In the 1970s women had a new range of fashion open to them. Influenced by the women's liberation movement and the protest years of the 1960s, American women were no longer willing to follow the lead of fashion designers. Women wanted more than one look and seemed to thrive on choice. Selecting from a variety of fashions and styles suited women's new sense of fashion independence. As designer Calvin Klein explained, the new ethic in clothes was that they must work "over and over" in varying ensembles, from day to night, and from season to season. Hemlines could be either short, like the miniskirt, or long, like the peasant dress. Pants were no longer controversial. More and more women chose to wear casual no-press pants to work and luxurious velvet or satin pants for an elegant evening out. Growing interest in the Third World and Asia launched a new ethnic look for women, while concern with ecology set off an antifur backlash. With all these choices American women could design their own look, one that expressed their own unique sense of style. Choice, personality, and comfort were the fashion hallmarks of the 1970s woman.
Breaking the Rules
The 1970s also marked a break-down of traditional categories in fashion. Until the 1970s haute couture had set fashion trends for all women. But thanks to the youth movement of the late 1960s, fashion was now created on the streets and campuses across the nation. Ordinary young Americans set the trends that fashion designers like Oscar de la Renta followed. Imitating the political slogans of 1968, Yves St. Laurent cried, "Down with the Ritz, up with the street!"
This "do your own thing" attitude in clothes emphasized a woman's personality, her independence of mind, and her spirit of experimentation. Hot pants, short shorts for women, burst into the headlines in 1971 to rival the still-popular miniskirt. Worn with high boots and a maxi coat, or platform sandals and a halter top, hot pants were popular in 1971 and 1972. Ethnic and period fashions were also big hits. Styles of the American Indian, the Tirolean peasant, the Spanish gypsy, the frontier woman, and the Victorian lady were seen throughout the fashion world. New variations on pants appeared in long and short culottes that hung like a skirt, harem pants that bloused at the ankle, and knickers worn with boots.
Nowhere was the line between dress and sportswear more blurred in the early 1970s than at work. Shirtdresses that fell just above or below the knee with a long-slit hemline could be worn at work or for a casual dinner out. The Saint-Tropez skirt with its spirals of cotton prints looked like vacation wear, but when combined with a vest, antique blouse, or a blazer, it became fashionable for the office. The safari-styled pantsuit with its loose drawstring jacket and sweater sets by Anne Klein were also popular work choices. Most important, women felt free to wear a range of clothes to work, from pantsuits to casual sweater sets to knee-length or midcalf-length dresses.
Fabrics and Colors
In the early years of the decade new colors and patterns multiplied. Popular patterns included stars, flowers, big arrows, zigzag argyles, and Zodiac signs. Paisley prints remained popular. There were also new fabric combinations of acetate and nylon, polyester, nylon and flax, and many variations of cotton and dacron. These fabrics held their shape and line without ironing. Sparkle and glitter were popular for evening wear. Metallics were frequently blended with wool and mohair in sweaters to add elegance and a feeling of luxury. By the end of the decade, day wear returned to more classic whites, grays, and subdued solids; evening wear turned from colors to blacks and solids.
Shoes and Cosmetics
Shoe designers fell in line with the new looks for women. Knee-high boots were the rage. The square-heel Frye boot gave this trend a western feel. Swedish clogs, linen espadrilles, and platform sandals were also big fashion hits. In cosmetics natural products took off. Cucumber lotions, herbal cleansers, vitamin E lipstick, and protein shampoos sold briskly. Spokesmen for big cosmetics firms contended that their products had always used natural ingredients and tried to capitalize on the growing interest in organic foods and gardening.
Annalee Gold, 90 Years of Fashion (New York: Fairchild Fashion Group, 1991);
Caroline Rennolds Milbank, Couture: The Great Designers (New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1985), pp. 183-186, 399-402;
Doreen Yarwood, Fashion in the Western World: 1500-1990 (New York: Drama Book Publishers, 1992), pp. 149-165.