Thrifting 101, Part 17: Dating vintage clothes by era - The 1970's

Two weeks ago in Thrifting 101, I began exploring the history of fashion from the 1920's to the 1950's  in order to help you determine the age of a garment while thrifting. Last week we discussed the 196o's, and this week I'll follow the fashion timeline through the 1970's. Understanding more about the history of modern dressing is a great way to figure out when a garment was made.

Missed any previous parts of the series? Up to this point, Thrifting 101 has focused on tips for newbies and those dealing with the squick factor, advice regarding how to shop at a thrift store, thrifting for the clothing snob, recommendations for finding the best thrift and consignment stores, tips for determining what days are the best for thrifting, a post where I explained my love for thrifting, advice regarding thrift store etiquette, tips for cleaning vintage leather, a post of my favorite thrifting and vintage blogs, tips for identifying and cleaning thrifted jewelry, advice for storing vintage and thrifted garments, and advice for shopping for vintage online.

The 1970's

The 1970's began where the 1960's left off: restless, critical of the status quo, questioning traditional authority and social hierarchies, and flamboyantly expressive. The social upheavals that swept the nation in the mid 1960's - civil rights, women's liberation, environmental movement, and gay liberation - continued to shape the 1970's. But the seventies were not merely a repeat of the sixties. Political protest movements lost steam and the focus turned instead to lifestyle and concumption. America's turn inward bequeathed the era that earned the sardonic title of "the me decade."

Seventies fashion can be broken down into six very distinctive areas. The societal focus from social movement, towards the rediscovery of the self, contributed to the concept of using fashion as a tool for pleasing yourself. These six distinctive fashion trends during the seventies were bohemia, blaxploitation, glam rock, disco, punk, and Victoria/Art Nouveau.

The influence of the self styled hippy clothes and the mish-mash of 1970s fashion from every corner of the global village crept into mainstream fashion. Easier travel meant that people brought ideas and accessories from abroad. Others looked for designers to provide styles that fitted the mood of an era, that had returned to nature and was anti-Vietnam-war in outlook. By the late 1970s women travelling in enclosed heated cars could choose to wear lighter weight clothes and abandon full length coats. Homes and stores almost universally became centrally heated, and most women could tolerate a chill mad dash between car and front door knowing that warmth awaited them.


Efva Attling & Lars Jacob, 1971

German fashion models, 1972, showing a range of skirt lengths

1970's fashion began with a continuation of the miniskirt, bellbottoms and androgynous hippie look. Jeans remained frayed and tie-dye and Mexican print blouses were still popular. In addition to the miniskirt, mid calf-length dresses called midis and ankle-length dresses called maxis were also embraced in 1970 and 1971, thus offering women three different skirt lengths.

Afghans, Indian scarves, and floral-print tunics were embraced by younger women. One frequently worn style was the granny dress with a high neck. Sometimes the neck was pie-crust frilled, or lace frilled. Often these dresses were made from floral print design in a warm color palate from viscose rayon crepe which was draped and gathered into empire line styles. Halter-neck dresses and jumpsuits also became popular, either in maxi length or above the knee.

The Hippies of the sixties had brought with them clothes from other ethnic groupings which had often never even been seen before in the west. Nehru jackets and loose flowing robes from hot countries made their way to world cities and permeated down to mainstream fashion, helped of course by designers like Yves St Laurent. The ethnic influence was so strong that it revived craft skills from far flung places. Macramé bags and bikinis from the Greek Isles and crochet waistcoats and shawls from Spain were all high fashion.


The 1970s produced the genre that would later come to be known as 'Blaxploitation'. The film genre emerged during this decade as films were made specifically with an urban black audience in mind. These movies were larger-than-life, action-packed, and full of funk and soul music. Known not only for their exciting nature, these films also involved progressive social and political commentary. Produced from about 1970 to 1975, blaxploitation films focused on black men and women as anti-heroes waging battles against the corrupt white establishment. The movies were counter-intuitive of the mainstream white-produced movies featuring clean-cut black heroes by empowering a drug dealer or pimp to protect ghetto blacks from the brutality of "the man." Stars such an Pam Grier, Issac Hayes, Billy Dee Williams and Sydney Poitier asserted a strong influence over modern culture.

From the mid to late 70s, caftans, kaftans, kimonos, muumuus, djellaba (a Moroccan robe with a pointed hood) or jalabiya (a loose eastern robe) and other styles from every part of the Indian sub-continent and Africa, were translated into at home style robes and comfort wear. They were worked in every fabric imaginable, but were especially suited as glamour dressing when sewn in exotic fabrics and edged in silver, gold or other metallic embroidered trims. Bright, colorful African prints were utilized in long flowing kaftans. The afro was worn by both sexes throughout the decade, and was occasionally sported by whites as an alternative to the uniform long, straight hair which was a fashion mainstay until the arrival of punk and the "disco look" when hair became shorter and center partings were no longer the mode.

Glam Rock

David Bowie

In both Britain and the United States, fashion from 1972-1974 were influenced by the extravagantly dressed glam rock stars such as David Bowie, Roxy Music and Marc Bowlan. Musically it was very diverse, varying between the simple rock and roll revivalism of figures like Alvin Stardust to the complex art rock of Roxy Music, and can be seen as much as a fashion as a musical sub-genre. Visually it was a mesh of various styles, ranging from 1930s Hollywood glamour, through 1950s pin-up sex appeal, pre-war Cabaret theatrics, Victorian literary and symbolist styles, science fiction, to ancient and occult mysticism and mythology; manifesting itself in outrageous clothes, makeup, and hairstyles. Glam is most noted for its sexual and gender ambiguity and representations of androgyny, beside extensive use of theatrics.

Glam rock fashion includes platform shoes, lots of glittery make-up for both men and women, face painting, colored and spiked hair, Victorian style shirts, vests, leather, feathers, lots of metallic and space-age colors. In the early 1970s platform shoes started with a slim sole which moved from ¼ inch up to about 4 inches at the peak of popularity. By the mid seventies the most ordinary people were wearing two inch deep platforms without a second thought

Glam rock fashion had a futuristic look and was influenced by science fiction. Flamboyant fashion included vinyl clothing and accessories, leopard and fur vests, feathered detailing and sparkly suits for both men and women. Cosmetics accentuated the look, with both sexes embracing mascara, theatrical face paint, lipstick. Make-up was garish and glittery, with eyebrows thinly plucked. David Bowie's rooster-red crewcut and shaved eyebrows pushed boundaries, and strongly influenced the upcoming punk wave.


Halston and the Halstonettes, ca. 1977

By the mid 1970's fashion strongly began to reflect the popularity of disco. Tight lurex tops, metallic-coloured lamé and antique velvet dresses, satin hot pants, sequined bra tops, and occasionally ostrich- feather boas draped over shoulders or turbans appeared on young women. Stretch sequin bandeau tops were often adaptations of professional modern dance wear that found itself making an impact in discos as disco dancing became serious. Gold lame, leopard skin, stretch halter jumpsuits and white clothes that glowed in ultra violet light capture the 70s disco fashion perfectly.

The king of disco fashion was Roy Halston, and his Studio 54 minions were dubbed the Halstonettes. His work was classic American sportswear in jersey and simple silhouettes.  For nighttime, the look was accessorized with heavy make-up and lots of jewelry. Jumpsuits, polyester and jersey dresses, and one-shouldered tops and swimsuits were characteristic of Halston's 1970's look.

In 1971 extremely short, tight short called hot pants began to appear on young women, typically made from satin, cotton or nylon. With an inseam of two inches or less, they were meant to emphasize the legs and rear. Their popularity spread with the development of disco culture and eventually crept into daily wear.

Stretch sequin bandeau tops were often adaptations of professional modern dance wear that found itself making an impact in discos as disco dancing became serious.The dancer's leotard became an important feminine fashion accessory in 1974, and remained in style throughout the decade. The traditional long-sleeve leotard was popular as the "layered style" of the mid-1970s took hold, where it served less as clothing than as a way to add color and texture to the body. In the late 1970s the leotard had become a standard fashion icon of the disco scene, where flexibility and ease of movement were important. It was helped by an extensive advertising campaign in the late 1970s by Danskin which promoted their leotards and tights as "not just for dancing". Celebrities of the 1970s also appeared regularly wearing leotards, including Joni Mitchell, Cher, and even Rod Stewart. The leotards popularity was still climbing at the end of the decade, and exploded with the arrival of the aerobics craze in the early 1980s.

The jersey wrap dress, first designed by Diane von Fürstenberg in 1971 and an extension of dance wear, became an extremely popular item, as it flattered a number of different body types and sizes, and could be worn both to the office, as well as to nightclubs and discos.

By the mid-1970s hip-huggers were gone, replaced by the high-waisted jeans and trousers with wide, flared legs. In Britain, they were often referred to as "Loon pants". These lasted until the end of the decade when the straight, cigarette-leg jeans came into vogue. Women wore high-waisted flared pants made from satin or denim, sometimes decorated with rhinestones.


Vivienne Westwood (in plaid), 1977

Punk rock was an intentional rebuttal of the perceived excess and pretension found in mainstream music, and early punk fashion was defiantly anti-materialistic. Generally unkempt, often short hairstyles replaced the long-hair hippie look and the usually elaborate 1970s rock/disco styles. In the United States, simple clothes, such as the T-shirt/jeans/leather jacket style favored by the Ramones was preferred over the  colorful clothing popular in the disco scene.

In the United Kingdom, a great deal of punk fashion from the 1970s was based on the designs of Vivienne Westwood. Incorporating bright plaids, black lace and corsetry with heavy-soled boots and ripped tights, Westwood's clothes became symbolic of the debauchery of the era. Deliberately offensive t-shirts were popular in the early punk scene, some featuring an inverted crucifix and swastikas. These T-shirts, like other punk clothing items, were often purposely torn. Other items in early punk fashion included leather jackets, blazers, and dress shirts randomly covered in slogans,  patches and controversial images.

Fishnet stockings (sometimes ripped), studded or spiked jewelry, safety pins (in clothes and as body piercings); silver bracelets and heavy eyeliner was by both men and women. There was a 'do it yourself' quality to the fashion. Many female punks rebelled against the stereotypical image of a woman by combining clothes that were delicate or pretty with clothes that were considered masculine, such as combining a tutu with big, clunky boots.

Punk clothing sometimes incorporated everyday objects for aesthetic effect. Purposely-ripped clothes were held together by safety pins or wrapped with tape. Other items added to clothing or as jewelery included razor blades and chains. Leather, rubber and vinyl clothing became more common.

Preferred footwear included military boots, motorcycle boots, Chuck Taylor All-Stars and later, Dr. Martens boots. Tapered jeans, tight leather pants, trousers with leopard patterns and bondage pants were popular choices. Hair was cropped and deliberately made to look messy, and was often dyed bright unnatural colors. Although provocative, these hairstyles were not as extreme as later punk hairstyles in the early 1980's.

Victorian/Art Nouveau

Bianca Jagger in Victorian dress
Bianca in a silk hand-painted kaftan

Emerging as a counterbalance to the defiant fashion of the punk trend were the clothes offered by designers such as Bib, Chloe and Ossie Clark. A soft, feminine, and romantic silhouette emerged, in pieces such relaxed, flowing, loose sportswear. Rich, sumptuous materials such as silks, jersey, chiffon, and lace accentuated slinky styles. This fluid unstructured style borrowed strongly from from the feeling of 1930's glamour.

Knitwear and knitted jersey fabrics were the easy classic dressing of the 70s. Chunky hand knitted cardigans like the ones worn in Starsky and Hutch were soon paraded around town. The most iconic designers of knitwear were Bill Gibb and Missoni. Their zig-zagged knit patterns and complex intricate designs in bright colors were frequently copied in department stores, and ushered in a blossoming of hand and machine knitting nationwide.

At the same time coordinated color schemed clothes slowly began to enter the stores and boutiques. Suddenly it was possible to buy a skirt or trousers and top and not have to spend hours searching for tops and knits in other shops that just might coordinate with the items. Late seventies fashion included the emergence of silk, rayon and polyester tanks, which softly draped over flared pants and long maxi skirts. The tank top of the 70s was a forerunner to the scoop necked camisole top of the 1980s, the shell of the 1990s and the vest of the millennium.  It was a useful garment often paired with a matching v-neck long cardigan similar to the 1950's twin sets.

1 comment:

  1. i could look at pictures of bianca jagger(past and present) all day.


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