The 70s Disco Fashion 1970s Costume History
1970 women chose who they wanted to be and if they felt like wearing a short
mini skirt one day and a maxi dress, midi skirt or hot pants the next day -
that's what they did.
For eveningwear women often wore full length maxi dresses, evening trousers or
glamorous halter neck catsuits. Some of the dresses oozed Motown glamour, others
Left - Two young women in their early twenties on holiday in the Canary
Islands c1972. The short check flared skirt was very popular, as was the
empire style of the diamond check pattern mini dress. Right - Halter neck
catsuit pattern of 1971. Exotic and tropical prints were a reflection of
designers gaining inspiration from foreign travel destinations.
evening in the early seventies, either straight or flared Empire line dresses
with a sequined fabric bodice and exotic sleeves were the style for a dressy
One frequently worn style was the Granny dress with a high neck. Sometimes
the stand neck was pie-crust frilled, or lace trimmed. Often they were made from
a floral print design in a warm brushed fabric or viscose rayon crepe which
draped and gathered well into empire line styles.
Right - Typical short
and mini dresses worn at an office party in 1972/3. At the front a young girl
wears a long floral granny dress that covers her knees.
successful evening style of the 1970s was the
halter neck dress, either maxi
or above knee.
Left - Black halter neck dress pattern of 1971.
At a disco, girls might
don hot pants. In contrast to the reveal all mini, a woman would suddenly
confound men by completely covering her legs and retort that mini dresses were
an exploitation, rather than a liberation of women.
The influence of the self styled hippy clothes and the mish-mash of 1970s
fashion from every corner of the global village crept into mainstream fashion.
Easier travel meant that people brought ideas and accessories from abroad.
Others looked for designers to provide styles that fitted the mood of an era,
that had returned to nature and was anti-Vietnam-war in outlook.
If travel broadens the mind, enclosed eco systems alter the fabric options.
By the late 1970s women travelling in enclosed heated cars could choose to wear
lighter weight clothes and abandon full length coats. Homes and stores in the
temperate climate of the United Kingdom almost universally became centrally
heated and most women could tolerate a chill mad dash between car and front door
knowing that warmth awaited them.
Long coats gradually began to decline as
an essential winter buy and a series of garments from velvet jackets, quilted
padded duvet coats, hip length wool velour jackets and shaded ombre dyed
raincoats, were all a more usual sight as a quick cover up from the elements.
You are reading an original fashion history 1970s article written by Pauline
Weston Thomas for
The Hippies of the sixties had brought with them clothes from other ethnic
groupings which had often never even been seen before in the west. Nehru jackets
and loose flowing robes from hot countries made their way to world cities and
permeated down to mainstream fashion, helped of course by designers like Yves St
From the mid to late 70s, caftans, kaftans, kimonos, muumuus,
djellaba (a Moroccan robe with a pointed hood) or jalabiya (a loose eastern
robe) and other styles from every part of the Indian sub continent and Africa,
were translated into at home style robes and comfort wear. They were worked in
every fabric imaginable, but were especially suited as glamour dressing when
sewn in exotic fabrics and edged in silver, gold or other metallic embroidered
trims. Right - Kaftan pattern of 1971.
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In the 1970s, every type of ethnic image set a trend.
A peasant fashion
for eyelets with lacing, oversized ric rac braid with false bib parts of blouses
became universal. Real blouses began to appear beneath short bell, or just above
elbow knitwear. The lower sleeves became fuller and fuller so that by the late
1970s they were similar to Victorian
engageantes. Sometimes they were left open and were known as an angel
sleeve. The edging of the sleeve was often of the bordered fabric used in the
main body of the garment. Richly patterned, border print fabrics were
perfect for some of the simple garment shapes of the fashion era.
ethnic influence was so strong that it revived craft skills from far flung
places. Macramé bags and bikinis from the Greek Isles and crochet waistcoats and
shawls from Spain were all high fashion. The poncho was short lived and soon
became a children's style. Gypsy tops with drawn up necklines trimmed with bells
and puffed sleeves were made in cheesecloth or light cottons. In the year of
1978, Broderie Anglaise made a brief appearance as trimmed petticoat hemlines
designed to show beneath peasant style skirts.
At about the same time,
Tibetan and Chinese quilted jackets and square armhole waistcoats, in mix and
match prints were teamed with softly pleated skirts. Sometimes they had
stylised patchwork print effects and were a very pretty feminine fashion.
Indian imported cotton voile dresses overprinted in gold by Phool were often
worn with quilted jackets. The colours were vivid and striking bright pinks, sea
greens and wonderful shades of cornflower blues. Indian silk scarves of similar
designs abounded. It was only in the 1980s when it was widely reported in
newspapers that the dresses were quickly flammable, that they lost favour.
It was during the 1970s that friendship bracelets first became fashionable.
These hand braided bracelets made from coloured yarns were initially made by
teenagers. As the 1970s fashion for teaching friends how to do it flagged,
street sellers started to make income from the craft by weaving bracelets to
order, as customers waited. The bracelets started as fine strips no wider than
6mm, but by 2001 they were often as wide as 2cm.
Foul smelling untreated bags from far flung countries began to creep into the
UK. When they got damp they stank as they had not been cured properly. The same
smell lingered on imported Afghan coats which were decorated and embroidered and
bordered in fur. Sheepskin fur cuffs, front bands and hats with frog fastenings
all gave a romantic Russian look to clothes.
The new longer clothes were
made of floating and romantic fabrics that used cotton voiles and chiffons.
Other fabrics such as Broderie Anglaise, tiny pink or baby blue and white
checks, which had a virginal quality, all looked good in this longer fashion
trend. Cheesecloth clothes with a semi opaque quality were ideal for long
peasant overtops that swung and flared away from the body hiding the waist. They
followed the line of flared and bell bottom trousers.
Trousers and trouser suits were serious fashions in the 1970s.
began gently flared and reached wide bell bottom proportions by about 1975.
After which they slowly reduced to straight and wide until by the end of the
seventies they were finally narrow again. Popular fabrics included heavy crepes,
wool jersey knits, Courtelle jersey and woven Polyester suiting such as Trevira.
Emerald green, apple green and bottle green were all favoured fashion colours of
the early 1970s.
Right - Green trouser suit pattern of 1971. This style of trouser suit with a
hip length tunic, was very typical of fashion trends of 1971 and 1972.
Farrah Fawcett Major and her actress colleagues of the series 'Charlie's Angels'
helped popularise not only flared trousers, but also a rough cut hairstyle
which demanded constant use of tongs, or heated rollers to make the hair flicks.
Many women kept spare electric curling tongs or heated rollers at work, to
maintain the flickups in Farrah style.
Tights sales plummeted when some
women chose to wear pop socks beneath trousers. Heavy crepes used to make wide
legged trousers often emulated the Chanel trousers of the 1930s. They were worn
with small knitted short vests or scoop neck tank tops. Waistcoats were popular
in any length from traditional, to hip length to maxi.
In the early 1970s platform shoes started with a quite slim sole which moved
from ¼ inch up to about 4 inches at the peak of popularity. When they were that
high, individuals frequently got friendly cobblers, or handy men to hollow out
cheese holes from the sole base. A platform shoe with a 1 inch sole was quite
comfortable to wear stopping the development of hard skin and feeling small
stones through the soles.
By the mid seventies the most ordinary people
were wearing two inch deep platforms without a second thought. But accidents did
happen and many a woman and man twisted on a pair of platform shoes. At about
the same time, clogs became popular as they followed the trend for chunkiness of
For those who still liked to show a leg, it became tasteful in the
early 70s to wear creamy white tights with black patent shoes.
the tank top of the 70s was a forerunner to the scoop necked camisole top of the
1980s, the shell of the 1990s and the vest of the millennium. It may be
laughed at now, but it was a useful garment worn with a blouse, or simply worn
blouse free with a matching V neck long style cardigan just like a modern twin
At the same time coordinated colour schemed clothes slowly began to
enter the stores and boutiques. Suddenly it was possible to buy a skirt or
trousers and top and not have to spend hours searching for tops and knits in
other shops that just might coordinate with the items. Mix and match collections
of separates were soon the norm within good department stores by the 1980s.
Knitwear and knitted Raschel or jersey fabrics were the easy classic dressing of
the 70s. Chunky hand knitted cardigans like the ones worn in Starsky and Hutch
were soon paraded around town. The most famous designer of knitwear was Bill
Gibb. His zig zagged knit patterns and complex intricate designs in bright
colours were the inspiration that was much copied by chain stores. In turn these
developed into the picture knits of the 1980s and a blossoming of hand and
machine knitting nationwide, primarily inspired by Kaffe Fasset an associate of
Long knitted Dr. Who wool or acrylic scarves and matching gloves
and knitted chenille turban hats were worn for winter warmth and stayed in
fashion for about two years at the start of the seventies. Likewise footless leg
warmers in every colour including rainbow designs were popular for two winters
between 1979 and 1980.
You are reading an original fashion history 1970s
article written by Pauline Weston Thomas for
Despite the fact that synthetic fabrics were used in many items of clothing
there was still a great following for natural fibres. Cotton velvet and cotton
corduroy in particular were worn at all hours of the day by both sexes. Coloured
navy, bottle green, wine or black it could be teamed with frilled shirts,or open
Courtelle jersey was very popular for all sorts of garments from trousers
suits to tank tops to neat little dresses.
From High Bulk To Low Bulk Polyester
Crimplene which had been so popular to create the correct 'A' line mini dress
of the 1960s was used for every style of garment imaginable. High Bulk Crimplene
began to run out of steam by the early to mid 70s and finer examples of the
fabric like Lirelle had been introduced. Crimplene had been used since the 50s
and was loved for its wash and wear qualities.
The ethnic influence meant
that people were looking for natural fabrics or a fabric that at least looked
more natural. Crimplene was abandoned and continued to be worn only by old
ladies. By the 1990s it was almost extinct yet appeared to resurface in 2000
made into quality tops.
In the 70s Crimplene was superseded by a less bulky version of polyester
called Trevira. Trevira was used to make wide Bay City Roller trousers with wide
square pockets down the leg sides and which were probably the inspiration of
today's combat trousers.
By the late 1970s the scene was set for the fabrics of the 80s. Fabrics like
Viscose Rayon in crinkled textures were used alongside very fine crepe de chine
polyester fabrics a world away from high bulk Crimplene.
or granny print fabrics, looked best in draping viscose rayon. The fabric
enabled the full bloused sleeves to billow and hang exactly as designers
Left typical dress style of the 1970s and sewn in a dolly-bird print with
full bloused sleeves..
Satinised polyester jacquard blouses had been fashionable since the early
seventies, but had always been quite expensive. New technology enabled the
satinised polyester to be combined with the crepe de chine to produce fabrics of
great complexity which looked like real silk and which were ideally suited to
the glitzy dresses of the 1980s.
For some who took a middle line in fashion, the clothes by the designer Laura
Ashley which harked back to country styles and long lost Victorian and Edwardian
summers, gave them the contrast they had sought from the relentless sexuality of
the mini and the exotic caftans. The fabrics were pure dress and cotton lawns
with simple uncomplicated prints of yesteryear. They were a relief to many who
loathed synthetic fabrics particularly in summer.
Cotton jersey emerged as
a mainstay fabric for casual holiday wear. Unisex T-shirts were often tie dyed
as was cheesecloth or plain cotton.
By the 1970s the disco scene was huge and performance dancing was popular
with variations of the shake still around with Jazz tap as the new energy. Disco
dance clubs created a venue for a new kind of clothing called disco wear which
was based on stretch clothes and light reflecting fabrics that shone under disco
The 80s saw break dancing, acid and house influences and a
fashion for footwear such as trainers or Doc Marten shoes suited to standing
bopping around all night.
looks began in the 1970s and was memorable for its hot pants look and Spandex
tops. Shiny clinging Lycra stretch disco pants in hot strident shiny colours
with stretch sequin bandeau tops were often adaptations of professional modern
dance wear that found itself making an impact in discos as disco dancing became
serious. Gold lame, leopard skin and stretch halter jumpsuits and white clothes
that glowed in Ultra Violet lights capture the 70s Disco fashion perfectly.
Right -70s Disco Fashion - Hotpants 1971
Left - 1971 Dressmaking pattern for hotpants worn with mini topcoat.
Disco gave way to dress codes and a door screening policy. People had to have
tried to look right to gain entry to clubs. Disco wear was never acceptable for
day wear, but for night it was the only possible wear to enable the participants
to be part of the action, to be part of the atmosphere of strobe lighting,
mirror balls and spotlighting of individuals at any time. Satin jackets that
reflected the light and a medallion resting on a tanned chest in an open neck
shirt with the collar turned up were de rigueur, however awful such fashions
might seem now. The latter is a fashion male individuals will never admit
they followed, yet for many men it was the equivalent of the iPod accessory or
mobile phone of today.
Films like Saturday Night Fever of 1977 as John
Travolta illustrates in the header, emphasised how important it was to release
all the pent up energy of the working week on the weekend. Posing clothes
designed to show off the body and made in materials like figure moulding stretch
Lycra were ideal.
The elevation provided by platform soled shoes which
were the epitome of the spirit of the seventies, also gave an air of theatrical
space age fantasy as individuals in Lurex and satin flared silver trousers
shimmered as they swayed to the music beat.
Linked to disco was the
fashion for fitness and the craze to feel the burn as Jane Fonda urged in her
Go to the section Fitness Fashion.
Disco was everything that Punk the anti
fashion anarchic movement was not.
Punk began as a very small movement in
the late seventies and was very short lived. It was never understood by the
masses until the 80s when it had more impact as
an anarchic statement on the western economy.
You have been reading an
original fashion history 1970s article written by Pauline Weston Thomas for
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