Design of a Decade: The '70s

Written by antonia blyth
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The '70s Comeback – How To Wear It Today

Design of a Decade: The '70s
Marc Jacobs' Spring 2011 collection drew clear inspiration from '70s fashion. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

"Major designers of that decade like Halston designed their clothes for dancing all night at Studio 54, not slaving away at the office."

— Estee Stanley, Fashion Stylist.

You love flared trousers – they’re flattering and work well with that stack of gold bracelets you bought from your favourite discount store. This season you have your eye on a cute little wrap dress in a bold print. Though these separates seem different, did you know all of these items are staples of 1970s fashion? Every year some element of that era finds its way onto boutique racks. And, with several famous proponents, the 70s look does not appear to be going the way of disco anytime soon.

Looking Back

The history of true '70s style is best explained by one of its key purveyors, Cameron Silver. Silver founded the celebrity go-to vintage boutique, called Decades, in 1997 in Los Angeles.

“I find the '70s so incredibly modern and relevant in the 21st century," Silver said. Many great American brands flourished during that period, according to Silver, helping to define a generation of American fashion.

The contrast of styles during the 70s contributed to the plethora of looks by designers, "the beginning of the decade was rather hippy dippy, and by the late 70s," said Silver, "it was getting into disco and decadence and the Studio 54 era, with icons such as Liza Minelli and Bianca Jagger in her white suit."

Despite the popularity of iconic Studio 54 fashionistas, the cultural climate of the 60s helped fuel the stylish era of the 70s too. “In the early '70s it was about the countercultural aspects carried over from the late '60s. Both the '60s and '70s were decades with extreme cultural changes," explained Silver, "which were then reflected in the visual style of the people.” And, 1970s fashion was not entirely influenced by American trends.

“You had an influx of Asian designers who came to Paris, like Kenzo and Yamamoto, so there was this new Asian element," Silver said. "There was still a bohemia, but it was a decadent bohemia.”

This combination of post-war Bohemia, mixed with the modernity of cross-cultural styles is similar to the fashion climate today.

How to Wear '70s Styles

Estee Stanley is an LA-based stylist to such stars as Jessica Biel, Lea Michelle, Penelope Cruz and Mandy Moore. Stanley said she loves '70s style.

“It’s great because it's sophisticated but not stuffy," Stanley said. "Major designers of that decade, like Halston, designed their clothes for dancing all night at Studio 54, not slaving away at the office, so they needed to have movement. There's a real effortless glamour about '70s style."

Stanley says there are some easy ways to inject '70s style into your wardrobe. Start with one easy statement piece.

“Whether it's a wrap dress, a jumpsuit or a maxiskirt, you can take this one piece and work your whole outfit around it,” she said.

Second, mix and match earth tones.

“Brick red, sage green, mustard yellow, even sienna brown, these are all colours of the '70s that you probably already have somewhere in your closet," she said. "Just don't go overboard and mix them all together. Try two at a time for a more subtle and sophisticated '70s look.”

Third, pile on gold jewellery. Stanley suggested a "ton" of bracelets or a long pendant in pretty yellow-gold tones, and fourth, pick easy-to-wear items.

"Jumpsuits are a very stylised '70s look, but with a plunging neckline [they] can still be very sexy," she said. "Flared pants are an obvious [option] that are also pretty universally flattering. Skinny jeans don't always make you look that skinny, but flares balance out your figure.”

Flowing caftans and dresses are a one-size-fits-all '70s choice too.

Stanley said accessories should include a "great belt" and lots of "chunky jewelry."

Iconic Style

To gain inspiration for 70s glamour, check out pictures of leading style icons of the era. Silver recommends look at photos of Bianna Jagger, Cheryl Tiegs and Diana Ross.

There are also many famous modern-day lovers of '70s-inspired style, such as Nicole Richie, Olivia Munn, Princess Catherine of England, Victoria Beckham and Jade Jagger.

For Silver, key looks of the time are the minimalist works of a designer like Halston, or "a wrap dress by Diane Von Furstenburg.”

The problem is, most of us cannot afford the real thing, since a good Halston jersey evening piece would start at about £1,170 in 2011. Silver’s celebrity clients don't let such items stay on his shelves for long. “If it’s Halston and it’s jersey, it’s gone before it arrives," he said. "It doesn’t get any better to me; it’s the most desirable.”

Fashion-lovers, don’t despair. Variations and replicas of these beautiful dresses can be found on a budget. “A one-shoulder Halston dress is probably referenced every season by dozens of modern designers on the runway," Silver said. "The wrap dress has become a non-seasonal staple in the wardrobe.”

This is good news for those of us without a designer-friendly bank account. Budget chain stores such as Forever 21, Zara and H&M produce close copies of new designs almost as fast as they can come down the runway, so we can all rock those '70s styles.

Now if only Studio 54 were still an option…

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