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 also making a comeback. Do you do the hustle? This fun, upbeat dance craze combined with unmistakable disco clothes is worth revisiting. Jump over to men’s disco fashion.
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 ’70s, 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, a spinning disco ball, and loud music, chances 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 men’s and women’s wear. 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 gowns 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.
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, it was what most women wore to the Disco. “You had to be comfortable. Jeans made me comfortable,” said a Disco dancer quoted in Disco Dressing.
Hot pants hit the scene in 1970 and soon appeared on both men and women. Some women wore opaque tights underneath, echoing the miniskirt;, while others went bare. Up top, “boob tubes” and plunging necklines were the order of the day — and usually worn 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. Shop ’70s workout clothes and leotards.
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. Shop 70s shoes.
“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 should fit snug, accentuating the body.
- Disco Doll – Polyester or metallic jumpsuit, gold sandals, big dangle earrings.
- Casual Dancer – Midriff 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- Metallic wrap dress, gold sandal heels, hoop earrings.
- Red Carpet – Sequin long gown, high two strap heels, dangle earrings, fur wrap/coat.
1970s Costumes – From hippie to diva, these cheap Halloween costumes are ready to wear outfits.
More trendy 1970s Outfit Ideas can be found here.
- 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, chokers, 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 + hippie blended outfits, plus Afro wigs and feather hair wigs, shoes, and accessories. See our page of favorite ’70s Disco costumes.
For both men and women, there was also a distinct retro element. 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 were 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 Americans. 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” skirt and leggings, or a ’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 pants, skinny ties, and button-down shirts are icon to the 1950s.
The bib front tuxedo shirt, cummerbund, 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 bottom pants were replaced by the straight leg pant that curved butts, sucked in tummy fat, and slimmed legs down to the ankle. There were also the baggy jeans that pleated at the high waistband. It wasn’t as “sexy” as the straight leg pant, but it 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, 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 disco’d in roller skates but they also danced 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 wore knit or terrycloth tunic dresses over striped leggings. Bright, colorful, and sporty was the way of ’80s disco.
If it all seems crazy looking back then — well, it certainly was! Diana Mankowski put 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 mid-century propriety. It burned out before its time, but it sure left a beautiful corpse.”
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Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.