When you think of a standard ’70s dress, the stereotypes of happy hippie girl or disco dancing diva probably come to mind first.
Sure, flower power patterns and sequined spandex are considered quintessential qualities of a ’70s dress, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear them if you want to channel the era into your personal style today.
Despite the boogie woogie and trippy hippie associations of the decade, the 1970s is truly the most contemporary-feeling vintage era when compared with today’s fashion trends.
The proof is on the runways, where last spring designers (Marc Jacobs, Balmain and Etro, to name a few) translated ’70s vintage style elements into a modern fashion language to create ready-to-wear caftans, flared denim trousers, sheer maxi dresses, floppy hats and more.
So since ’70s clothing is so relevant right now and because summer shopping is fast approaching, I visited Olive’s Very Vintage in Brooklyn, New York City to model 5 of the trendiest dress styles from the ’70s to prove just how wearable this decade truly is!
Keep reading after the jump to check out the styles I chose for your vintage viewing pleasure!
My parents were married in 1976 when my mom was only 21 and my father 25 (their first date was at a drive-in movie theater!). I love paging through their wedding photos, chuckling at my father’s inch-thick glasses and my mom’s Edwardian style wedding gown.
Now that I’m 26, I feel like I’m looking at younger versions of myself and I wonder: What inspired their style tastes? How did they feel about the fashions of their parent’s past?
So my question to you is: Do you have a special memory about the ’70s, may it be because you lived the era or love it now thanks to a passion for fashion history?
1970s PSYCHEDELIC FLORAL MAXI DRESS
STYLISH THEN: Maxi dresses are a quintessential style of the ’70s because they were worn by women of all ages and personalities. Once the mini skirt revolution of the ’60s dropped to floor-length styles, women dropped dough and picked up a maxi or two for their wardrobe.
The oversize, psychedelic floral print of this dress is a spot-on representation of the flower power ethos of the era, while its high neckline plays up the era’s Victorian-inspired trends. During Queen Victoria’s rule from about 1840 to 1900, modest necklines were standard style along with leg-of-mutton sleeves, multiple gorge (tiered ruffles) skirts and feminine trim like ruffles, ribbons and lace.
WEARABLE TODAY: Its blend of fuchsia, white, yellow and orange flowers mixed with lettuce green leaves on a bed of deep ocean blue is — while a long list! — not a color overload to the eye, especially when worn under the sun on a high summer’s day.
A girl can feel hot knowing that the straight cut and vertical pleats of the dress gives her a longer and therefore leaner shape. Plus, because the bodice is cut diagonal from the armpits to the neck, eye-catching skin is exposed a la shoulders and arms.
Worn with a pair of strappy flats, you can wear this dress anywhere from a formal summer’s eve event to strolling the streets of your next seaside summer escape!
GET IT VINTAGE: This Lily Pulitzer ’70s maxi is polished with a psychedelic edge, while this floral ’70s maxi has a bit more funk with its overall pink print. Find your ideal style by searching for ’70s maxi dress on Ebay.
Lilac Spaghetti Strap & Ribbon Dress
STYLISH THEN: This sundress is daywear of the prettiest kind, inspired by ditsy floral prints popular in the ’30s. The ’30s influenced how the ’70s styled its trends for women, and this dress illustrates how just a little bit of romantic revival keeps a girl feeling simply sweet.
’70s designer Ossie Clark was a leading revitalizer of ’30s floral designs. He sourced ’30s dresses from London flea markets like Portobello Road to use as inspiration for his own collection.
It was arguably his artistic eye which helped to birth the decade’s bohemian babe trend, represented best by pretty girl dresses like the kind I’m wearing decorated in delicate floral, ruffles, ribbon and tiered gorge skirts.
WEARABLE TODAY: It’s made from a light cotton (versus the period’s popular polyester) and despite being floor-length, is a contender for the sweet ‘n sexy award thanks to its spaghetti straps.
The lilac print’s delicate design is so easy on the eyes, almost radiating a peaceful pretty. Come summertime, its light coloring helps to show off the glow of sun-kissed skin.
Wear this dress in the name of sweet sass to a family event (baby shower, graduation party) or summer social (garden, pool or picnic get together) and if you dare, add some flower in your hair a la the style of Lana Del Rey!
Purple Gingham Halter Dress
STYLISH THEN: Sometimes called “prairie girl” style and other times “pioneer girl” or “peasant girl,” no matter the “P” word used it was all the same: Many ’70s dresses embraced the rustic, homespun look of 19th century Western-moving Americans looking for a better life in uncharted land.
This maxi does just that in a royal purple gingham that Kansas-born Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz would have loved!
Its one-tiered gorge (bottom ruffle), halter neck and bow in the back transform this dress from pretty-for-the-picnic to fit for a pioneer princess.
WEARABLE TODAY: Imagine this dress in a classic red gingham print — it’d be a bit much too much, right? In a red gingham, you’d feel more like a farmer’s wife than fashionable female.
That’s why in royal purple, this dress looks so much of today than its true birth yesterday. Plus, the empire waist and deep V-neck slenderizes your top half so that the A-line skirt and ruffled hem doesn’t seem dowdy.
Feel regal in purple wearing this dress shopping at your local farmer’s market or grabbing coffee with your iPad’s digital edition of the NY Times.
GET IT VINTAGE: The dress I’m wearing is so one-of-a-kind that I couldn’t find one in purple! But here’s a similar ’70s gingham dress in traditional red. Find your ideal style by searching for ’70s gingham dress on Ebay.
Diane Von Furstenberg Marrakesh Style Wrap Dress
STYLISH THEN: It was in 1973 that Belgium-born Diane Von Furstenberg introduced her fashion invention to the world: The iconic wrap dress, a style of daywear fashion that quickly became every smart woman’s go-to staple for flattering, feminine fit.
Compared to more form-fitting styles of the 1950s and early ’60s, by the 1970s fashion had relaxed and styles did too, draping over a woman’s body rather than hugging her curves. By 1976 DVF had sold 5 million wrap dresses, proving to the world that a woman could look chic and feel comfortable at the same time.
This particular wrap dress mixes red and white designs on a beige base, interweaving ditzy dots with a Moroccan mood perfect for spring/summer as inspired by the era’s exotic exploration of lands far East.
WEARABLE TODAY: Not only is the ’70s wrap dress as classic today as it was then, but it’s even more versatile! In 2012, you can wear it for work with a black blazer, to summer lunch with chunky platforms or to an evening date with nude pumps, elegant accessories and a matching clutch.
It’s like owning the perfect pair of jeans or a Little Black Dress. Every girl who wants to — in the famous words of DVF herself — “feel like a woman” should own a DVF-inspired wrap dress in the pattern and color perfect for her.
White Eyelet Open Back Sundress
STYLISH THEN: Eyelet treatment was a popular cutwork to fabric in the ’70s, a nod to the turn-of-the-century Edwardian style elements also favored by designers (The Victorian era and the 1930s were big influences, too).
This dress is a bit Edwardian (thanks to the eyelet) meets prairie girl with its square neckline, one gorge (one ruffle) skirt and long back bow.
It was the perfect sundress then and is definitely appropriate for the same style function today. Just don’t forget to wear some sunscreen, or you may have a slightly dotted tan!
WEARABLE TODAY: Much like the lilac printed spaghetti strap dress of look #2, this dress has that “touch me if you dare” aura. While perhaps not the original intention of its design, this “I’m no so innocent” vibe makes a plain white sundress feel so much more wearable for a girls’ 2012 fashion attitude.
Don’t wear this dress to a wedding, but definitely wear her to a summer dinner date, moonlit dance party or a leisurely afternoon spent shopping.
Thank you to Olive’s Very Vintage for loaning vintage clothing for the creation of this article.
MORE FROM THE ’70s
CELEBS: The Influences of ‘70s Celebs on Fashion Part I & Influences of ‘70s Celebs on Fashion Part II
TRENDS: How Trends of Today Were Influenced by ’70s Clothing
ETSY: Buy the Best ’70s Dresses Online
HISTORY: Learn More About ’70s Styles from Fashion-Era
INSPIRATION: One of my Favorite ’70s Inspired Fashion Bloggers!
INFLUENCE: What 1970s Fashion Did for Women’s Style
MODERN: How to Channel ‘70s Style by Wore Out