Was the 70s the Decade That Fashion Forgot?
When you look back at 70s clothing styles for women, you might say the 1970s was “The Decade That Fashion Forgot.” People typically think of disco, Farrah Fawcett hair, and red leisure suits with white belts. If you dig deeper, you might see that this is a little unfair: when it comes to clothing styles for women, I don’t think any decade has more variation than the 1970s. 1970s fashion had its low points to be sure, there were hot pants and platform go-go boots, but also there were some very robust fashion influences ranging from Afghanistan to Newport, Rhode Island. In this page, I want to share some of my very favorite fashions of the 1970s.
The photos in this article are from the author’s personal Vogue magazine collection, unless otherwise stated. Credit belongs to the original photographer(s).
A Time of Rich Color and Luxury Fabrics: Classic Style
In this photo, Vogue model Raquel Zimmerman wears a classic autumn ensemble of fur cape, cinnamon suede midi skirt, and leather boots. Though from the August 2010 issue of Vogue, this look is a perfect illustration of the 1970s fall fashion for women that I remember.
My favorite season is autumn—I clearly recall the sound of dried leaves crunching underfoot when I walked across the lush green lawns of Northern California. In the early 1970s, mid-calf length wool skirts and tall boots with block heels were in vogue, literally: perusing the issues of 1970 Vogue magazine brings back memories of heavy, quality materials featured everywhere. Tweed culottes over patterned knee sox, buckled leather brogues, ribbed heavy cotton turtlenecks in eggplant and gold, and red tartan wraparound skirts fastened with a pin, leather chocolate-color maxi-coats with oversized fur collars—all of these marked the first years of the decade for me.
I still recall a beloved forest green midi dress that my mother made from a pattern, and which I wore with cordovan leather knee boots and a wide corset-like leather belt with fringe laces. When I outgrew it, out it went—sad, but I had to make room for reinventing myself!
70s Clothes for Working Women
More than ever before, women were present in the workforce in the 1970s. We were stylish and yet comfortable, whether at work or at play. The expectation for women in the 1970s as opposed to their mothers was they no longer stayed home but contributed equally to the household income. As for me, off I went to the corporate world: working in the Financial District of San Francisco in the 70s, I had easy access to nearby clothing boutiques, was single and made good money, so finding the latest fashion was not an issue. I wore my favorite wood and leather wedge platform shoes with pale green high-waisted tweed tailored bell bottom cuffed pants. With these, I paired either a skinny turtleneck or blouse with a Kenzo Takada-inspired tiny red cotton plaid bomber jacket. The wide elastic waistband of the jacket reached just to the waist, which worked perfectly with the high tailored pants popular in that era.
This is a favorite photo from that time, wide bell-bottomed blue jeans and the plaid bomber jacket, in my MGB-GT.
Toward the end of the decade, I was looking for a more casual and comfortable silhouette, and I discovered the designer, Alvin Duskin: all cotton, flowing separates, with flared loose pants and a long tank overdress that fell to the knees, worn with a midi-length knit sweater. My favorite outfit was a dusty gold knee-length tank dress with an eggplant purple turtleneck. The long cotton sleeveless “sweater” that I layered over this was a dusty teal color. I also had an Alvin Duskin knit dark teal sweater set as shown below with a matching mini-skirt (pictured). How I’d love to have those cool 70s fashions today!
Classic 70s Style on Amazon
When Disco was Queen: Club Fashion
Even though this is probably everyone’s least favorite 1970s fashion trend, disco style didn’t skip over me-I admit it! Though I never owned a polyester jumpsuit (honestly!), I did own a pair of brown hot pants that I wore with nylons and either some snug-fitting faux ostrich knee boots or blocky, heavy strapped leather sandals. I had the purple suede fringed vest too, but I paired that with a lavender polyester tailored long-sleeved blouse and purple corduroy slightly tapered bell bottoms. Purple with a fringe was the bomb! To top it off, I had either a tight perm or a shag hairdo at the time, along with a pair of very cool aviator shades!
I arrived at a Sly Stone concert one time in a silver-black metallic long-sleeved tunic with matching metallic sparkly pants by Alvin Duskin. Sly Stone never showed up to perform, but I was “stylin'” at least I thought so! 😉
Vintage Boho 70s Clothing for Women
Bohemian Chic: Nature Girl
The tail-end of the hippie era as shown in the pages of Vogue reflect on a bohemian chic fashion aesthetic embodied in this photo of model Lauren Hutton. The remnant of the flower children appeared as fresh-faced nature girls with wavy hair wearing ethnic-inspired knit skullcaps and scarves with long maxi skirts. Makeup consisted of either brushed on pale brows or ultra-thin plucked eyebrows that mimicked the silent movie stars of the 1920’s, with white eyeshadow around the eye, topped off with pouty red glossy lips and red gel blush on the cheekbones.
Turbans and caftans, though shown in the pages of Vogue, didn’t really feature in the preferred attire of 20-somethings. Hostess dresses were meant for middle-aged socialites, after all! We liked our large brimmed straw hats with peasant blouses and oversize ponchos, wide cinched up belts and the occasional colorful head scarf. Other than leather sandals and knee boots, I also had two pairs of espadrilles with laces that wrapped around and around the ankle and tied. Espadrilles represent classic timeless style; I wish I’d never given those away!
Knee boots continued to appear, but with natural materials and colors that were at the far end of the spectrum from the white “pleather” go-go boots the disco girls were wearing. Patterned jersey with paisleys and flowers were quite popular (like my beautiful midi-dress that still hangs in my closet).
Popular hairstyles were long and parted straight down the middle with the obligatory headband at forehead level, or up in a tidy bun with curly forelocks at the cheeks recalling the 1890’s Gibson girl. At one point, my friend Michael referred to me as the Gibson girl because that became my style briefly. However, I soon lapsed into my favorite version of casual “boho” chic: a colorful head scarf with bell bottom jeans and a comfortable long-sleeved shirt or T-shirt.
If I Could Go Back to the 70s
If I could go back and do the 70s over again, other than being a lot more choosy about who I dated(!), I’d save that wool green midi dress, the white peasant blouse with tiny orange and yellow flowers that went so well with my rust velvet mini-skirt, the blue silk espadrilles, the red plaid Kenzo bomber jacket, the Alvin Duskin separates, and lastly, the my wood and leather platform shoes that were SO comfortable.
But alas, I only saved the black flowered midi-dress, and even though I’ll never be THAT size again, I’m not about to give it up!