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 1970s Disco Fashion

The 70s Disco Fashion
1970s Costume History

By Pauline Weston Thomas for

The 70s Disco Fashion 1970s Costume History


Micro, Mini or Maxi 1970s Skirt Lengths

Picture of woman in a mini skirt. Fashion history and costume history of the 1970s.By 1970 women chose who they wanted to be and if they felt like wearing a short mini skirt one day and a maxi dress, midi skirt or hot pants the next day - that's what they did.

For eveningwear women often wore full length maxi dresses, evening trousers or glamorous halter neck catsuits. Some of the dresses oozed Motown glamour, others less so. 

Left - Two young women in their early twenties on holiday in the Canary Islands c1972.  The short check flared skirt was very popular, as was the empire style of the diamond check pattern mini dress.  Right - Halter neck catsuit pattern of 1971.  Exotic and tropical prints were a reflection of designers gaining inspiration from foreign travel destinations.

For evening in the early seventies, either straight or flared Empire line dresses with a sequined fabric bodice and exotic sleeves were the style for a dressy occasion. Picture of office girls wearing short mini dresses. Fashion history and costume history of the 1970s.

One frequently worn style was the Granny dress with a high neck. Sometimes the stand neck was pie-crust frilled, or lace trimmed. Often they were made from a floral print design in a warm brushed fabric or viscose rayon crepe which draped and gathered well into empire line styles.

Right - Typical short and mini dresses worn at an office party in 1972/3. At the front a young girl wears a long floral granny dress that covers her knees.

Another hugely successful evening style of the 1970s was the halter neck dress, either maxi or above knee.
Left - Black halter neck dress pattern of 1971.

At a disco, girls might don hot pants. In contrast to the reveal all mini, a woman would suddenly confound men by completely covering her legs and retort that mini dresses were an exploitation, rather than a liberation of women.

If you are interested in re-creating this 70s fashion for yourself, then click here.

Easier Travel Broadens the Fashion Mind

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.

Cars and Central Heating Bring Lighter Weight Clothes

If travel broadens the mind, enclosed eco systems alter the fabric options. 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 in the temperate climate of the United Kingdom almost universally became centrally heated and most women could tolerate a chill mad dash between car and front door knowing that warmth awaited them.

Long coats gradually began to decline as an essential winter buy and a series of garments from velvet jackets, quilted padded duvet coats, hip length wool velour jackets and shaded ombre dyed raincoats, were all a more usual sight as a quick cover up from the elements.
You are reading an original fashion history 1970s article written by Pauline Weston Thomas for ©.Kaftan pattern of 1971.

Caftan or Kaftan

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.

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. Right - Kaftan pattern of 1971.

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Ethnic Trends of 1970s Fashion

In the 1970s, every type of ethnic image set a trend.

A peasant fashion for eyelets with lacing, oversized ric rac braid with false bib parts of blouses became universal. Real blouses began to appear beneath short bell, or just above elbow knitwear. The lower sleeves became fuller and fuller so that by the late 1970s they were similar to Victorian engageantes. Sometimes they were left open and were known as an angel sleeve. The edging of the sleeve was often of the bordered fabric used in the main body of the garment.  Richly patterned, border print fabrics were perfect for some of the simple garment shapes of the fashion era.

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 poncho was short lived and soon became a children's style. Gypsy tops with drawn up necklines trimmed with bells and puffed sleeves were made in cheesecloth or light cottons. In the year of 1978, Broderie Anglaise made a brief appearance as trimmed petticoat hemlines designed to show beneath peasant style skirts.

At about the same time, Tibetan and Chinese quilted jackets and square armhole waistcoats, in mix and match prints were teamed with softly pleated skirts.  Sometimes they had stylised patchwork print effects and were a very pretty feminine fashion.

Indian imported cotton voile dresses overprinted in gold by Phool were often worn with quilted jackets. The colours were vivid and striking bright pinks, sea greens and wonderful shades of cornflower blues. Indian silk scarves of similar designs abounded.  It was only in the 1980s when it was widely reported in newspapers that the dresses were quickly flammable, that they lost favour.

It was during the 1970s that friendship bracelets first became fashionable. These hand braided bracelets made from coloured yarns were initially made by teenagers. As the 1970s fashion for teaching friends how to do it flagged, street sellers started to make income from the craft by weaving bracelets to order, as customers waited. The bracelets started as fine strips no wider than 6mm, but by 2001 they were often as wide as 2cm.

1970s Afghan Fur Trims and Cheesecloth Fabrics 

Foul smelling untreated bags from far flung countries began to creep into the UK. When they got damp they stank as they had not been cured properly. The same smell lingered on imported Afghan coats which were decorated and embroidered and bordered in fur. Sheepskin fur cuffs, front bands and hats with frog fastenings all gave a romantic Russian look to clothes.

The new longer clothes were made of floating and romantic fabrics that used cotton voiles and chiffons. Other fabrics such as Broderie Anglaise, tiny pink or baby blue and white checks, which had a virginal quality, all looked good in this longer fashion trend.  Cheesecloth clothes with a semi opaque quality were ideal for long peasant overtops that swung and flared away from the body hiding the waist. They followed the line of flared and bell bottom trousers.

Flared Trousers, Bell Bottoms and Trouser Suits1971- 1972 Tunic trouser suit fashion

Trousers and trouser suits were serious fashions in the 1970s.

Pants began gently flared and reached wide bell bottom proportions by about 1975. After which they slowly reduced to straight and wide until by the end of the seventies they were finally narrow again. Popular fabrics included heavy crepes, wool jersey knits, Courtelle jersey and woven Polyester suiting such as Trevira.  Emerald green, apple green and bottle green were all favoured fashion colours of the early 1970s.
Right - Green trouser suit pattern of 1971. This style of trouser suit with a hip length tunic, was very typical of fashion trends of 1971 and 1972.

Farrah Fawcett Major and her actress colleagues of the series 'Charlie's Angels' helped popularise not only flared trousers, but also a rough cut hairstyle  which demanded constant use of tongs, or heated rollers to make the hair flicks.  Many women kept spare electric curling tongs or heated rollers at work, to maintain the flickups in Farrah style.

Tights sales plummeted when some women chose to wear pop socks beneath trousers. Heavy crepes used to make wide legged trousers often emulated the Chanel trousers of the 1930s. They were worn with small knitted short vests or scoop neck tank tops. Waistcoats were popular in any length from traditional, to hip length to maxi.

Platform Soled Shoes

In the early 1970s platform shoes started with a quite slim sole which moved from ¼ inch up to about 4 inches at the peak of popularity. When they were that high, individuals frequently got friendly cobblers, or handy men to hollow out cheese holes from the sole base. A platform shoe with a 1 inch sole was quite comfortable to wear stopping the development of hard skin and feeling small stones through the soles.

By the mid seventies the most ordinary people were wearing two inch deep platforms without a second thought. But accidents did happen and many a woman and man twisted on a pair of platform shoes. At about the same time, clogs became popular as they followed the trend for chunkiness of sole.

For those who still liked to show a leg, it became tasteful in the early 70s to wear creamy white tights with black patent shoes.

1970s Tank Tops And Mix And Match Knitwear

Really 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 may be laughed at now, but it was a useful garment worn with a blouse, or simply worn blouse free with a matching V neck long style cardigan just like a modern twin set.

At the same time coordinated colour 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. Mix and match collections of separates were soon the norm within good department stores by the 1980s.

Knitwear and knitted Raschel or 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 famous designer of knitwear was Bill Gibb. His zig zagged knit patterns and complex intricate designs in bright colours were the inspiration that was much copied by chain stores. In turn these developed into the picture knits of the 1980s and a blossoming of hand and machine knitting nationwide, primarily inspired by Kaffe Fasset an associate of Gibb.  

Long knitted Dr. Who wool or acrylic scarves and matching gloves and knitted chenille turban hats were worn for winter warmth and stayed in fashion for about two years at the start of the seventies. Likewise footless leg warmers in every colour including rainbow designs were popular for two winters between 1979 and 1980.

You are reading an original fashion history 1970s article written by Pauline Weston Thomas for ©.


Fabrics and the 1970s Fashions

Despite the fact that synthetic fabrics were used in many items of clothing there was still a great following for natural fibres. Cotton velvet and cotton corduroy in particular were worn at all hours of the day by both sexes. Coloured navy, bottle green, wine or black it could be teamed with frilled shirts,or open necked shirts.


Courtelle jersey was very popular for all sorts of garments from trousers suits to tank tops to neat little dresses.

From High Bulk To Low Bulk Polyester 

Crimplene which had been so popular to create the correct 'A' line mini dress of the 1960s was used for every style of garment imaginable. High Bulk Crimplene began to run out of steam by the early to mid 70s and finer examples of the fabric like Lirelle had been introduced. Crimplene had been used since the 50s and was loved for its wash and wear qualities.

The ethnic influence meant that people were looking for natural fabrics or a fabric that at least looked more natural. Crimplene was abandoned and continued to be worn only by old ladies. By the 1990s it was almost extinct yet appeared to resurface in 2000 made into quality tops.


In the 70s Crimplene was superseded by a less bulky version of polyester called Trevira. Trevira was used to make wide Bay City Roller trousers with wide square pockets down the leg sides and which were probably the inspiration of today's combat trousers.

Viscose Rayon

By the late 1970s the scene was set for the fabrics of the 80s. Fabrics like Viscose Rayon in crinkled textures were used alongside very fine crepe de chine polyester fabrics a world away from high bulk Crimplene.

Small dollybird or granny print fabrics, looked best in draping viscose rayon. The fabric enabled the full bloused sleeves to billow and hang exactly as designers intended.

Left typical dress style of the 1970s and sewn in a dolly-bird print with full bloused sleeves..

Satinised Polyesters

Satinised polyester jacquard blouses had been fashionable since the early seventies, but had always been quite expensive. New technology enabled the satinised polyester to be combined with the crepe de chine to produce fabrics of great complexity which looked like real silk and which were ideally suited to the glitzy dresses of the 1980s. 



For some who took a middle line in fashion, the clothes by the designer Laura Ashley which harked back to country styles and long lost Victorian and Edwardian summers, gave them the contrast they had sought from the relentless sexuality of the mini and the exotic caftans. The fabrics were pure dress and cotton lawns with simple uncomplicated prints of yesteryear. They were a relief to many who loathed synthetic fabrics particularly in summer.

Cotton jersey emerged as a mainstay fabric for casual holiday wear. Unisex T-shirts were often tie dyed as was cheesecloth or plain cotton.

Disco Dance Crazes - 1970s and 1980s

By the 1970s the disco scene was huge and performance dancing was popular with variations of the shake still around with Jazz tap as the new energy. Disco dance clubs created a venue for a new kind of clothing called disco wear which was based on stretch clothes and light reflecting fabrics that shone under disco lighting.

The 80s saw break dancing, acid and house influences and a fashion for footwear such as trainers or Doc Marten shoes suited to standing bopping around all night.  

70s Disco FashionDrawing of hotpants. Fashion history and costume history of the 1970s.

1971 Dressmaking pattern for hotpants with mini topcoat.Disco looks began in the 1970s and was memorable for its hot pants look and Spandex tops. Shiny clinging Lycra stretch disco pants in hot strident shiny colours with 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 and stretch halter jumpsuits and white clothes that glowed in Ultra Violet lights capture the 70s Disco fashion perfectly.

Right -70s Disco Fashion - Hotpants 1971

Left - 1971 Dressmaking pattern for hotpants worn with mini topcoat.

Disco gave way to dress codes and a door screening policy. People had to have tried to look right to gain entry to clubs. Disco wear was never acceptable for day wear, but for night it was the only possible wear to enable the participants to be part of the action, to be part of the atmosphere of strobe lighting, mirror balls and spotlighting of individuals at any time. Satin jackets that reflected the light and a medallion resting on a tanned chest in an open neck shirt with the collar turned up were de rigueur, however awful such fashions might seem now.  The latter is a fashion male individuals will never admit they followed, yet for many men it was the equivalent of the iPod accessory or mobile phone of today.

Films like Saturday Night Fever of 1977 as John Travolta illustrates in the header, emphasised how important it was to release all the pent up energy of the working week on the weekend. Posing clothes designed to show off the body and made in materials like figure moulding stretch Lycra were ideal.

The elevation provided by platform soled shoes which were the epitome of the spirit of the seventies, also gave an air of theatrical space age fantasy as individuals in Lurex and satin flared silver trousers shimmered as they swayed to the music beat.

Linked to disco was the fashion for fitness and the craze to feel the burn as Jane Fonda urged in her workout videos.

Go to the section  Fitness Fashion.

Disco was everything that Punk the anti fashion anarchic movement was not. Punk began as a very small movement in the late seventies and was very short lived. It was never understood by the masses until the 80s when it had more impact as an anarchic statement on the western economy.

You have been reading an original fashion history 1970s article written by Pauline Weston Thomas for ©.


Retro 1960s, 1970s, 1980s talk format and music at

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