Grandma Had it Goin” On: Your Guide to Vintage Fashion of the 1970s

Are you ready to boogie? Then hop on the hippie disco train, Persephoneers – we’re gonna learn about the polyester goodness of 1970s fashion. It’s a lot more than just leisure suits. I have many ’70s pieces in my wardrobe – they’re fun and fit both the curvy and the not-so. Because of its fabrics and relative youth, ’70s clothing is in plentiful supply and easy to care for. What’s not to love? So put on your giant shades, tie a scarf around your neck, adjust your corduroy, and let’s go!

You can catch up on my previous posts in this series here with the general how-to of buying vintage, the 1950s, and the 1960s.

Bodice, vintage 1970s forest green velour peasant/hippie maxi dress (from my collection).
Bodice, vintage 1970s forest green velour peasant/hippie maxi dress (from my collection).

 

Vintage 1970s forest green velour peasant/hippie maxi dress (from my collection).
Vintage 1970s forest green velour peasant/hippie maxi dress (from my collection).
Label, vintage 1970s forest green velour peasant/hippie maxi dress (from my collection).
Label, vintage 1970s forest green velour peasant/hippie maxi dress (from my collection).

1970s shapes:

Flared and bell sleeves, bell-bottom and wide-leg pants, skirts in every length from mini to maxi – these are all common tenets of 1970s fashion. You can find everything from the loose to the fitted, which makes the era super versatile.

There was a resurgence of 1930s shapes in the ’70s, which is great for those of us who don’t have that long, straight-up-and-down physique.

70s does 30s peplum dress, pattern courtesy of So Vintage Patterns
70s does 30s peplum dress, pattern courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

Here’s a classic ’70s look – a maxi dress. Mine above has a defined waist, but this empire style is super forgiving on every shape and has made a resurgence in the last year.

70s maxi dress, pattern courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
70s maxi dress, pattern courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

So-called “ethnic” looks were huge in the ’70s. Peasant styles, “gypsy” looks, and hints of Russian flair were all in evidence.

70s versatile dress and pants pattern, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
70s versatile dress and pants pattern, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

 

Jumpers and pinafores were big. These are a great way to mix modern and vintage – throw a cute jumper on over a modern tee and you’re ready to go.

70s jumper/pinafore, pattern courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
'70s jumper/pinafore, pattern courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

Full-on jumpsuits are back, and we can thank the 1970s for making them so damn cool.

70s white cotton jumpsuit, pic courtesy of Vintage Vixen.
'70s white cotton jumpsuit, courtesy of Vintage Vixen.

 

Skirt lengths in the ’70s ran the gamut from mini (well above the knee) to midi (covering the knee, hitting mid-calf) to maxi (to the floor). Midis look good on pretty much no one but a supermodel, but the mini and maxi are both staples of modern clothing.

70s multi-skirt length pattern, courtesy of eBay.
'70s multi-skirt length pattern, courtesy of eBay.

I haven’t blogged too much about shoes, but the 1970s platform says everything about the era in one item. Well, a pair of them. Note that sweet, sweet orange and brown color combo.

Orange and brown plaid 70s platform shoes, pic courtesy of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum.
Orange and brown plaid '70s platform shoes, pic courtesy of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum.

And here’s the look that most folks associate with the ’70s: the leisure suit. I can’t really embrace wearing one for fashion’s sake, but the pants could be awesome with a sexy sweater or tee. The look was part of a new menswear bent to women’s fashion that is still alive today. More women were entering the work force, and we came to play.

70s leisure suit, pic courtesy of Vintage Vixen.
70s leisure suit, pic courtesy of Vintage Vixen.

Disco is both a style of clothing and music that get bashed a lot, but I just love them. If loving the Bee Gees is wrong, then to hell with you. This is the perfect disco dress – sexy, flattering, dramatic. Let me tell you – go to a party and dance in something like this and you’ll have to beat the sexy persons off with a disco stick.

70s maxi halter disco dress, pic courtesy of rockstreetvintage.
'70s maxi halter disco dress, courtesy of rockstreetvintage.

1970s knits can be smooth or scratchy – but it’s not all double-knit polyester out there. If you like the look below, you can find tons of this sort of thing by searching eBay or Etsy for “secretary dress.” These are easy, wash-and-wear vintage pieces that are neither overblown nor costumey.

70s knit secretary dress, courtesy of Vintage Vixen.
'70s knit secretary dress, courtesy of Vintage Vixen.

Hippiedom began in the late ’60s and was in full swing in the ’70s. Mushrooms and owls were popular motifs (and still are), as well as anything “ethnic.” Indian styles of clothing surged into prominence – so too did anything vaguely bohemian in nature. Styles were flowing, fringed and went well with too much hair.

70s hippie dress, courtesy of Etsy seller rhapsodyvintagelove.
'70s hippie dress, courtesy of rhapsodyvintagelove.

This is one of my very favorite vintage finds ever – a Sears hippie maxi dress tribute to Sarah Bernhardt.

Sears Great Entertainers Sarah Bernhardt Maxi Dress
Sears Great Entertainers Sarah Bernhardt maxi dress (from my collection).
Sears Great Entertainers Sarah Bernhardt Maxi Dress Closeup
Detail, Sears Great Entertainers Sarah Bernhardt maxi dress (from my collection).
Sears Great Entertainers Sarah Bernhardt Maxi Dress
Label, Sears Great Entertainers Sarah Bernhardt maxi dress (from my collection).

 1970s Colors:

As always, I recommend taking a trip down Internet-memory lane at the Vintage Ad Browser to see 1970s colors in their natural habitat. Earth tones were very popular – oranges, rusts, browns, mustards, avocados. Peach is a fabulous ’70s color that works beautifully on almost everyone. Muted blues and lavenders can be found, and reds abound as well. There’s a little something for everyone, so you don’t have to dress like my parents’ guacamole-colored carpet if you won’t want to.

Identifying a 1970s piece:

Besides the style and colors, there are a couple of clues you’re holding something from the ’70s as opposed to an older piece. Those ’30s and ’40s throwbacks popular in the ’70s especially can be mislabeled by online sellers who’ve made a mistake. ’70s seams will likely be serged as opposed to unfinished. Another huge dating clue, courtesy of sweet*cherry*pops’ eBay dating guide:

The FTC required in 1971 that textile manufacturers list the garment care instructions on labels (Care Labeling Rule). The labels must have washing, drying, bleaching, ironing, and/or dry cleaning instructions. Rule of thumb, if your garment has care instructions it is most likely created AFTER 1971.

So care guides = ’70s or later. Easy peasy. This is why you ask to see all the tags available before you buy something online.

How to wear it:

What’s my mantra, vintage fans? That’s right: MIX AND MATCH. And the ’70s is a perfect decade with which to do it. Layers were the name of the game. I wear this coat all winter long and rarely go out without a compliment on it.

 

Vintage 1970s suede car coat (from my collection).
Vintage 1970s suede car coat (from my collection).

 

Label, vintage 1970s suede car coat (from my collection).
Label, vintage 1970s suede car coat (from my collection).

Mix your ’70s platforms with a swishy little dress you bought a week ago. Throw on a Firefly t-shirt with your rust-colored polyester bellbottoms. Wear that ’70s jumpsuit with this season’s six-inch platform heels. I saw big, floppy ’70s-style hats at the mall yesterday – so chic right now! The ’70s went from awesome to ugly and back to awesome again – and it’s relatively cheap to find, whether at the Goodwill or online.

Need some inspiration?

Be Gloria Gaynor for a day.

Gloria Gaynor circa 1970s.
Gloria Gaynor circa 1970s.

You cannot go wrong when channeling the Divine Miss M.

Bette Midler circa 1970s, courtesy of Digital Journal.
Bette Midler circa 1970s, courtesy of Digital Journal.

Diane Keaton’s ’70s menswear will always be in style.

Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, pic courtesy of Michael's Movie Mania.
Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall," pic courtesy of Michael's Movie Mania.

And there is no greater badass than Pam Grier. I have an abounding love for the Afro – I just think it’s damn beautiful.

Pam Grier in the 70s, pic courtesy of Your It List.
Pam Grier in the '70s, pic courtesy of Your It List.

Whether you’re a hippie, a disco mama, or a chic working girl, you can find it all in the 1970s. It’s a decade that gets a totally-undeserved bad rap, fashion-wise. What’s your favorite 1970s look? Tell me in the comments!

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Lucy Woodhull

Lucy Woodhull is a novelist, humorist, parodist, and all-around geek. Her new venture is THE SHITTIEST PRINCESS, a series of un-fair-y tales right here on Persephone. You can check out her sexy, fun romantic comedies at www.lucywoodhull.com.

7 thoughts on “Grandma Had it Goin” On: Your Guide to Vintage Fashion of the 1970s”

  1. Ooh, I love 70s style! I keep finding myself stalking eBay for vintage maxi dresses, mostly ugly fur-trimmed coats, and caftans I know I won’t wear out of the house but buy anyway because they look pretty in my closet. I’ve been on the lookout for some high-waisted flares, but I can’t find any that don’t make my thighs look strange, new or vintage.

  2. This feels like as good a place as any to share that I learned to put on makeup by watching old Ziggy Stardust videos on YouTube. (This was in 2005, when said videos were over thirty years old.) I still have a major soft spot for items of clothing that look like future spacesuits for gay men.

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