Every girl can wear ’70s dresses — and with 15 trends highlighted in this post, no modern woman has an excuse not to!
’70s clothing are arguably the most sought after styles right now thanks to recent trends on the runway (particularly Spring/Summer 2011) and ’70s style inspiration as reflected in brands like Free People and the newly popular online store Nasty Gal.
’70s dresses are so easy to wear today because vintage styles were cut for comfort and functional fit. Styles were less constricting (no girdles! no pantyhouse! pants OK!) and the “uni-sex” craze helped women feel less pressure to dress like a lady 100 percent of the time (hello, denim!).
The arrival of a mass-produced, ready-to-wear fashion market (factory made clothing) and the popularity of sewing patterns (to create affordable versions of the dress trends at home) is another reason why shopping for a ’70s dress in your style and size is so easy: There’s just a huge abundance of ’70s dresses on the market today.
Whether you love the Grecian goddess, disco diva, crochet cutie or psychedelic princess look of the ’70s (plus 11 other unique styles!) I promise you’ll find the size and style you need when online vintage shopping this easy-to-find, easy-to-wear vintage style era.
I fell in love with the ’70s when I realized just how many celebrity influences from the ’70s there are in fashion today, and because I feel the least amount “vintage” when wearing a 1970s fashion garment. I feel more vintage wearing the ’80s or ’90s, honestly!
Do you love ’70s style, or is it just a funky decade you’d rather forget for the older eras of vintage fashion?
Feel free to scroll through the post to see 15 examples of trendsetting styles of ’70s dresses, or click any of the links below to be taken immediately to the text within the article.
The 1970s did the 1930s when it introduced glitzy glamour into the fashion market of the ’70s woman.
Bias cut silk or silky polyester to-the-floor dresses with revealing necklines, exposed bodices and open backs were all the rage. These styles were usually a solid color or in a pretty ditzy floral, not the psychedelic prints we see appear on other ’70s dress styles.
Own it Vintage: 1970s does 1930s halter gown on Etsy, $48
Wear it now: This “Hollywood Glam” look is often seen on celebrity red carpets today in modern styles, and you can add some famous ’70s fashion pizzazz to your look wearing this style with heels for any formal event in your life.
Blogger Vintage Vixon calls her white ’70s glam dress a “cruise dress.” I love this because the nickname illustrates how this type of dress to wear for a warm weather photo-worthy event, like when cruising into the sunset feeling like a Hollywood starlet!
Prairie style dresses – especially by designer Gunne Sax — were worn by the trendsetting ’70s woman.
The era’s appreciation of Mother Earth (and an affection for the ’30s) made these style dresses popular because of their “all-natural” vibe.
Paired with a vintage floppy hat and leather boots, you can see how this is a classic style of ’70s dresses.
Own it Vintage: 1970s Gunne Sax prairie dress on Ebay, $108
Wear it now: The prairie dress is perfect for pretty fall dressing. Keep it ’70s with the suggested look above (floppy felt hat and some leather boots) or add a bit of Western with a denim jacket and cowboy boots.
Cropping your prairie dress into a mini will instantly modernize it, especially if you remove the “ruffle” tier at many of these styles’ bottoms which gives it more of a costume character “Little House on the Prairie” look.
’70s Gunne Sax is one of the most notable designers of the prairie girl style. These dresses are true collectibles and speak to today’s trends because they are so boho chic!
As this vintage ad by designer and artist Peter Max shows, psychedelia wasn’t just a trend of the ’70s — it was a lifestyle and (for some who never left it) a permanent perspective.
The trend encompassed a variety of prints, from abstract to stripes, checkered, floral and more. Elements to differentiate just any print from a psychedelic one is that the later are usually large cut shapes (note the extra large flowers on my ’70s dress above) and in the brightest hues imaginable.
Designs are also grouped closely with limited “white” space.
Own it Vintage: 1970s psychedelic print flutter sleeve dress on Ebay, $68
Wear it now: Psychedelia is definitely not for every modern woman, but it definitely makes fashion (and life!) more fun.
Perhaps the wisest tip when wearing a dress of this print is to minimize all other accessories or where appropriate, minimize the print by wearing with another clothing garment in a solid color.
Choosing a psychedelic print in the right tones for you is also helpful: Because I’m blonde haired and blue eyed, I do better with pinks, blues and yellows.
Recognize what flatters your complexion and stick to a colorway that fits!
Famed ’70s designer Halston released a line of hooded dresses in the ’70s. These were a reflection of the era’s “sportswear” trends.
Hoods were meant for hoodies, but when worn on a dress? Women could be sporty and sexy at the same time!
Buy it Vintage: 1970s Egyptian style hooded maxi dress on Ebay, $48
Wear it now: Hooded dresses are so rare to find new today, that there’s no reason why you wouldn’t default to shopping one vintage.
Cut in a mini version with pockets and gladiator sandals, and you’ve got yourself sporty-sexy look that hardly looks vintage. In fact … it looks dang comfy!
The empire waist was not an invention of the ’70s — its origins are actually traced to the 1800s, when French Empire royalty Emma “Lady Hamilton” designed the style for use in artistic portraits.
The empire waistline is defined by a produced, defined waistline positioned higher than the natural waist on a female’s body. The empire waist typically rests immediately below the bust, which accentuates the body’s length giving its wearer a longer, leaner frame.
Since maxi dresses were so popular in the ’70s (quite contrary to the marvelous mini of the ’60s), the empire waistline made a comeback in quite the revolutionary (and sort of royal) way!
Own it Vintage: 1970s op art empire waist maxi dress on Ebay, $78
WEAR IT NOW: Chances are you own an empire waist maxi dress in your closet right now. The style was particularly popular around summer ’04, when fast fashion stores sold cotton versions of spaghetti strap maxis with the defined waist.
Shopping a vintage style calls for a pair of chunky platform heels and an affection for bold prints (like the op art style below).
Ladies felt like Grecian goddesses in the ’70s, wearing dresses that evoked imagery of Zeus and Helen of Troy kissing in the clouds.
In all seriousness though, the ruffled neckline, one shoulder and/or asymmetrical cut dresses were a hit for the era. The coloring of a Grecian dress was often neutral (note the pale pink, white and beige styles above) and modest in covering, but totally sexy in slinky-fitted-to-the-bod wear.
Buy it Vintage: 1970s Halston one-shoulder Grecian gown on Ebay $598
Wear it now: Tired of your LBD? Wear a Grecian goddess dress.
The style is best for the long and lean lady, but with an empire waistline the more curvaceous can find a style suited for them, too. Bigger-busted ladies should avoid styles with a ruffled neckline and instead opt for an off-the-shoulder version.
All that’s needed with a Grecian goddess dress is a great updo and a sly smile. Eat your heart out, Helen of Troy!
Source: Found in Mom’s Basement / Felicity Sargent
Designers were constantly traveling to the lands of exotic East (India, Morocco, Shanghai, Istanbul, etc.) and were influenced by the fashions they found on their voyages. Their travels were made possible by the increased technology and affordability behind world-wide travel, which began in the ’60s and reached an even larger market in the ’70s.
Indian cotton became a sought-after fabric to design the lightly pleated gauzy dresses dyed in a variety of colors and Eastern-inspired patterns.
Wearing cotton was a statement for “natural” living and against the synthetic material trend (read: polyester) and factory made clothing that flooded the market in the ’70s.
Buy it Vintage: 1970s Gauze Indian cotton flutter sleeve dress on Ebay, $145
Wear it now: Felicity (shown in the first photos above, and one of my most stylish friends!) picked up a gauzy Indian cotton frock from A Little Wicked last summer. She wears it is in with shades and some sandals.
Rather than glitz it up or try to hard to style it, she wears it “as is” which in my opinion, simply makes these Eastern-inspired garments simply enchanting.
Angel sleeves are sleeves wide from the armpit and cut into the shape of an isosceles triangle.
When the wearer “spreads her wings,” she resembles an angel. The style is a reflection of the ’70s penchant for peace during the tumultuous times of the Vietnam war and widespread global strife and economic turmoil.
Ladies could look like style angels … spreading fashion peace!
Buy it Vintage: 1970s angel sleeve sheer black dress on Ebay, $74
Wear it now: Eating BBQ chicken or anything with sauce can be problematic when wearing an angel wing dress, plus the style can feel overwhelming in material on a petite girl.
Smaller size ladies should wear an angel sleeved dress that’s cut above the knee and ideally, with smaller angel wings!
Larger, more curvaceous woman can rock angel wings especially since it draws attention upward and away from any problem areas below.
The style is quite Stevie Knicks boho chic and with platform trends a never-ending trend right now (read: Jeffrey Campbells everywhere!) the truth is that with a few inches of heel you’ll definitely fly away in style wearing your best version of the ’70s angel wing style.
The crochet trend of the ’70s wasn’t just with dresses — it covered the gamut from sweaters, capes, shorts to even bikini tops and bottoms!
Crochet was perhaps the sexist trend out of the ’70s next to hot pants, high-slit dresses and skin tight jumpsuits. Because at-home sewing was still popular in the ’70s, women were crocheting their own ensembles in whatever style and color they preferred.
Like Indian cotton, crochet was a natural material that unlike polyester, was closer in essence to Mother Earth.
Own it Vintage: 1970s yellow crochet bell sleeve mini dress on Ebay, $250
Wear it now:Crochet dresses are probably the most modern and one of the most expensive of ’70s fashion trends (hence the price tag on the pretty crochet lady above).
But whatever your budget, a crochet dress is a great alternative to lace dresses, a similar material style popular amongst ’60s clothing trends.
Crochet is more casual than lace (as was the entire ’70s decade itself) and can be paired with boots and tights for a day look (which you can’t necessarily do with lace).
The all-white dress of the ’70s is perhaps the chicest trend to come out of the decade.
The ’70s was also known for its sports culture craze and its introduction to the female population. More women than ever were exercising, sunbathing and getting in all-around shape.
So the white dress was the perfect “show-off” piece for the fit ’70s woman to wear: It not only exposed her slender limbs and flat stomach, but accentuated her sun kissed skin.
Own it Vintage: 1970s prairie style white dress on Ebay, $145
Wear it now: A white dress is simply sensational on any complexion (no tan required, I swear!) and especially accessible considering “white” doesn’t just apply to one style of dress.
The ’70s prairie dress trend gets a white makeover with the similarly country style dress above, but without the corset tie bodice and calico print of more costume-y styles.
Like Indian cotton, Eastern-inspired prints were picked up thanks to designer’s frequent travels around the exotic globe. An infatuation with non-Western motifs inspired women of all ages to wear “ethnic” looks not from their homelands.
While the designers knew the origins of the designs, wearers were simply influenced to buy these en vogue designs as available at department stores and specialty shops like B Altman & Co, as we see illustrated in the very candid advertisement about Indian-inspired dresses above.
Own it Vintage: 1970s Byzantine eastern print maxi dress on Etsy, $35
Wear it now: The infatuation with all things “ethnic” (which is a terrible catch-all, as what does ethnic truly mean anyway?) continues today, with Native American prints also having appeared on just about every clothing and accessory garment the past few seasons.
Whether you want to channel a particular period (like my Byzantine print dress from Carla & Carla above) or just look for some Morocco magic in your closet, the ’70s was a closet of the exotica that’s ready and able to be channeled today.
’70s DRESSES TREND #13: SEQUINS
Sequin printed dresses became glam-on-glam ensembles in the ’70s, perhaps inspired by the disco fever or just every woman’s secret desire to be David Bowie’s many alter egos.
Whatever the inspiration, sequins went from tops and clutches in the ’60s to full on “trophy” dresses in the ’70s. Prints were art deco and op art inspired, and silhouettes often weren’t body hugging but rather loose and free.
Own it Vintage: 1970s sequin tunic trophy dress on Ebay, $110
Wear it now: White sequin dresses feel the most modern to the eye, but discovering a crazy geometric sequin dress or a Gatsby-esque ’20s style that works for your style personality is an exciting adventure in vintage fashion shopping.
The favorite sequin piece I own is a royal purple ’70s sequin tunic dress with a sequin wrap for waist-cinching. The dress cost me less than $30 from Second Time Around and I swear, I’ve worn it at least a dozen times since purchase in 2010!
So while sequin ’70s dresses can ring up a pretty price, I promise you’ll end up wearing it a pretty heavy number of times.
When you think of ’70s fashion, your mind goes straight to the strobe lights of a disco fever dance floor.
Totally understandable! The style has left the deepest impression on the mainstream thanks to movies like Saturday Night Fever and the allure of New York City’s late Studio 54.
A woman danced disco in a revealing shiny polyester dress. High slits and cleavage-revealing necklines were standard on the dance floor. The style’s loose and relaxed fits helped her to shimmy and shake to whatever Bee Gees or Diana Ross song was on.
Own it Vintage: 1970s red disco dress on Ebay, Auction
Wear it now: Disco dresses from the ’70s are made from polyester and usually come in a solid color, so adding accessories and layers is appropriate to make the dress feel like she belongs on your body in 2012.
A skinny belt and colored pumps really makes this simply black poly a standout piece.
If you have a disco dress in a more revealing style, cover your chest and wear it as a skirt instead with a ’50s varsity or chunky off white Fisherman’s sweater. You’ll add prep to your disco so you don’t walk out the door looking like a vintage diva!
Caftans became the style de jour for housewives happy to wear something totally shapeless when lounging their day away at home.
Called “loungwear,” caftans were fashionable enough to inspire a change of dress, but comfortable enough that women weren’t necessarily wearing them out of their homes or beyond private household gatherings.
In other words: You weren’t seeing women dancing in caftans or BBQing in the park in one.
Own it Vintage: 1970s embroidered caftan dress on Ebay, Auction
Wear it now: While the caftan style comes off as one giant mess of a MuMu on the hanger, wearing one with a belt is perhaps the easiest solution for modernizing these vintage marvels.
I call them vintage marvels because no caftan is without a fascinating design, as if the lands of Eastern Exotica were literally stamped upon the fabric for you to carry home with you.
Even better yet, the caftan has made a splash as a stylish ensemble at the country’s many summer music festivals. Wear a caftan to Coachella, and I promise you’ll capture stylish eye of a fashion photographer’s lens.
Dashikis are an African style of top and dress with a specific print that comes in a variety of colors. Sleeves are cut into long and narrow isosceles triangles and a slit marks the chest of the garment, which sometimes also includes a hood.
The Dashiki gained fashion traction amongst black women and men in America looking to adopt styles authentic to their cultural histories.
Buy it Vintage: 1970s dashiki dress on Ebay, Auction
Wear it now: While the dashiki is from Africa, a quick search of the style on Ebay or Etsy reveals girls of all backgrounds looking darling in a dashiki.
Blogger Happy Because (love that name!) does it best wearing her dashiki with a leather belt and cowboy boots. A dashiki at knee or mid-calf length in a crimson red looks less like African garb, which is perhaps the biggest fear a wearer would have when wearing one.
But like a hippie dress of any style or origin, the dashiki is all about how you rock — and flaunt — the unique style attributes of it.
MORE 1970s FASHION
CLOTHING: ’70s Clothing You Can Wear Today
PHOTOSHOOT: ’70s Dresses as Modeled by Me from Olive’s Very Vintage
INFLUENCE: Why ’70s Fashion Icons Are Inspiring
HOW TO WEAR: A ’70s Maxi Dress and a ’70s Sleeveless Top
INFLUENCE: What 1970s Fashion Did for Women’s Style
FROM OUR PARTNERS
Paperpast: ’70s Fashion Ad Directory from 1970-1979
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I’m Obsessed: 1970s Fashion Icons She Loves
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PLUS: Where to Buy 1970s Dresses on Rusty Zipper