Modern Fashion Living in the Shadow of Disco | By CS Wall | Aug 2022

Believe it or not, the 1970s were an influential fashion era

Washington, DC, 1977. Yves le bail via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

MeterMeterAnyone despise the 1970s. High oil prices, rampant unemployment and inflation have tarnished the decade’s image. Show-off style is also the butt of jokes. While these factors are important, the negative effects of this period tend to distract us from their important contributions. An important area is clothing. Fashion is never the same after bold, individualistic people tore up the guidelines.

1970s fashion was more than white polyester suits, gold chains and platform shoes. Saturday Night Fever (1977) cast a long shadow, but it wasn’t the final word on all experiences. Nonetheless, disco has influenced many aspects of the culture. Journalist and cultural critic Andrew Koppkind wrote in August 1979:

Disco is “unreal”, artificial, exaggerated. It affirms an era of fantasy, fashion, gossip, frivolity and fun. The ’60s were braless, bulky, heavy, rugged, and romantic. Disco is sleek, sleek, fluid, contrived and controlled. Disco puts surface over substance, emotion over meaning, action over thought.

Because of the universal influence of music, Koppkind called that era the disco era. It all started in the 1970s when the first disco clubs were established in the gay community. Many gay DJs turn to disco music because they face less rejection on the scene. These DJs have edited danceable funk, R&B and soul music to suit energetic dancers.

Disco band Village People in 1978. Mario Casciano via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Certain characteristics make a song pop on the dance floor: heavy percussion, high beats per minute and catchy lyrics. Because dancers don’t want to hear pauses, skilled DJs also learn how to blend one track into another. Despite the innovation, disco remained underground for years because some people were skeptical about it.

In the early 1970s, many style elements from the past decade were still popular choices. Bright, psychedelic prints still grace many fabrics. Floral blouses, miniskirts and miniskirts are related. Dashiki and caftan are also common.

Model Liliana Caldini is being interviewed for the April 23, 1970 issue of the magazine Revista Gente y la Actualidad. Jorge Díaz from Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

In 1973, the first mainstream disco hit was “Love Theme” by Love Unlimited Orchestra. More people started visiting disco clubs. This new environment, with its dazzling dance floor, has changed the needs of fashionistas. Clothing must allow a range of motion, eg.

To meet the new demands, designs such as wrap dresses came into being. The wrap dress doesn’t get in the way of the wearer, swings with the dancer’s movements, and is flexible enough to wear to parties and work. New synthetic fabrics, like qiana, also ensure it’s not too stuffy. By 1976, Diane von Fürstenberg alone had sold more than 5 million wrap dresses.

Diane von Fürstenberg’s wrap dress at LACMA in 2014. Bruce Monroe via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

More women wore pants in the 1970s. Usually, this style is very similar to its male counterparts. The pant legs are often flared, further adding to the drama of the dance moves. High-waisted pants create a fitted silhouette that accentuates the waist. Many style choices stem from the growing prominence of sex, pornography, and sexuality in society.

Hot pants, the short cousin of trousers, appeared in this decade. Some people pair it with colorful bodysuits, like they did with miniskirts in the 1960s. Boots are the footwear of choice for this outfit.

American actress and singer Nadia Cassini in hot pants and boots in Rome, Italy (1970). Edited by author. From Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Jumpsuits made huge waves in the disco era. It offers revelers a futuristic all-in-one solution. To make a statement, many have sequins or metallic fabrics. Dancers can modify jumpsuits: bold wearers, for example, can change the length of their cleavage through the zipper.

James Brown in a jumpsuit while performing in Hamburg, Germany (1973). From Heinrich Klaffs at Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Platform shoes are popular with consumers. Some people also opt for wedge sandals or platform sandals due to the humidity. These shoes add height on a crowded dance floor.

The 1970s were also a time of global proliferation of subcultures. Punk, with its rebellion against high culture, has influenced fashion to a large extent. Shabby clothes, leather, chains and chunky boots are just some of the punk elements that have broken into mainstream fashion. Even outsiders incorporate items into their wardrobes.

Young Punk of Evansville, Indiana (circa 1984). Tim Schapker from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Young people also look to the past for inspiration. Movies like Cabaret (1972), The Great Gatsby (1974) and Bugsy Malone (1976) are examples of the fascination with the ’20s and ’30s. Thrift stores are popular with those interested in vintage looks. In the UK, the teddy boy subculture offers a unique interpretation of Edwardian fashion.

Teddy Boys on Southend Street, Southend-on-Sea (1977). Edited by author. Southend-on-Sea City Council from Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

Disco clubs are spaces that encourage individual expression. Experimentation is important. Sometimes testing leads to fashion breakthroughs, other times it becomes a fad. Later in the decade, bodysuits and stretch pants made their debut as ’80s staples.

Beate Bartel and Eva Gößling of the band Mania D (1979). in West Berlin, West Germany. Ganskörperfutter from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Disco parties are an opportunity for individuals to break free from fashion norms. Men also experimented with loud and/or muted colors. This decade has been a time of significant change. Historian Diana Mankowski wrote:

Reflecting the idea of ​​”if not a fantasy world, you can change who you are by changing your outfit”, discotheque became a place where glamour and fantasy flourished. Disco is the watchword of a generation rocking loose mid-century etiquette.

Many elements of the so-called disco era are still evident in modern fashion. Most importantly, the ethos of seeing clothing as a canvas for personal preferences, beliefs, and artistic spirit endures for decades.

Algoo, J. & Saunders, N. 2022. “A Look Back at the Greatest Fashion Moments of the 1970s” in Harper’s Bazaar.

Cartner-Morley, J. & Ferrier, M. & Conlon, S. 2019. “The ’70s Show: Why the Disco Decade is Back in Style” The Guardian.

Echols, A. 2010. Hot Topic: Disco and the Reshaping of American Culture. New York: WW Norton Company.

Kopkind, A. 1979. “What We Do Now is Disco” from The San Diego Reader.

Leaper, C. 2021. “This proves that the 70s really were the best fashion decade” by Marie Claire.

Monet, D. 2022. “A History of Fashion and Style in the 1970s” at Bellatory.

Shardlow, P. 2019. “Disco Hell, a look back at the cultural moments that defined ’70s style” in Elle.

Retro dancer. 2018. “70s Disco Fashion: Disco Costumes, Girls Costumes” in Retro Dancers.

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