1970s fashion

As a clear reference for the creations of the latest fashion shows, 1970s fashion looks are what you should be looking forward to wear in 2015.

So let’s dive into this decade of incredible fashion, as we start this first part of a two-part guide, exploring the icons and designers that defined the 1970s in fashion.

As the 60s were about banding together into one common identity in the service of social change, then the 70s were about the quest to venture out in search of a truly authentic self.

And that meant a new wardrobe.

This new wardrobe was an enchanted forest of disparate trends, from a pair of skinny jeans to embroidered kaftans, from sequined luxurious dresses to ultra-romantic Victorian outfit.

Fashion swung between natural and synthetic, handmade and machine, folk and punk, crochet and lamè.

The women’s closet was a like a giant collage, where a girl could be the editor of her own glamorous and polyhedral style.
1. The It-Girl: Bianca May Jagger

1970s Bianca Jagger

Bianca set a new standard  for the modern, minimalist bride. In 1971 she got married to Mick Jagger in Saint Tropez and instead of wearing a huge taffeta meringue she went for a Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo.  A narrow skirt and a straight jacket were chosen and nothing was worn underneath the jacket. A romantic and veiled hat completed the look of this unconventional rock bride.

Queen of New York nightclub scene, pillar of Studio 54 and one of the best friend of Andy Warhol, Bianca was also the muse of Halston and Ossie Clark. She used to wear sophisticated and sharply outfit. She was also a client of Zandra Rhodes and she was photographed, wearing an opulent Bill Gibb kimonos.

She embodied the quintessence of elegance. That’s why she gained the title of “Halstonette” by wearing another memorable outfit by Halston.  A red off-the-shoulder dress with side slits, worn as she rode a white horse into Studio 54 in 1977, to celebrate her birthday. Halston was a friend of her, and she often wore his goddess-inspired jersey gowns, accessorized with lamè turbans and chunky bangles.

In a interview with Harper’s Bazaar she confessed:

“Saint Laurent was my style mentor. He taught me how a jacket should fit.  He played a very important role in liberating women.  Suits were around before, but he showed women how to wear them.”


2. The rock legend: David Bowie

1970s David Bowie

The 1970s were characterized by sexual exploration. Terms such as homosexuality and androgyny became familiar, and it was the British glam rocker who was the flag bearer for this sex evolution.

Fashion was an integral part of Bowie’s image. Sequined leotards and feathers boas were Bowie’s alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. His make-up skewed the gender lines even further. He became the most outrageous performer of the decade. Suzy Fussey, Angela Bowie’s hairdresser also contributed to create the myth of David, as a charismatic hybrid of androgynous spaceman. She experimented the cut and the color on Angela’s hairs (the wife of Bowie) and she was so pleased with the result, she told Suzy to immediately replicated it on David’s hair.  The Ziggy haircut epitomized the androgyny of glam rock and was copied by both boys and girls. Ziggy was a bisexual messiah, dressed with silver jumpsuit and platform boots.

Kansai Yamamoto, a Japanese designer based in London, was responsible for Bowie’s wardrobe. Legend has it that Bowie watched a video of the Japanese designer and fell in love with his rock glam costumes. He purchased the famous “woodlands animal costume”, worn in 1972 at the Rainbow concert in London. Then Bowie commissioned 13 costumes to the designer and a stand-out piece was the knitted body sock, made with metallic yarn in section of pink, red and blue, which Ziggy wore with a turquoise feathers boa. And then there was the “Space Samurai ” costume made from glossy quilted material.


3. First black cover girl: Beverly Johnson

1970s Beverly Johnson

“Except for the birth of my daughter, my Vogue cover was the best thing that ever happened to me”.

The first black supermodel at the age of 22 conquered the cover of Vogue America in August 1974. She realized that this event was very important for her career but also because: “Black beauty had not only been acknowledge in the mainstream, but celebrated” she said. Her issue of Vogue totally sold out:

“The magazine was changing. It wasn’t so much about the grand fashion fantasy as it had been in the 60s. It was more about the girl next door. “


4. “Good morning Angels!”…. “Good morning Charlie!”

1970s Charlie's Angels

“It wasn’t meant to be Shakespeare. It was totally escapism. I think young girls identified with us because we were emotionally independent, financially independent and we were role models”

As said by Jaclyn Smith, one of the original protagonist of “Charlie’s Angels”, one of the most successful TV shows during the 70s.

Kelly (Jaclyn Smith), Jill (Farrah Fawcett-Major) and Sabrina (Kate Jackson) were strong and independent women who fought the baddies and rescued the innocent.

Their wardrobe created a lasting impression. Skinny, masculine-tailored suits, open-neck shirts and form-fitting waistcoats. High-waisted and wide-led jeans, matched with platform shoes. These looks are a constant inspiration for designers, whenever a 1970s revival rolls out.

And then there was the hair. “Farrah Flick” became one of the most wanted celebrity “dos”. Her feathered blonde remained one of the most copied on the planet. As a tomboy of the group, she often wore a pair of Nike running shoes with her jeans thereby kick-starting the athletic trend.


5. Gender-bending wardrobe: Diane Keaton as Annie Hall


One of Woody Allen’s most taxing dilemmas on the movie “Annie Hall” was Annie’s wardrobe. It had to mirror the complicated and neurotic attitude of the character, played by Diane Keaton.

“She came in” Allen recalled “and Ruth Morley said, “Tell her not to wear that. She can’t wear that. It’s so crazy.” But Allen said “Leave her. She’s a genius.”

Diane Keaton’s gender-bending wardrobe blazed a trial for smart girls in the late 70s. Layering oversized, grandpas shirts, mannish blazer over waistcoats and Ralph Lauren ties, baggy chinos or long skirt, donning boots and large hats.  This look inspired an entire fashion movement, a vintage effortlessly chic dress-code for intellectual girls all over the world.
1. Halston, the master of gowns

1970s Halston

Halston was the designer who dressed the glamorous ladies of the 70s. From bias-cut goddess inspired gowns to synthetic fabrics, his signature was unmistakable. His clothes were easy to wear, comfortable, made with luxurious silk charmeuse or soft jersey, embellished with sequins or trimmed with oriental inspired pattern. This style was ideal for the socialites of the 70s, also known as “Halstonette”.

Roy Halston Frowick began his career as a milliner and created the famous pillbox hat for Jackie Kennedy worn for the 1961 presidential inauguration.

Halston was a huge hit, his luxurious simplicity was appreciated by the Studio 54 jet-set, by Bianca Jagger, Liza Minelli, Elizabeth Taylor and Martha Graham and more. He sold about 50000 shirtwaist dresses made by Ultrasuede, a synthetic mix of polyurethane and polyester, worn for the first time by the Japanese designer Issey Miyake.

Halston’s design varied from diaphanous and playful to drapery and dramatic.


2. Yves Saint Laurent: empowering women through sophistication

1970s Yves Saint Laurent

Instead of using women like canvasses, Yves Saint Laurent translated his interests and inspirations into pieces that were at once modern and timeless, totally wearable and effortless, to empower women with confidence and to give them a lady-like attitude, with high heels and seductive daytime dresses.

The 1971 “Liberation” collection disturbed the conservative clients of the Maison, with its sexy and lavish 1940s inspired dresses. Only the trendiest women dared to wear the visionary models of Yves Saint Laurent. He also continued his pioneering use of trousers, as dinner suits, pushing the boundaries of androgyny and feminine.

Even if he’s remembered as the designer, who made a great effort connecting fashion with street-style, he’s also remembered for creating a distinct distance between ready-to-wear and haute couture, designing his master-piece collection of pure extravaganza.

“It was my answer to the press which had disqualified the haute couture trade as old fashioned and antiquated”.

Yves Saint Laurent said about his autumn-winter 1976/77 most lavish and expensive collection. Inspired by the Russian decadent aristocracy, it made a lasting impact on fashion. Coats in gold lamè, huge furs, bright dresses, gipsy skirts, luxurious embroidered waistcoat and tunic, whisper-thin glittering blouse and gold boots. Every detail was a celebration of artisans’ skills, whose efforts tried to revive the opulent elegance and excess of Serge Diaghilev’s “Ballets Russes” costumes. Yves Saint Laurent recalled many years later: “I don’t know if it’s my best collection, but it was certainly my most beautiful.”


3. Biba: not just a shop, but a once in a life-time experience

1970s Biba

Barbara Hulanicki created in London the modern concept of a department store. Shopping was an experience, a leisure activity, a social event. There was a record department with listening booths, a bookstall, a kasbah area overflowing with North African products, menswear, womenswear, a mistress room with negligees and edible underwear, and even a storyteller for the kids shopping with their moms on Saturday. There was a food hall in the basement, and the Rainbow Room Restaurant was open until 2 am.

The clothes weren’t particularly well made and often of cheap fabrics, but they were all well designed. Little dresses with high-set sleeves and armholes, curved collars and A-line skirts. Art deco-inspired lace was very popular, as were satin art deco-inspired gowns, that looked like 1930s lingerie. Feathers boas, wide felt hats, platform shoes and boots and glittery wellingtons were mixed with tapestry coats with accentuated shoulders, black faux-fur lapels and large buttons.

The summer collection was extremely stylish as well, with strange color palettes mixed up with pastel colors. Everything was affordable at the department store of Biba on Kensington High Street, from furniture to clothes and cosmetic, such as that the stocks vanished so rapidly that it wasn’t possible to replace them constantly.


4. Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell: the king of couture and the queen of prints

1970s Ossie Clark

When a master technician and extremely skilled pattern cutter, and an illuminated fabric designer met, only masterpieces could be born from their exquisite taste.

This was the moment for the female form to regain freedom and movement, for individuality to be celebrated with pride. They made clothes for self-confident women and Clark loved to accentuate female curves, especially the breasts.

Birtwell’s floral designs captured the spirit of joy of the decade through colors and patterns. To provide fabrics that harmonized with Clark’s work, she would draw up her compositions on three-dimensional models, so they would look exactly right when transferred onto draped and folded forms.

This duo’s winning combination (at work and at home) of sunny patterns and liberated form, quickly filtered onto the high street. The “Floating daisies” silk dress with “Mystic Daisy” print sold more than 20.000 pieces.


5. Zandra Rhodes: hymn to colors


With her printed silks and kaleidoscopic chiffons clothes, Zandra Rhodes was more of an artist than a fashion designer, while still producing memorable clothes, still wearable today.

She dared to introduce in her collections bright colors, ripped dresses, historical knitted textiles and felt coats, which seemed to be devoured by mouth. The “dinosaur coat”, with seams picked and turn inside out, was a hit, as the entire “Indian Feathers” collection showed in New York, or the “Punk collection”, a glamourization of the punk look.

She immediately became a fashion star. For her, silhouette was always going to play a supporting role to the virtuosity of the fabric and her head-turning use of color.

“The patterns were considered extreme, so I had to think how to win people around.”

Rhodes took inspiration from a variety of sources. The “shells” collection was based on a shell-covered basket, she found in a thrift store.  Following an American trip, she created for her 1976 Spring collection, a cactus motif, printed all over chiffon dresses. “The Mexican turnaround” prints were based on sombreros found in another trip. Victoria & Albert museum was another inexhaustible source of ideas. Lace patterns, antique prints, Cubist portraits, Schiaparelli and Dalì collaborations, were her kick-off for new ideas .

All her chiffon printed gowns, pleated satin jackets, Ultra-suede pieces are highly desirable even nowadays.

Rhodes once remarked that she didn’t see why holes in cloths should be so inherently frightening.

“Didn’t lace have holes, too?”


6. Bill Gibb: the perfectionist

1970s Bill Gibb

The design of Bill Gibb was all about escapism. “Reality is so horrific these days that only escapism makes it bearable at this time” as he used to say.

He loved the historic, especially the Renaissance, textures from Scottish Highland and the American hippie culture. Its hand-dyed tartans, bold checks,  hand-painted dream landscapes were his signature, beloved by the press, but almost impossible to produce in large quantities.

Knit was a particular feature, hand-made and often enriched with silver and gold yarns for haute couture models. His romantic medieval-inspired gowns with interesting prints and hand-painted birds were very popular and his velvet double jackets and skirts embroidered with roses underlined his Scottish heritage.

He offered a kind of fashion fantasy during this decade, through his rich embroideries, lavish layering and his signature doll-like silhouettes. Gibb used bumblebee motif to sign his creations.

He was voted the best designer by Vogue in 1970 and when his debut collection had been sold, he had clients including Elizabeth Taylor, Bianca Jagger and Twiggy. He became internationally famous when he dressed Twiggy for her red carpet appearance for the premiere of Ken Russell’s film “The Boyfriend”.


7. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren: Vive le Rock

1970s Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood, a school teacher with rudimentary sewing skills, and Malcolm McLaren, a former art student, turned fashion on its head.

Fusing fashion with music, they gained press attention, which help spread their anarchist mantras to young people all over the world.

Their first shop opened in 1971, “Let it Rock”, in London, where they used to sell vintage 50s clothing, as an antidote to “hippydom”. When they run out of vintage merchandise, Westwood began making her own version of full skirts and Teddy Boy-inspired look, with bright colored fabrics.

The following year the duo shifted their interest to biker look and the shop was renamed “Too fast to live, Too young to die”, in tribute to James Dean. Everything was literally covered with studs and chains, the jeans were stained with oil and Westwood printed her first t-shirt “Vive le Rock”. She used to paint slogans in red nail varnish, boiling leftover bones from the trattoria across the road and using them to compose words, then applied to the front of black t-shirts. She started designing her own creations, rather than copying retro-looks.

In 1974 the duo opened SEX, the new store full of fetishist and bondage garments. Their t-shirts’ slogans were totally against the fashion system and they were a clarion call to rebellion.  Westwood used to deconstruct white t-shirts, cutting sleeves, adding zips to show nipples, applying PVC pockets. The first original SEX t-shirt print was customized and printed by Westwood on her kitchen table, using a children’s printing set.

Westwood, McLaren and Jordan (the shop manager) styled also the looks of Sex Pistols and their radical outfits served as a brilliant marketing tool. “So long as the band has the right look” McLaren said ” the music doesn’t matter too much.”

In 1976 the t-shirts including Dick Turpin, Disney character committing obscene acts and “tits” were often sold out, but a member of Westwood’s staff was arrested wearing one of that t-shirt and the shop was raided. Nevertheless they continued to sell them hidden under the counter.

The shop was later relaunched with the name “Seditionaries”, “for heroes, prostitutes and dykes”. Westwood wanted to seduce people to revolt. Punk rock had become a major player in music and in the fashion scene.

Of good quality and well made the clothes were expensive and the range were expanded to include cotton shirts with Peter Pan or vinyl collar, wool schoolboy blazers with all the seams on display, towelling jackets, hangman sweaters, donkey trousers, red denim jeans with see-through plastic pocket, black studded leather boots and patent stilettos and handkerchiefs printed with the Queen with swastika eyes and safety-pinned nose.

Westwood felt an affinity with Coco Chanel:

“Chanel probably design for the same reason I do: irritation with orthodox ways of thinking. She was a street fashion designer.”


8. Diane von Furstenberg: creating the It-dress

1970s Diane von Furstenberg

A knitted jersey one-piece with a belt.

The wrap dress was not only about comfort, it was a statement of purpose and practicality, of paring down to the essence of aspiration and desire. Simplicity itself, the wrap dress was easy to wear and, crucially, easy to take off.  The garment emerged when women began to express their right at work, in private life and on the journey between. Sexy and comfortable, it was the ultimate “go anywhere” dress.

“The wrap dress is the most traditional form of dressing: it’s like a robe, a kimono, a toga. It doesn’t have buttons or zipper. What made it different was that it was jersey; it made every woman look like a feline. And that’s how it happened. It’s not like I was thinking, Oh, I’m creating the It dress.”

In 1980s, a French journalist asked her again how this dress came about and she answered:

“Well, if you’re trying to slip out without waking a sleeping man, zips are a nightmare.”

And she became a legend.


9. Laura Ashley: the New Victorians

1970s Laura Ashley

“I’m only interested in reopening people’s eyes to what they have forgotten about.”

Laura Ashley opened her first shop in London in 1967, but she gained internationally success only during the 70s. She specialized in the Victorian milkmaid look, reflecting in her clothes the anti-fashion moods as well as the back-to-nature movement that sprang from hippie-reaction to American consumer-boom. In contrast to the preference of synthetic fabrics, she only used cottons printed with soft floral pattern and lace. She preferred high necked blouses and long skirt, leg o’ mutton sleeves and China inspired patterns.

Knitting, embroidery, natural dyeing and leather tanning enjoyed a revival. The nostalgia of Victorian age produced a mass of romantic maxi dresses, with a suggestive and simple touch.

Her clothes were affordable and she immediately became a hit.

She constructed an entire lifestyle brand around her product and by 1981 almost 5000 outlets sell her products worldwide.


10. Sonia Rykiel: power to knitwear

1970s Sonia Rykiel

Sonia Rykiel was defined the “queen of knits” during the 60s. She had a lot of fan throughout the globe, especially in America. She pioneered avant-garde clothes, with exposed seams and no hemlines or linings. Well ahead of Japanese and Belgian designers, she went for minimalism and deconstruction.

She began her career in fashion by accident. She was pregnant and she wanted a wonderful maternity dress. Her style was sophisticated, modern, chic and ultra feminine. A journalist of the Los Angeles Times once wrote: “Couture is not enough. You need a Rykiel.”

Her clothes were comfortable as a second skin, because she thought:

” Women designers define things with a more practical eye because of the limitations of their body.”



Liked this? Don’t miss the second part

In the next part of this post we’ll see some must-have products of the 70s as well as the key features to define that 70s look you’ll want to create with your next oufits.

Want to know even more about the decade?

Here’s a few suggestions for insatiable readers:

1970s fashion: how to wear it for spring 2015

Fashion in the 1970s



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