One of my favorite fashion decades is the ‘70s because, for the first time in fashion history, the American female was purchasing clothing for various activities and occasions in her life, including home, office, formal, and casual wear. The opportunities to buy “different” kinds of clothing had expanded — which ultimately led to the expansion of the American female’s closet, too.
While the average woman of the previous decades was a stay-at-home housewife, women of the ‘70s were gaining part-time and full-time employment more than ever before. Denim wasn’t just for women on the Western range but rather for the working mom and woman on the go.
Because life was moving faster than ever, women were sewing their clothing less and less. Rather, they purchased their ‘70s dresses ready-made at department stores and from catalogs. With ready-made apparel so much more popular, trends came and went at faster speeds.
The influences of the lively, disco-infused party scene trickled into mainstream fashion, too, making platform wedges, glitter, and just about polyester-anything must-have items both on and off the dance floor.
Plus, ‘70s celebrities were influencing fashion trends more than any other era thanks to greater accessibility to the visual communication of magazines and television screens. Bianca Jagger put designer Halston on the map, Jane Birkin made denim chic and invented the Birkin bag, the movie Annie Hall made menswear chic for women, and Liza Minnelli showed the world how to wear a jumpsuit and sequins with grace.
The 1970s was a free-spirited time not only of fashion revolution but political, cultural, social, and economic change for the American female, too. These changes — while considered normal by today’s standards — had major influential shifts on the styles and the lives of the modern ‘70s woman. After the ‘70s, fashion for women continued to be liberal, creative, and free.
From the Working Girl practicality of crepe ascot blouses to the casually cool vibe of Jane Birkin in wide-legged denim, keep reading after the jump to learn the fashion history of 10 different ‘70s clothing trends that seem so modern, you’d never guess they were vintage!
Clothing of the ‘70s recently experienced a revival in modern fashion because quite a few trends of the 1970s resemble styles worn by the contemporary woman of today. Maxi dresses, floppy hats, and the signature Missoni chevron stripe are all very 2012… except they’re so very not in regard to true origin!
That’s not to say every single ‘70s trend is on point with 21st-century mainstream fashion. The ‘70s punk, ‘70s disco, and ‘70s flower child styles are too extreme to be worn on the everyday. It’s best to channel elements of these quintessential ‘70s styles than it is to duplicate the look to a tee — unless you want to look like you’re wearing a costume!
I’d love to hear what the ‘70s trend you love most from this list by leaving a comment on the post. If I missed one you love, let me know about that too!
’70s CLOTHING TRENDS
Feel free to scroll through the post to learn all about ’70s clothing trends modern for today – including workout outfits – or click any of the links below to be taken immediately to the section within the article!
One simple way to dress 70s with normal clothes is to start with flared jeans or a denim skirt paired with a graphic T-shirt or a flowy blouse. Layer on accessories like oversized sunglasses, hoop earrings, and platform shoes. Finish the look with a bandana or headband in your hair and embrace the retro vibes!
BELL BOTTOM JEANS
Bell bottom jeans, first inspired by naval attire, unquestionably underscored the 1970s fashion scene. While their popularity was sparked in the 60s, bell bottoms truly soared in the 70s, owing significantly to trendsetters like Cher and Jane Birkin, who flaunted them with unique style.
Known alternatively as loon pants, these jeans boasted a distinct flaring from the knee, creating an iconic silhouette. Paired with platform heels, boots, or even clogs, bell-bottom jeans were the epitome of 70s glam.
Today, bell bottoms have made a sartorial comeback, albeit with a new name and slightly tamer proportions as flared jeans. These retro-inspired jeans team well with tight t-shirts or tucked-in peasant blouses and the style can be elevated with a 70s-inspired tailored blazer.
The “ascot” is anything attached to the neck of a shirt. There are different kinds of ascots, from simple ascot ties (which can simply hang or be tied into decorative bows) to my favorite, the “crepe” ascot.
A crepe ascot (shown above) is type of ascot that lays like the ruffles of a jabot. It’s essentially taking the of the ascot but preventing its wearer from “tying” it in any sort of fashion. It just lies as is.
Ascot blouses have many a nickname, including “secretary” blouses, “pussy cat” blouses and even “working girl” blouses because their increased popularity in the ‘70s can be attributed to women wearing them as they increasingly entered the office-focused workforce. American Bureau of Labor statistics show that in 1970, nearly 40% of the American female population were employed. By 1979, that number jumped to nearly 48% of women in the workforce. That’s a lot of secretary blouses going around!
Unfortunately the nickname secretary blouse is demeaning because it insinuates that if working, a woman was supposed to be a secretary. Think of Polly’s character in Mad Men and the terrible prejudice she had to experience to work her way to the top — “secretary” blouses and all.
The interesting history of the ascot blouse doesn’t stop there. The ascot reached its height of popularity as a men’s style in the 1800s. Beautiful silk scarves were worn in multiple decorative fashions below a sports jacket in the area around the neck where a man’s shirt would normally show.
The ascot tie gained popularity in mainstream fashion once again by the ‘60s, but this time it was more popular for women to wear feminine, decorative scarves around their necks in various fashions. This trend then transitioned into the ascot tie “secretary blouse” because the ascot tie was almost like having the feminine version of the man’s tie in the work place.
So while women weren’t actually wearing men’s tie, the ascot tie blouse was almost a way for them to declare with their style that they were dressed to work.
FAUX ANIMAL PRINT FUR COATS
The faux fur industry took off in the late ’60s and was worn in lieu of real fur as waist coats and dress coats. It came with appropriate timing, too, because the need to wear the warmth of real fur was increasingly becoming less with the advent of heated cars and public transportation. Women didn’t need to “bundle up” 24/7 — they could wear less when traveling to and from destinations thanks to modern technologies and accessibility to them by the average American.
’70s styles in faux fur coats were more designed as “jackets,” garments slightly past the waist clasped with zippers or buttons instead of more fancy enclosures seen in previous eras. The entire outerwear trend became more casual in the ’70s, which was a reflection of the more casual clothing women were wearing all around. Who would want to wear a fancy coat over denim and an ascot blouse?
The popularity of the “faux fur” industry has an interesting history, one of which stems from the near extinction of leopards as influenced by Jacklyn Kennedy’s wardrobe choices!
So when First Lady Jackie Kennedy was encouraged to wear a leopard animal fur coat by Oleg Cassini — one of her most prized couturiers during her time at the White House — she was excited to change up “the fur look” in a fresh way.
Well, who would have known that once Jackie O wore her real leopard coat as designed by Cassini, that the woman of America would demand their own versions — and that over 250,000 leopards were hunted and killed to meet the consumer’s fashion demands?
Because Jackie was an influential fashion force of her day, this is exactly what happened. Cassini has worked to redeem his influence on the near extinction of the leopard population by funding the development of synthetic fur called Evolutionary Fur, which essentially duplicate the spotted design of the leopard without harm to the animal.
So, because Jackie’s fashion sense created a fashion massacre, it became popular to channel the animal print trend through it’s faux fur counterparts.
Faux fur was technically invented in 1929, but thanks to Cassini’s efforts as well as increased technology of synthetic fibers in general, the industry was able to capitalize on a tragedy and turn it into a trend.
The chevron is a type of stripe that rather than move upward vertically or across horizontally, is a mix of both up & down as a diagonally cut array of upward pointing arrows. It’s best described as an “inverted V,” almost like the side of a square turned upside down into a rhombus, and then split in half.
Beyond fashion, the chevron is most commonly associated with being an insignia to denote the rank of people working in the military or police professions. The chevron stripe is used on the badge to illustrate their rank standing. One can also find various degrees of chevron stripes within the design of flags and also as the symbol of car company Chevron!
The ’70s trend of the chevron stripe in both dresses and skirts can be attributed to the era’s popularity of the Missoni brand, which incorporated the zig-zag flare of the chevron stripe into its signature designs.
Founded in the ’50s by husband-wife duo Tai and Rosita Missoni, the brand was promoted by Vogue magazine editor Diana Vreeland and thereby catapulting this European brand to American prominence by the early ’70s.
When a designer’s signature look becomes trendy, knock-offs emerge at lower price points. Hence the mainstream trend of the chevron stripe, which was a key component of the multi-colored kaleidoscope zig zags of the Missoni “look.”
A “floppy” hat is a wide-brimmed hat with a circle, almost bucket-like top. The floppy hat is called floppy because it does just that: It’s not a static fit on your head and can be adjusted and moved accordingly. Floppy hats are also called sun hats or field hats because their wide-brims prevent the sun from hitting a person’s eyes and face.
In the ’70s, floppy hats were typically made from felt material and available in a variety of bright colors to match a woman’s outfit. They sometimes were decorated with flowers or other earth-inspired materials (see Bridgette Bardot, above) or accented with a simple ribbon bow.
Previous to the ’70s, women wore hats to match their outfits. A woman’s hat collection was by far the equivalency of a modern woman’s shoe collection today — you simply needed to have that one hat to match that one outfit!
By the ’70s, wearing a hat everywhere you went just wasn’t practical to the conveniences of the time. It was a style still embraced by the older populations, but baby boomers and those who followed adopted their own hat trends which were more suitable to stylish practically of blocking the sun and channeling the era’s organic, natural vibe.
Today hats are still embraced by a niche percent of the American female population. The floppy hat has made a comeback, sold new in trendy hipster stores like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel. The Marc Jacob’s runway for spring 2011 embraced the return of the floppy hat in exaggerated shape and blindly bright magenta hues.
Fashion-savvy women of the 1970s embraced flared pants as a stylish and comfortable deviation from the norm of form-fitting trousers. Crafted from soft, flowing materials such as cotton, linen, or polyester, these pants showcased bell-bottomed legs, creating an iconic silhouette. The versatility of these flared pants was evident, as they could be paired with a simple tank top for a relaxed look or a bold, statement blouse for a more refined ensemble. Depending on the occasion, these high-waisted pants could be effortlessly dressed up or down, marking them as an essential staple in any fashion-savvy woman’s wardrobe during this vibrant era.
Flared Jeans found their way into the drawers of the American teen as early as the ‘50s, but it wasn’t until the ‘70s that woman were wearing pants, let alone pants made from such a casual material as denim.
Wide-legged, flared, bell bottoms … whatever you want to call them, they were in for the contemporary female by the mid ‘70s and worn by celebrities like actress Jane Birkin, above.
Before the ‘50s, denim was still something to be worn by a miner, farmer or other blue collar, toiling worker. Beginning with the baby boomer generation, “jeans” transitioned into everyday casual wear by teen boys and girls.
While we most commonly associate the specific wide-legged jeans with the hippie generation of the 1970s, this denim style was more common than you think.
Denim-only brands were founded or grew from previous origins to gain market share over this growing trend, introducing cleaner, sleeker versions of the “hippie denim” associated with work wear grunge and a general alternative lifestyle.
Still, The average woman wasn’t wearing jeans like the average woman does today. Now, wearing jeans is as common as owning a pair of socks. In the ‘70s, on the other hand, our “elders” were still wearing conservative skirts and/or pant suits. It was the easily impressionable youth who sought after the denim craze as led by brands like Levis, Lee and Wrangler, all of which still exist today.
Prairie dresses are a mix of European Medieval peasant dresses and the American Little House on the Prairie country-girl style.
This ’70s dress style is best epitomized when designed with a high or square neckline with attached lace ruffles at the chest, ruffles at the sleeves and a layer of ruffle to finish off the dress skirt.
The dress is cut as a high-waist line and usually has a wrap tie. Prints range from calico to floral to a clean all-white look. Prairie dresses can be both maxi or knee-length, but hardly ever mini.
Prairie dresses were conservative, country-girl styles that spoke to the era’s influences of following the natural, organic lifestyles of a simpler time in world history.
I just love vintage prom dresses. Remember buying Jessica McClintock dresses for prom in the ’90s? Well, the owner of Jessica McClintock — Gunne Sax — is the most notable designer and trend-originator of the prairie dress style.
Gunne Sax was famous for the high necklines, tight bodices and flared ruffle skirts so indicative of the prairie dress look. For added feminine flair, Gunne added Victorian elements like lace, pearl buttons and slip dresses below the dress itself.
The prairie skirt worn by homespun fashionistas on the American range in the mid 1800s were simplified versions of the ruffled skirts/dresses characteristic of high fashion from that time period. Upon hearing the latest trends of the upper class, women would take those trends and make them into affordable and accessible looks for their lifestyles.
Other pioneers of the prairie look emergence in mainstream ’70s fashion was Ralph Lauren, who incorporated various elements of American Western wear into his collections during the late ’70s and early ’80s.
MAXI BOHO DRESSES
Hippie chic and bohemian-inspired flowing skirts and maxi dresses emerged as an essential part of the 1970s fashion landscape. These dresses, with their unique blend of comfort and style, found favor with fashion icons like Ali McGraw and Diana Ross, becoming a defining feature of the era’s trendsetting boho and hippie looks.
The 70s maxi dresses were distinguished by their high empire waistlines and loose, flowing forms, often crafted from lightweight cotton to suit warmer weather. A go-to for those who value both style and comfort, these Bohemian-inspired maxi dresses were easily paired with platform shoes or sandals, seamlessly blending style and ease to create an effortlessly chic fashion statement.
The origins of the maxi dress are actually older than the ‘70s. Based upon records, the first maxi dress was designed by Oscar De La Renta in 1968.
The mod mini skirt of the ‘60s was eventually replaced in popularity by the maxi as designers Yves Saint Lauren, Dior, Cardin, Biba and Halston followed Oscar’s lead, designing their own versions of this floor-length, drapey dress throughout the ‘70s.
A dress, most usually made from cotton or polyester, that has an attached hood. It’s like Little Red Riding Hood hit the ’70s and made her successful red cape into a best-selling dress! There was no true purpose for the hood on the dress. It was merely an accent piece that added another layer of unique style to the dress garment, fitting for a period of self-expression and liberated fashion ideology.
The “hood” descends from Medievil times, when men and women wore hooded cloaks/capes to protect their hair and face from harsh weather conditions. The benefit of having a hood on your outer garment was that you didn’t have to worry about another piece to include in your outfit. People were moving about freely on horse and foot, therefore it was in their best interest to wear the garments that had everything they needed in one place.
Because the Medieval-style peasant dress trend was so huge in the ’70s, it makes sense that the hooded dress would gain popularity, too since it took the Medieval cape trend and designed it into this ’70s dress.
It can be worn both casually or flamboyantly — it all depends what you make of it. Legendary ’70s designer Halston dressed his friends/cliente like Bianca Jagger in his famous hooded disco dress. While not necessarily invented by Halston, the hooded dress is representative of his brand synergy of mixing the nightlife with everyday functional clothing, like the ultraseude dress he invented and which gained him mainstream notoriety.
The wrap dress, another timeless 70s trend, was favored by Hollywood’s style icons. Designer Diane Von Furstenberg’s iconic wrap dress remains a symbol of 70s chic. This sophisticated piece, characterized by long sleeves, a v-neckline, and a belted waist, seamlessly blended 70s flair with enduring style.
Rendered in fabrics ranging from jersey to satin, wrap dresses catered to every occasion. Whether bearing vibrant patterns or tranquil shades, the wrap dress truly encapsulates the diverse 70s palette when it comes to women’s fashion.
A key feature of 70s fashion was the versatile sweater dress, exuding a casual yet sophisticated vibe. The comfortable fabric, varying necklines, and lengths made it a symbol of the era’s effortless elegance. Sweater dresses were commonly paired with over-the-knee or granny boots and opaque tights – and often cinched at the waist with a belt to enhance the silhouette.
With the 1970s being an era of fashion exploration, the sweater dress offered numerous styling options, from bold belts to layering over collared shirts.
Scooter skirts from the ‘70s look a whole lot like Catholic schoolgirl skirts look today, but with a huge difference: These “skirts” were actually shorts that are pleated to appear as skirts.
I remember scooter skirts making a revival in the early ‘90s of my youth and were called “skorts:” A mix of skirt + shorts = skorts.
While the mini skirt was all the rage in the ‘60s, the “skort” was a more popular way to expose the area above the knee by the youth of the early ‘70s. The mini skirt transitioned into the scooter skirt when hot pants (extremely short and skin tight shorts) emerged in the ‘70s.
So why was it called a scooter skirt? Only someone who lived the era would truly know, but my best guess is that when the razor scooter gained popularity girls began wearing their “pantskirts” on the scooters so that they wouldn’t expose their undergarments below. Hence, the nickname scooter skirt would emerge and gain hold of the American consciousness.
’70s plaid wasn’t the only print for these schoolgirl scooters. Solid hues and psychedelic stripes were also prevalent and worn from the knee up!
Platform shoes, with their thick heels, adding a touch of dramatic flair, were all the rage in the realm of 70s fashion. These shoes were staples in the wardrobes of the decade’s most fashionable women, with styles ranging from the vibrant colors and sequined glam of disco divas to the earthy-toned chunky clogs of those going for a hippie look.
Heeled shoes may elevate your height, but they don’t give you the same boost that platforms do of 3-6+ inches.
In the ’70s platform shoes were usually made from cork or wood. The foot rests on top of the platform sole and is strapped in around the ankles and fastened with straps at the front of the foot, allowing the toe to peep through.
Embellished with bright socks, the platform shoes stood out even more, capturing attention at nightclubs or on the city streets. There’s no denying it, platforms were indeed the “in” thing in 70s footwear fashion.
THE HISTORY: Most people assume that the platform is a product of the ’70s — wrong! Shoes of elevated heights span as far back to the day of the Egyptian, when wealthy Pharaohs and their royal followers would wear platforms as a sign of wealth & prestige.
Women and men wore platforms called “chopins” of exorbitant heights (up to 16 inches in some cases!) during the Renaissance, when trade of these shoes were at an all-time high and individuals of growing wealth & stature wanted to show off their economical position with a little bit of height.
Around the time of the French Revolution during the late 1700s, the allure of the platform dwindled down because the shoe was associated with the negative opulence of Louis XVI and his court.
Fast forward 200 years and we can thank legendary Italian shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo for giving the platform shoe trend a boost in 20th century fashions. While Ferragamo is more remembered for the invention of the stiletto (God bless him!) it was his European background coupled with desires for experimentation with creating footwear that had never been seen in the American market before that helped to re-introduce the platform shoe back into the American market.
When the glam rock scene of London hit the dance floors of the US, all platforms were let loose and everyone was wearing them from stage performers like David Bowie to 14-year-old girls following the cutting edge trends of their time.
Today, designers like Jeffrey Campbell take inspiration from Ferragamo’s ’70s platform designs. When each side is shown side by side, it can be hard to tell which is truly “vintage!”
The influences of the lively, disco-infused party scene trickled into mainstream fashion, too, making platform wedges, glitter and just about polyester anything must-have items both on and off the dance floor. Bangles, hippie headbands and chic drop and dangle earrings in funky shades also made it into the spotlight.
MIDI SKIRTS & KNEE HIGH BOOTS
Midi skirts, striking just below the knee and beautifully showcasing the legs, were integral to 70s fashion. Often seen in colors like mustard yellow or burnt orange and fabrics such as velvet or corduroy, they symbolized the era’s style.
Paired with knee-high boots, available in colors and materials as diverse as the times, midi-length skirts became emblematic of the 1970s. Popular boot styles included platform, granny, over-the-knee, and cowboy variants, all contributing to the decade’s unique sartorial tapestry.
Hot pants or short shorts – a striking staple of the female 70s outfits – brought a flamboyant flair to the decade’s style. Cutting off above the thigh and accentuating the figure with a tight fit, these shorts appeared in a variety of vibrant colors like fiery red and sunny yellow and materials such as denim.
Even pattern diversity wasn’t left untouched, with bold prints – floral prints, stripes, and star motifs – making a splash. Celebrities like Farrah Fawcett and Catherine Bach were among those who popularized this versatile trend among young women, demonstrating how hot pants could be effortlessly dressed up or down, making a bold style statement either way.
Fashion in the 1970s was also deeply influenced by punk and glam rock trends, each making its unique statement. Punk fashion emerged with a rebellious edge, featuring safety pins, leather jackets, ripped jeans, and provocative graphic tees.
Bands such as The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and The Ramones left a significant mark on this style. Later, artists like Debbie Harry and Blondie further defined this era.
Simultaneously, the larger-than-life glam rock style, championed by style legends David Bowie and Elton John, asserted its presence.
The fashion trends of the time were all about fancy clothes, audacious makeup, and extravagant hairstyles – for men and women alike. The glam rock scene reveled in ostentatious items like bright jumpsuits, disco-style shirts, and sequined trousers.
A 70s fashion hallmark, boasting more exaggerated lapels and shoulders than modern iterations. Offered in an array of colors – including brown, red, black, and tan – they were often paired with flared jeans or mini dresses.
These jackets were part of the everyday ensemble for men and could be flaunted at nightclubs or parties. Leather pants also came into vogue during this period, worn by both men and women.
The 70s saw the rise of tie-dye, popularized by hippies and counterculture movements. Featured on everything from tight t-shirts to dresses and jeans, the tie-dye style embraced vibrant color combinations and bold patterns like swirls and ombre designs.
These tie-dye items were frequently accessorized with color-matched headbands and fringed details, creating a distinct boho aesthetic. Flower crowns, another standard accessory, further amplified the color explosion inherent to this trend.
Emblematic of the 70s style, the leisure suit was a fashion statement that epitomized casual yet trendy dressing. This outfit typically featured a coordinated jacket and pants ensemble crafted from lightweight synthetics like polyester.
The loud hues and audacious patterns that characterized these suits were a testament to the vibrant fashion ethos of the time. With an allure that transcended gender boundaries, leisure suits found favor among both women and men, becoming a prevalent fixture in the sartorial landscape of this flamboyant decade.
Disco fashion defined this vibrant era, with the dance floor serving as the stage to express personal style. Shiny satin dresses, glittering mini dresses, sleek satin shirts, chic jumpsuits, and shimmering hot pants crafted from spandex, lamé, and sequins were the order of the day.
High-heeled shoes added an extra layer of glamour, while bold accessories like oversized earrings, bangles, and statement necklaces were essential for standing out on the dance floor.
MORE ‘70s FASHION HISTORY
CELEBS: The Influences of ‘70s Celebs on Fashion Part I
CELEBS: The Influences of ‘70s Celebs on Fashion Part II
TRENDS: How Trends of Today Were Influenced by the ‘70s
PLUS: Why Midi Skirts Angered Women in the ‘70s
MORE ‘70s FASHION STYLE
VIDEO: How I Styled a ‘70s Maxi Dress at the Manhattan Vintage Show
LOOKBOOK: 5 Gorgeous ’70s Dress Styles Wearable Right Now!
PLUS: All You Ever Wanted to Know About ‘60s & ‘70s Bathing Suits
INFLUENCE: What 1970s Fashion Did for Women’s Style