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Anti-Fashion as Trends of the 1970s

Vintage Fashion

Fashion can be regarded as a set of trends that come and go, make comebacks and vanish. The changeable nature of fashion is closely related to an ever-changing society (Milford-Cottam 2018). Fashion can be a reflection of ideas, concepts, and trends that emerge in human society in general or within the scope of certain individual cultures or periods of time. To illustrate this argument, one particular decade of the 20th century will be considered here. The 1970s is an interesting period to analyse due to the prevailing worldviews and ideas that brought quite substantial changes that still resonate today in the late 2010s. This paper concentrates on anti-fashion as one of the most remarkable fashion trends of the 1970s, including its most significant icons and the factors affecting its development.

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Peculiarities of the Decade

First, it is necessary to identify the characteristic features of the 1970s. These include anti-fashion, new materials, bright colours, orientalism, self-identification, and androgyny. With regards to important clothing items to be mentioned, these include skirts of different length, flared trousers, T-shirts and statement T-shirts, along with bold combinations of various garments. Iconic designers, such as Vivienne Westwood, Diane von Furstenberg, Barbara Hulanicki, as well as style icons Sex Pistols, Mick and Bianca Jagger, David Bowie, and many others, made fashion trends visible (Taylor 2017). It is possible to note that the 1970s were a time of fun combined with activism, and this approach can be seen to have had an effect on the clothes people wore.

Fashion as a Way to Protest

Davis (2007) states that anti-fashion was not a new trend that developed in the 1970s. The fashion of negation can be traced as far back as the 18th century, and much earlier as people often tried to rebel against the norms that existed (Davis 2007). These protests could be manifested in the form of skirt lengths or the number of garments worn. In the 1970s, these types of rebels were also present. British society had many reasons to protest; they did not want war, they were against the gender roles that reigned at that period, and they rejected the glamour of the 1960s in favour of something more practical and easy (Geczy 2013).

Vivienne Westwood was one of those who expressed her rebellion through her clothes. She designed leather garments that were highly popularised by the Sex Pistols, the band that was the major initiator of the punk movement in Britain at this time. The musicians, dressed in clothes designed by Westwood, were also ready to rebel, and such looks as the combination of jeans and T-shirts alongside leather jackets became prominent in the mid-1970s.

Fashion and Activism

Another creation of Westwood was the statement T-shirt that became even more popular in the 1980s (Mackinney-Valentin 2017). Initially, T-shirts were regarded as underwear, but the rebellious 1970s made this item fashionable as an item of daily clothing. Again, this can be seen as a protest against norms and prejudice. Statement T-shirts were even more vibrant as they contained messages in the form of symbols, slogans, or words. These garments were particularly popular among feminists and anti-war activists who tried to express their ideas in different ways. Apart from their rebellious nature, such T-shirts were also extremely effective in self-expressing and self-identifying, which made them popular during periods of protest.

Feminism and Fashion

Another example of anti-fashion was the blurring of the line between male and female clothes. For example, David Bowie (especially during his concerts) dressed in bold costumes and combined things that seemed to be completely mismatched (Taylor 2017). Bowie, as well as millions of men, wore high-heeled boots. At the same time, women often chose to wear trousers and suits. Ferrier (2014, par. 1) notes that such style icons as Annie Hall and Diane Keaton often “toyed gender boundaries.” They wore loose costumes and trousers, which was another way to protest against the established gender-related rules.

The strong feminist movement was one of the key markers of the 1970s. Females fought for true equality and the elimination of many norms and gender stereotypes. Wearing trousers and taking on traditional male looks was another way to express the ideas of feminism (Cartner-Morley 2015). British people tried to accept the fact that there should be no distinction between genders, and certain clothes helped them to achieve this goal. Barbara Hulanicki contributed considerably to the popularisation of power suits that made females feel empowered. The designer tried different materials and prints, but the idea remained the same; females could play similar roles in society as their male counterparts, be it in business or politics (Entwistle 2007).

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Lauren Hutton was a model and one of the icons of the 1970s who often wore trousers and suits. Although Margaret Thatcher did not wear trousers, her power suits were linked to similar ideas of feminism. The rise of this prominent woman in the political arena was a potent stimulus for many females. In many cases, women expressed their feminist views with the choice of their clothes.

Fashion and Comfort

Anti-fashion was also associated with a new focus on comfort rather than glamour. Diane von Furstenberg was one of the central figures in this trend. The designer created her famous jersey wrap dress for females who had to balance professional and family life (Milford-Cottam 2018). This new garment could be seen as representing a larger trend in society. The 1970s were characterised by a high degree of divorces, and, hence, many females had to start providing for their children (Carey et al., 2018). They did not have much time to be fashionable and glamorous as they had more responsibilities (English 2013).

Therefore, the designer developed a dress that enabled busy women to look fashionable at work, in their homes, at the park with their children, and during parties. In addition to comfort, these dressed fitted most women irrespective of the peculiarities of their shapes. It was possible to look nice without conforming to the beauty standards that prevailed at that time.

The popularity of the wrap dress can also be linked to another trend that reigned during the 1970s. Orientalism was one of the central features of the decade due to the attention paid to the war in Vietnam. The oriental shape of the wrap dress was associated with Asian looks that were popular during this period (Geczy 2013). Western people were fascinated with the culture of the East that seemed natural and mysterious.

Surprising Combinations

Finally, one more illustration of anti-fashion was people’s desire to combine different items. As mentioned above, David Bowie was one of the celebrities who never followed any norms or conventions. The combination of a blazer and denim jeans worn alongside a statement T-shirt was not uncommon for him. Debbie Harry was a punk musician who also followed her own style instead of trying to be ‘trendy’ in the general sense of the word. Likewise, British women simply had little time to consider the meticulous details of their style and looks. They wanted to wear comfortable clothes that enabled them to achieve everything they had on their daily lists.

These smaller trends were elements of a larger movement of the 1970s, which was anti-fashion. Although many demonstrated their contempt for trends, ironically, they followed the fashion of their own time. They were all apostles of anti-fashion of the period when significant social changes were taking place. Women felt more empowered, which translated into their common use of power suits and experimenting with more traditional male looks. Gender roles were blurring, and both males and females paid little attention to the associated conventions in clothing. People seemed to disregard the norms and rules. However, it is noteworthy that glamour retained a place in the fashion of that time. The period was a time of experiments, innovations, and self-identification.


In conclusion, it is clear that the major trend of fashion of the 1970s was anti-fashion. This decade of protests and feminism affected the development of clothing trends in many ways. People used their clothes to express their views and self-identify. Comfort was often valued higher than glamour. Rebellion against established conventions was a key element in the fashion industry, as designers and style icons often tried to shock with their looks.

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Such inventions as statement T-shirts and wrap dresses appeared during the 1970s as people tried to combine activism, professionalism, family, and fun. It is interesting to note that these concepts and ideas are also emerging in current society today. The rise of certain concerns and issues can account for the comeback of certain fashions. In the 2010s, people are, once again, placing a high value on comfort and activism, giving rise to the popularity of many garments from the 1970s.

Reference List

Carey, L, Cervellon, MC, McColl, J, Stewart, A & Yen, YCY 2018, ‘Vintage fashion: a cross-cultural perspective’, in D Ryding, CE Henninger, M Blazquez Cano (eds), Vintage luxury fashion: exploring the rise of the secondhand clothing trade, Springer, Manchester, pp. 185-205.

Cartner-Morley, J 2015, ‘How to rock the 70s look: dress like your mum’, The Guardian. Web.

Davis, F 2007, ‘Do clothes speak? What makes them fashion’, in M Barnard (ed), Fashion theory: a reader (Routledge student readers), Routledge, Oxon, pp. 148-158.

English, B 2013, A Cultural history of fashion in the 20th and 21st centuries: from catwalk to sidewalk, 2nd edn, Bloomsbury, London.

Entwistle, J 2007, ‘Power dressing and the construction of the career woman’, in M Barnard (ed), Fashion theory: a reader (Routledge student readers), Routledge, Oxon, pp. 208-219.

Ferrier, M 2014, ‘Gender-neutral fashion: beyond menswear and womenswear’, The Guardian. Web.

Geczy, A 2013, Fashion and orientalism: dress, textiles and culture from the 17th to the 21st century, A&C Black, London.

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Mackinney-Valentin, M 2017, Fashioning identity: status ambivalence in contemporary fashion, Bloomsbury Publishing, London.

Milford-Cottam, D 2018, Fashioning in the 1970s, Shire Publications, London.

Taylor, K 2017, Vintage fashion & couture: from Poiret to McQueen, Hachette, Boston, MA.

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