1970s disco fashion has circled back in recent years thanks in part to mainstream fashion’s return to the boho style. 70s disco costumes are sought after Halloween and themed party outfits year after year while disco dancing itself, is making a comeback. Do you do the hustle? This fun, upbeat, dance craze combined with unmistakable disco clothes is worth revisiting.
Skip the history and shop 1970s disco fashion clothing.
70s Disco Fashion
The disco craze of the 1970s was, in many ways, the decade itself in miniature. The decade at large broke boundaries of all kinds, while discotheques took the best elements of every ‘60s subculture — from hippies to drag queens and everything in between — and produced something totally new, totally different, and totally inclusive. Disco clothing, like the decade itself, brought far-flung fashions together like no other movement had. In hot nightclubs like Studio 54, Funhouse and Xenon in New York City or the Palace in Paris, dressing for a disco was a chance to wear your personality, much like a costume. With flashing lights, spinning disco ball and loud music, a chance for conversation were minimal so the disco costume had to say it all.
As such, disco clothing was hardly confined to the dance floor: its elements trickled down to 70s street fashion and even workwear. The 1970s kicked off the age of casual, and fashion has never been the same. Jeans at work and short-shorts by night? You’ve got disco to thank!
Disco fashion, and 1970s fashion more broadly is notable for its lack of distinction between mens- and womenswear. Certain elements leaned one way or another — not many men in wrap dresses! — but the hairstyles, accessories, and overall silhouettes were more androgynous than anything the squares had seen. 70s disco fashion was the love child of many formerly segregated subcultures: breaking boundaries was in its blood. The culture took hippies’ “free love” ethos to its most dramatic conclusion, throwing anything and everything together and wearing it with pride.
1970s Women’s Disco Clothing
The disco damsel dealt in extremes. Her clothes were very loose, very tight, or a little bit of both. The goal was standing out, and occupying opposite ends of the spectrum was a surefire way to do it. “In the 1970s,” writes Diana Mankowski of the Ultimate History Project, “people wore clothes that stood out in order to fit in.”
Perhaps the decade’s best-known invention was the wrap dress. The groundbreaking Diane von Furstenburg number swaddled millions of women in stretch jersey. The dress was a cross-cultural hit, appearing in the workplace as well as on the dance floor. “[I wore] all the wrap dresses and full skirts made in Qiana. You can’t forget that fabric,” enthuses Elizabeth C. “Though my disco days were limited to the under 18 clubs, it was everywhere. Silky, stretchy, oh so 70s fabulous.”
More glittery dresses took to the dance floor in the mid to late 70s when the metallic wrap dress took disco to an elevated place. It was sexy yet friendly to all ages. Roy Halston Frowick was the lead American designer of the flowing chiffon gown in shimmering materials that were worn by stars and copied for the masses around the world. Often with empire waists, Grecian draping, and long leg slits, it brought an elegance to the dance floor that had been lacking for most of the decade. Shop 70s gowns and eveningwear (great for wedding party dresses too.)
Despite its popularity, though, women were wearing pants in record numbers. They paired bell-bottoms with halter-neck tops and finished the look with slingback sandals or platform boots. The look was simple and honestly what most women wore to the Disco. “You had to be comfortable. Jeans made me comfortable”, said a Disco dancer quoted in Disco Dressing. Hotpants hit the scene in 1970 and soon appeared on both men and women. Some women wore opaque tights underneath, echoing the miniskirt; others went bare. Up top, “boob tubes” and plunging necklines were the order of the day — and usually braless.
Later in the decade, foreshadowing the ‘80s fitnesswear craze, baggy bell-bottoms disappeared in favor of skintight “bodywear”. Both sexes wore the leotards, bodysuits, and stretch pants that soon became emblematic of the club scene. As silhouettes got slimmer, hair got more dramatic. Styles like long hair on men and Afros on both sexes, once hallmarks of the counterculture, hit the discotheques and mainstream America alike. Stars like Farrah Fawcett popularized feathered hair for women, and men weren’t far behind.
All the better to glow beneath the disco ball, revelers accessorized with sequins, feathers, and bright makeup. The brilliant tones stood out in a sea of white suits and gold chains. Shoes only heightened the glam. Alongside ever-present platforms, stilettos and spike heels reigned. Thea Cadabra’s whimsical designs included the “dragon” — complete with teeth and plumage — and the “rocket”. Disco shoes were every bit the status symbol. For Bianca Jagger’s infamous horse ride into Studio 54 in 1977, she chose gold leather stilettos by none other than Manolo Blahnik. Meanwhile, her more practical counterparts wore their boyfriends’ clogs and cowboy boots, which were almost as popular with women as with men.
“Disco dressing skewed our fashion budget. We had to allow more money for dance clothes like spandex jeans, slinky silk crepe de Chine dresses, and the highest, skimpiest sandals. We could barely hobble across a crosswalk in some ankle-strapped creations, but somehow we managed to dance in them all night. ” – What We Wore, Ellen Melinkoff
Disco Outfits for Girls
There are a few rules to putting together a disco outfit. 1. Either the top of the bottom should shine but not both, unless it is a jumpsuit. 2. Tops should be breathable, loose, sleeveless, or cropped. 3. Bottoms would fit snug, accentuating the body
- Disco Doll – Polyester or metallic jumpsuit, gold sandals, big dangle earrings
- Casual Dancer – Mid-drift knit top, flare pants or jeans, platform shoes, plastic jewelry
- Disco Ball – V neck sequin top, flare jeans, mid-high sandal heels, rhinestone jewelry
- 60s Disco – Mini dress or skirt, tall boots, fringe vest
- 80s Disco – Hot pink spandex jeans, sleeveless T-Shirt, sweatband
- Disco Diva – Full spandex bodysuit or leotard and leggings, string belt, sandal heels, drop earrings
- Party All Night- Metalic wrap dress, gold sandal heels, hoop earrings
- 60s-70s Costume– From hippie to diva, these cheap Halloween costumes are ready to wear outfits
- Belts: Braided leather, Indian beaded, shiny vinyl, glitter, metal with rhinestones, velvet, knitted or tie sashes
- Bags: Clutches, coin purse, binocular cases, wine flask, wrist canteen, metal mesh, tooled leather
- Etc: Feather boa, sequin sash, scarf, fan
- Jewelry: Whisper chains, chockers, drop earrings, tiara, crown, armbands, wrist and ankle bracelets, wrist cuffs
Disco costumes are readily available during Halloween and party stores year round. Unlike many other decades, the disco costumes are not totally inaccurate. They offer disco dresses, disco jumpsuits, bell bottoms, and a host of disco+hippe blended outfits plus afro wigs and feather hair wigs, shoes and accessories. See our page of favorite 70s Disco costumes.
70s Mens Disco Clothing
“Put a guy who keeps his body in reasonable shape in a pair of (tight) jeans, boots, and a muscle-hugging shirt, and you ‘ve got macho.” – Disco Dressing, Leonard McGill
70s disco dudes built on the Peacock Revolution of the 1960s, strutting the dance floor in all the trappings of the neo-dandy. Long hair, ruffled shirts, and gold jewelry were cultural mainstays. Jumpsuits and platform boots were popular with both sexes. Hot pants were a perennial favorite.
Even more traditional silhouettes were touched by the new extravagance. Casual separates and three-piece leisure suits remained popular but rendered now in bold prints and body-hugging cuts borrowed from 1960s psychedelia. White suits were offset by plunging necklines and wide lapels. Bell-bottom jeans by Vanderbilt and Fiorucci offered a more sedate variant — though shirts were still worn unbuttoned. Also known as “angel flights” and “loon [balloon] pants”, bell-bottoms worked for every look, from the casual to the upper echelons. “[I wore] white bell-bottoms [with] a satin pattern[ed] shirt,” says former disco dancer Mark K. Another dancer, Paul B. , wore his “loon pants” with nine-inch platforms and “a cool belt buckle”.
As mass production gained steam, artificial fibers became increasingly popular. Silk nylons by Qiana, introduced in 1968, became shirts and ties. Spandex, polyester, and jersey blends shone under discotheque light, while double-knits allowed a dizzying variety of colors and patterns. Not even shoes were exempt.
Hippie influence brought a touch of southwestern chic to men’s footwear. Men seeking a more solid boot eschewed vinyl platforms for the leather cowboy style. Clogs, originally from Scandinavia, lent some earthy charm. But the biggest surprise in 1970s shoes: athletics! As dress codes grew increasingly casual, gym shoes were appropriate for public wear for the first time. Brightly colored Vans skateboard shoes, invented in 1966, fit the bill nicely.
Disco Outfits for Guys
Men can wear a disco outfit that is 70s casual to flashy clubwear. Most disco dancing dudes will choose bell bottom pants, a disco shirt, and big belt. Simple, yet very retro. Here are some more ideas:
- 70s Stud: Loose, buttondown shirts paired with corduroy flare pants, rhinestone belt, cowboy boots (Fur coat optional)
- Disco Fever: Flashy metallic or paisley open neck “Disco” shirt, white flare jeans, white platform shoes, gold chain necklace
- Studio 54: A snug open top shirt, bell bottom jeans, wide leather belt, platform shoes
- Almost 80s: A scoop neck tank top, tight metallic jeans, half boots
- Stayin’ Alive: Spandex muscle shirt, straight leg chinos, red belt, white boots
- Retro Groove: Sheer Hawaiian shirt, vintage pleated pants, loafers
- 1970s Casual: Knitted sports shirt, indigo denim jeans, brown belt, retro sneakers
- Soul Singer: 70s leisure suit, bold shirt, white dress shoes
- 60s-70s Disco costumes– Cheap Halloween costumes to buy or inspire your own outfit.
For both men and women, there was also a distinct retroelement. Many dancers drew inspiration from ’20s, ’30s, ‘40s and ‘50s styles — zoot suits and teddy boy ensembles for men, full skirts and victory rolls for women. There was also beaded flapper dresses from the 20s, and sporty rompers of the 30s. Vintage clothes were only just becoming fashionable; disco culture, of course, was on the cutting edge. These unique vintage clothes allowed the personality of the disco dancer to stand out from the sea of spandex. Plus the quality was much higher than modern synthetics. The vintage trend was not only for American’s. Shop owners in New York stayed open late on the weekends so that Europeans could shop vintage too- and they did!
For a vintage disco outfit try pairing a 40s padded shoulder blouse with 50s carpi pants, a 50s beaded sweater with a crinoline “tutu” skirts and leggings, or 20s flapper dress with a men’s 50s smoking jacket. Vintage lingerie, nightgowns, slips and robes also made excellent disco outfits. Add accessories such as cat-eye glasses, 40s costume jewelry, and 30s hats for more vintage “cool.” For men, Hawaiian shirts and jeans are very ’80s just as peg leg 50s pants, skinny ties and button-down shirts. The bib front tuxedo shirt, cumberbund, and satin stripe pant was a vintage alternative to the 70s ruffled shirt and leisure suit.
1980s Disco Clothing
Disco did not die in 1979. It lived for a few more years into the 80s with some changes to fashion. The bell bottoms pants were replaced by the straight leg pant that curved butts, sucked in tummy fat and slimmed legs down to the ankle. There was also the baggy jeans that pleated at the high waistband. It wasn’t as “sexy” as the straight leg pant but was more comfortable. Spandex and stretch fabrics increased in popularity, combining with cotton jeans for a reflective bottom. The spandex bodysuit or leotard continued to grow too. Rhinestones and sequins embellished bodywear. Dance shoes like ballet flats or wedges, canvas “Jazz” sneakers, tapless tap shoes and leather booties made dancing more sporty. Add in arm warmers, leg warmers, wrap skirts and sweaters and chunky plastic jewelry and it was Jazzercise time at the Disco.
Besides dance, there was the roller disco style. Combining the sport of roller skating and the dance of disco gave 80s fashion a new look. Paring short metallic gym shorts with a leotard or sequin tank top took this street sport to the dance floor and back again. American’s discoed in roller skates but they also discoed in smooth sole sneakers at the clubs. Other types of athletic clothing were worn such as golf shirts, striped rugby shirts, mesh jerseys, warm up jackets, crop sweatshirts, and muscle shirts for men. As for bottoms, velour sweatpants/tracksuits were fine at the roller rink but stretch jeans, tights and leggings were better at the Disco. Some women wore chiffon dance skirts while others knit or terrycloth tunic dresses over striped leggings. Bright, colorful, sporty was the way of 80s disco.
If it all seems crazy looking back — well, it certainly was! Diana Mankowski puts it best: “Reflecting the idea that ‘discos are nothing if not a fantasy world, where you can change your identity by changing your costume,’ discotheques became places where glamour and fantasy reigned.” Disco was the rallying cry of a generation shaking loose midcentury propriety. It burned out before its time, but it sure left a beautiful corpse.
This article was co-written by Syke Makaris and Debbie Sessions
Did you Disco in the 70s or 80s? Tell us about it in the comment