Stephen Burrows, 1970s Innovator

Occasionally I’ll be reading about a designer, and suddenly I’ll think, “Why isn’t he/she more famous?”  Such is the case with Stephen Burrows, who started his career in design in the 1960s, and who is still at it today.  If you were around in the 1970s and were into fashion, then it is likely you remember the colorful knit creations of Mr. Burrows.  For those of you who weren’t around, let me tell you a thing or two about his work.

Burrows’s career started in the late 1960s, designing for a boutique in New York, but it really took off after he was made an in-house designer at Henri Bendel, and given his own boutique within the store, Stephen Burrows World.  These were the days when many young designers were up and coming, designing clothes for the young and for women who wanted to look young.  Trends were all over the place, with everything from the vestiges of Mod to the home-spun granny look to a nostalgic look back at the 1930s and 40s.  It took a strong designer to stand out from all the fashion noise of the day.

Burrows took a color-infused look at sportswear.  He worked in knits, but he mixed colors and patterns.  He took the construction techniques of active sportswear and applied them to streetwear.  Seams were often flat-felled, with the stitching exposed on the outside of the garment, much as you would expect to see on a sweatshirt.  Hems were finished in a zig-zag or an over-casting stitch, like the hem of a knit baseball jersey.

One such novel treatment became a bit of a signature for him – the lettuce finished hem.  The story has it that Diana Vreeland wanted to see a certain garment in “lettuce,” meaning a certain color of green, but in Burrow’s hands, “lettuce” became an overcast hem that was slightly stretched to give a ruffled effect.  It is a common feature in Burrow’s 1970s knits.

Burrows was also an originator of “color-blocking” as you can see in the two garments in the above Coty ad.  All these techniques might seem sort of oh-hum today, but you have to put his work into historic perspective.  In many cases he was the first to use techniques and design features which are today common-place.

(By the way, he did not win the Coty in 1971, but did win it two years later.)

Burrows thrived through the disco years of the late 70s and into the 80s.  His sexy knit dresses were perfect for a night in the clubs.

This beautiful dress is from the late 1970s, and is a great example of the type of work he was doing at the time.  Look at the edges of the bodice to see how he incorporated the zig-zag finish of his sportswear into a dress suitable for a night out on the town.

Photos copyright and courtesy of Blue Velvet Vintage

And here is another prime example.  You can’t escape the fact that Burrows loves color!

Photo copyright and courtesy of Spoonbread VintEdge

As I said earlier, Burrows still designs today.  Last year he did a line for Target, which I felt was in perfect keeping with the pieces from the 1970s.  You can still find the pieces quite cheaply on ebay.  Or just do as I did, find a pattern, and make your own.

Photo copyright


Filed under Designers

9 responses to “Stephen Burrows, 1970s Innovator

  1. KeLLy Ann

    That was a great read! That Pink dress was just heavenly~


  2. How interesting! I love that he’s still designing today – I had no idea about the Target connection – it seems like they’re one of the few places in the contemporary marketplace to give an opportunity for designers to get their name out to a wider audience.

    I always learn something new from you, Lizzie – thanks!


  3. Wonderful!
    His collection in the coty ad reminds me of the recent Chisato collection, which was very much inspired by 60s patterns and colour blocking. Two things I love!


  4. Enjoyed this post — love the pink knit dress especially! As much as I love color-blocking I think his was a bit over-the-top clownish for my taste.


  5. Love this post. Read Seventeen and saw his work. Love these ads. Do you remember the ads for Ladybug?


  6. Pingback: Vintage Tips, Tutorials and Links Round-Up | Penny Dreadful Vintage

  7. the dress I loved most in my life ,– I would like to replace ,as it disappeared from my wardrobe — obviously some one else loved it as much as I did .
    it was Stephen burrows ,apricot ( coral) jersey ,very fitted ,with long sleeves ,and i think it was cut on the cross ,it had a wonderful skirt from lower waist down . bought in N Y city at ,if I remember correctly Bonwit & Teller ???
    Have many wonderful memories of that dress , I Pray I can replace it some how ???im still same size 8 us


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