1970s Fashion: Rock goes soft, disco finds a beat and punk trashes everything

By Ali Datko, ReMIND Magazine

 Disco fashion rules in “Saturday Night Fever” (1977). Disco fashion rules in “Saturday Night Fever” (1977). By the ’70s, most fashion-related stigmas of the past had been overturned, clearing the way for even more experimentation and expression. This attitude ironically characterizes the three primary fashion subcultures of the ’70s, which are all strikingly different.

The hippie look, continued from the ’60s, typifies the first few years of the decade. Tie-dyed T-shirts, bell-bottoms and peace-sign pendants were popular.

By the mid ’70s, the “disco” era was in full swing, and extravagant accessories, polyester leisure suits and platform shoes came into vogue. Late-night dance clubs popularized funk and soul music, and served as a social outlet for both mainstream and “outsider” communities, including gays and even those experimenting with psychedelic drugs. Disco fashion seemed to adhere to a “the more flamboyant, the better” rule, with club-goers picking styles that would glow or shimmer on the dance floor.

By the late ’70s, disco faced sharp opposition from rockers, but especially from the new punk subculture. Punk originated in London as a backlash to the passive hippie movement, as well as the politically apathetic disco movement; but really it was a wholesale rejection of mainstream culture. Seventies punk was by no means popular — outrageous marginality was indeed its intrinsic point — but it was arguably one of the most impassioned and influential movements in music and fashion.

Fueled by adolescent angst and detest for mainstream materialism, punk quickly gained a devout underground following. Though recognizable by tangible characteristics such as outrageous hair and clothing, the heart of punk culture lives in its expressive music and political (or rather, anti-political) ideologies. London bands the Sex Pistols and The Clash, as well as Iggy and the Stooges and The Ramones in New York City, are considered some of the founders of punk-rock music.

Punk fashion was explicitly offensive, intended to get a rise out of conservatives, elders or just anyone. (The Sex Pistols’ signature song, “God Save the Queen,” was written on the occasion of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 and sung with such anti-monarchy nastiness that it was banned by the BBC.) Often handmade, punk clothing generally was unisex and usually consisted of everyday items that had been customized with safety pins, permanent markers, band logos, patches or metal studs. Hairstyles were unorthodox, to say the least; brightly colored spikes and Mohawk haircuts were the norm, as were various facial and body piercings.

Punk culture has remained a thriving underground culture and — much to the abhorrence of its staunchest followers — has even attained sporadic popularity in mainstream music and fashion. Outrageous styles that once evoked dropped jaws and raised eyebrows are now considered.