becoming a growing trend, we are sure to see more authentic 70s styles back on the streets. However, it’s safe to say that the 70s have never left us––this mini fashion revolution is sure to inspire people for years to come.