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70s Fashion: Exploring Women's Fashion Trends in the 1970s

CEO Tinh Phung
Image Source: What We Wore The 1970s was a decade of fashion diversity, where women experimented with different styles and expressed their individuality through their clothing choices. From Indian block-print bedspread dresses to tight tie-dye...

1970s fashion history Image Source: What We Wore

The 1970s was a decade of fashion diversity, where women experimented with different styles and expressed their individuality through their clothing choices. From Indian block-print bedspread dresses to tight tie-dye T-shirts and hip hugger jeans, the fashion landscape was a mish-mash of various influences. In this article, we will explore the fashion trends of the 1970s and take a closer look at what women typically wore during this era.

1970s Fashion Trends: What Was Popular?

During the 70s, women embraced comfort and casualness, leading to the rise of a more relaxed fashion aesthetic. The fashion battle of the decade saw adaptations of the mod style into simpler, easy-to-wear designs and the hippie look into more tailored chic outfits. Both styles incorporated the use of vibrant colors, with bright shades being popular among the mods and earth tones among the hippies. Bold patterns, especially paisley, were also prevalent.

Unlike the '50s and '60s, when following famous trends was the norm, the 1970s fashion scene emphasized self-expression. Mixing and matching clothing items across gender guidelines became the norm, even if the combinations didn't always make sense. As Vogue declared, "There are no rules of the fashion game now. You're playing it, and you make up the game as you go."

While most fashion history books and articles tend to focus on the sub-cultures of the '70s, such as luxury, punk, cowboy, hippie, exotica, and soul, this article will explore what the typical women wore during this period. It aims to shed light on the fashion trends of housewives and working women in small towns and urban cities, which differed from the mainstream media representations.

1970s Dresses

Dresses played a significant role in women's daily fashion choices in the 1970s. They ranged from short mini dresses to long maxi dresses and everything in between. In the early '70s, mini shift dresses, jumper dresses, drop-waist dresses, and tunic dresses were still popular choices. Sleeveless jumper dresses, when paired with short or long sleeve shirts in winter, created a trendy layered look. Drop-waist shift dresses and button-front sheath dresses paid homage to the 1920s flapper era.

These dresses were often made of polyester double knits, a stiff material that resisted wrinkles and stains. It became the fabric of choice for the low-maintenance fashion of the era. Many dresses featured oversized collars and started sporting hippie prints in vibrant colors like yellow, green, and orange flowers or paisley swirls.

Colors played a crucial role in dress trends. Jewel tones were popular in the fall and winter, while pastels and white dominated the summer. White, in particular, became a favorite color for everything from dresses to hats, handbags to shoes. Daytime and evening wear, especially evening wear, turned to white as the hottest color of the '70s.

As the decade progressed, dresses took on a more '40s and '50s-inspired look. A-line or pleated skirts with button-down tops became popular, along with simple one-piece dresses with cap sleeves and swingy skirts. Winter dresses often featured the button-up shirtwaist style with long bishop sleeves and a matching belt. Necklines remained modest, with options like pussy bow neckties, small slits, mandarin collars, and large fold-out collars. In the final years of the decade, dresses became even looser and featured drawstring necklines and waist belts with hemlines dropping a few inches below the knee.

There were also unique dresses that gained popularity, although they didn't always make it into the mainstream fashion scene. The granny dress, prairie dress, or peasant dress combined elements of hippie fashion with Edwardian-inspired modesty. These ankle-length maxi dresses or skirts featured ruffles, lace, and embroidery details, selling millions of units by companies like Gunne Sax and Arpeja.

Caftan dresses, inspired by Grecian styles, were worn with high-heeled sandals and accessorized with beads or pearl necklaces. These tent-like dresses had optional empire belts and kimono sleeves, making a bold statement with their exotic prints and vibrant colors.

Designer Diane von Furstenberg introduced the wrap dress in the 1970s. This cotton jersey shirt dress with a ballerina wrap top became a sensation, with Furstenberg producing thousands of wrap dresses each week. They were favored by housewives and working professionals alike. Other designers followed suit, incorporating halter necks, glittering fabrics, and flowing chiffons into eveningwear gowns.

70s Pants & Jeans

The 70s brought more diversity to women's pants, surpassing the limitations of the previous two decades. Waist-high wide-leg pants coexisted with hip-huggers featuring flared legs. Some pants were tight-fitting cigarette styles, while others were straight-legged or very baggy. Cuffed and non-cuffed options were also available.

Dressy pants, known as slacks, featured high rises, wide but straight legs, and flat fronts. All colors were fair game for both home and office wear. Towards the end of the '70s, pleated front pants with tapered ankles became popular, setting the stage for the fashion trends of the '80s.

Palazzo pants, with their wide-leg flair, built on the existing trend of wide-leg pants, offering even more flowing fabric that resembled a skirt. These dramatic pants were often worn at evening house parties and came in various bold colors and prints.

The blue jean became the uniform of the '70s, with people wearing jeans all day and all night in various styles. Initially, pre-bleached or used jeans were favored over new ones, and adding contrast stitching, studs, and patches to denim became a popular way to personalize jeans. As the decade progressed, jeans transitioned back to dark washes and skin-tight fits, with colored jeans becoming more prevalent. Designer brands like Calvin Klein, Pierre Cardin, Jordache, and Gloria Vanderbilt gained popularity during this time, emphasizing the significance of brand names in the fashion industry.

Jumpsuits & Pantsuits

Jumpsuits were a stretchy adaptation of overalls, though using the restroom while wearing them could be precarious. Daytime jumpsuits were made of double-knit polyester, cotton, or denim and featured zip or button-up fronts, pant pockets, and oversized collars. Evening jumpsuits took on a stretchy bodysuit style with sleeveless or halterneck tops, ideal for disco dancing.

With an increasing number of women entering professional workspaces predominantly held by men, the demand for women's pantsuits soared. Inspired by Diane Keaton's gender-blending role in Annie Hall, women sought to dress for success in menswear-inspired trousers, shirts, and jackets. Man-tailored blazers worn over vests and pussy-bow tie blouses, paired with wide-leg trousers and pointy-toe boots, became the go-to office ensemble. Pantsuits were available in rich colors like burgundy or dark green in winter and pastels or white in summer. Silk blouses softened the look, with loose bow ties or oversized collars mimicking men's dress shirts.

Skirts & Shorts

Outside of the office, women's casual skirts came in various lengths, from micro minis to floor-length maxis. The mini skirt trend from the '60s continued, but skirts dropped to the floor for the first time since the early 20th century around 1973. Knee-length A-line or pleated skirts were particularly popular and featured roomy hips and legs with partial or full elastic waists for comfort. Some skirts had buttons or tie belts, and dark denim and chevron stripe prints gained popularity towards the end of the decade. Peasant skirts with tiers, gathers, tribal prints, and inset lace provided a relaxed and casual alternative to traditional skirt styles.

Shorts were a versatile clothing item for women during the 1970s. Hot pants, very short shorts often worn in winter, were particularly trendy, with inseams as short as two or three inches. They were commonly paired with tall boots and bright tights, becoming a popular choice for disco dancers. Other shorts styles included knee-knockers, that ended just above the knee, Jamaica shorts that were a few inches above the knee, and short shorts that were a few inches below the crotch. Material options ranged from cotton, denim, polyester stretch, to terrycloth.

Tops, Blouses & Sweaters

Women's tops in the 1970s included a variety of styles, such as blouses, knit shirts, graphic T-shirts, tunic tops, halter tops, and peasant blouses. Blouses featured conservative button-down styles with oversized point collars, often adorned with polka dots, paisley prints, floral designs, and solid colors. Prairie blouses, with their ruffles, bow ties, pintucks, and lace insets, offered a romantic look in white or pastel colors. Tunics were popular for their comfort and versatility, with long lengths suitable for pairing with jeans, trousers, or pleated skirts. Halter tops and crop tops added a more casual and youthful vibe to '70s fashion.

Sweaters played a significant role in '70s fashion, with wrap tops and dolman sleeve sweaters carrying over from the '60s. Cable-knit cardigans and vests were particularly popular during this era. Many sweaters were held closed with a tie belt and featured small shawl collars. Knit ponchos were also a popular choice, often made of crochet or open-weave knits.

Jackets, Coats & Accessories

Coats in the 1970s showcased a variety of styles, ranging from long trench coats with big plaids to knee-length trench coats in lighter pastel and ivory colors. Heavy tweeds, boucle, tapestry, and faux fur coats also made appearances throughout the decade. Mid-length leather wrap jackets and boxy teddy coats gained popularity as well, offering a trendy alternative to traditional coats.

When it came to accessories, the '70s saw a wide range of options. Wide-brim floppy hats, cloche hats, bucket hats, cricket hats, and newsboy caps were popular headwear choices. Scarves tied around the neck or head added a touch of style, and belts came in various styles, including self-fabric belts, ring buckles, and thin/thick belts made from macrame, woven tapestry, or recycled fabric.

Handbags ranged from woven macrame body bags to large boho-style pouch bags, saddle bags, and satchels, often made from leather or vinyl. Sunglasses featured oversized square, rounded, or aviator-style frames and came in various colors and shades. As for jewelry, layers of long pearls, colored beads, and tassel necklaces were particularly popular. Eveningwear saw the revival of 1920s and 1930s-inspired rhinestone jewelry, bib necklaces, chandelier drop earrings, and gold snake chain necklaces.

Conclusion

The 1970s brought an exciting mix of fashion trends, allowing women to express themselves through their clothing choices. From dresses and pantsuits to skirts, shorts, and tops, women embraced comfort and casualness while experimenting with different styles. Coats, hats, accessories, and jewelry complemented these outfits, adding a touch of individuality to each look.

While this article provides an overview of women's fashion trends in the 1970s, it's important to remember that fashion was not limited to one singular style or trend. The era was a beautiful mish-mash of influences and personal expressions, with women embracing the freedom to create their own unique fashion statements.

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