Nostalgia – 70s Style

Today we have come to expect that each new fashion season will include a healthy dose of borrowing from other fashion eras.  It seems like every collection is a nod to the 20s or to the 70s, or to the early 60s.  This is nothing new.  Read late 1930s fashion magazines and you will see a lot of buzz about Victorian influences.  The mid 1960s reminded people a lot of the 1920s.

But it was in the late 1960s and into the 1970s that looking back at trends became what drove the trends themselves.  We think about the 70s, and many things spring to mind – hippie ethnic looks, disco, and the romantic looks of Laura Ashley and Gunne Sax.  All these trends were a big part of what the 1970s were all about, but one of the biggest influences was nostalgia, especially nostalgia for the 1920s through 1940s.

Nostalgic Scenes on Sweaters, in a 1974 Pandora ad in Seventeen magazine

There’s nothing unusual about fashion looking to the past for inspiration, but in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, fashion was driven not so much by copying fashions from the past as it was by a nostalgic view and perception of life in the 1920s through the 1940s.

And it wasn’t a view of the era as it actually was so much as it was a look at our grandparents’ and parents’ time as it should have been.  So what if there had been Prohibition, the Great Depression and WWII?  Nostalgia made the past look like so much fun.

Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker
Copyright Warner Brothers

1967 is remembered as the Summer of Love, but it was also the year Bonnie and Clyde was released.  This movie took two of the baddest of the bad and put a rose-colored tint on their lives and crimes. Watching the movie, you got the idea that the 1930s and the Depression were not so bad as the history books tended to make us believe.

In fact, the 30s never looked so good (unless you count 1930s cinema!). The clothes by Theodora Van Runkle were sensational – Bonnie Parker was lean and trim, and her beret was the perfect hat. Just when we thought the mini was the only length to wear, Bonnie’s long silhouette  helped usher in longer skirts.

“Once again the ever-eclectic designer of the Sixties seems most innovative when he’s working in nostalgia’s attic. He is particularly attracted to the Thirties, perhaps because it was the last pure era of unselfconscious opulence, and thus the nearest decade to our ostentatious own.” American Fabrics, Spring 1968

 Bogart clothes hanger from 1967

But the craze was not limited to merely copying the fashions of the 1930s – there was a real fascination with the personalities and icons of the era.  You could buy sweaters and handbags with Laurel and Hardy’s faces on the front, or clothes hangers sporting Bogey’s head, or tee shirts with the early Mickey Mouse.  Posters of silent movie stars like Mae West and Charlie Chaplin were popular.

February 1971 Life Magazine cover

By 1971 “Everybody’s just wild about… Nostalgia” according to a major feature in Life magazine. A large part of the issue was devoted to the ladies on the cover – six stars from the 1930s. The article also focused on the popularity of Art Deco, the revival of the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette, and the trend in clothing toward 1930s influenced fashions.

Milliner Mr. John revived some classics from his past, including the cloche and the fedora, which became the hat of the 70s.  Halston created gowns of bias-cut jersey – “movie star dresses” – influenced by the stars of the 1930s.

Yves Saint Laurent’s Spring 1971 line was dubbed the “Collection 40” for its 1940s flea market look. And while it was criticized for being ugly and “floozy” the look was reflective of the mood of the time. The “40s Look” had taken hold and had become one of the prevailing fashion trends of the early and mid 1970s.


Late 1960s hat from Mr. John’s Classics line

It wasn’t just fashion that was influenced by the past. From The Godfather in 1972, The Sting in 1973 and Chinatown and The Great Gatsby in 1974, the past of our parents and grandparents continued to influence.

In music, Bette Midler recorded the 1940s Andrews Sisters’ hits “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in 1972 and “In the Mood” in 1973. The work of Ragtime composer Scott Joplin became popular after it was used in the soundtrack of The Sting.

TV brought us a 1930s family, The Waltons in 1972, and a regular part of The Sonny and Cher Show was Cher lounged across a piano playing a 1930s vamp.

1920s motifs were made even more popular with the release of The Great Gatsby

The September, 1974 issue of Seventeen magazine marked the 30th anniversary of the publication. As part of their celebration, they did a “Flashback” feature which showed the fashions of the past compared to the 1974 clothes. But what’s really interesting is how the rest of the clothes in this issue of the magazine were so 1940s inspired – from lean shirtwaist dresses to wedge shoes to Eisenhower jacketed suits.

All this obsession with the styles of the past had another, more long lasting effect – it helped establish the vintage clothing industry.  Vintage stores had started cropping up in the mid 1960s, selling the real thing instead of the nostalgia-infused modern clothing.   The Mod look was fading, and creative dressers were looking for funky bits and pieces to go with their increasingly “hippie” wardrobes.  By 1979 magazines were writing about the new vintage clothing craze.

David Evins shoes with a small platform, 1970s, but inspired by the 40s


Filed under Vintage Clothing

14 responses to “Nostalgia – 70s Style

  1. Lizzie – I know that your blog is about fashion, but oh how the re-emergence of the music of the past that you mentioned, brings me back, and makes me realize that I’ve been an old soul since at least 1972. I totally remember hearing (and LOVING!) the Bette Middler version of Boogie Woogie Bugel Boy when I was growing up, and almost everyone I knew who had a piano in their house was trying to learn how to play The Entertainer as well. I distinctly recall loving the Maple Leaf Rag then too, though I never learned how to play it.


    • It just goes to show that “fashion” is more than just clothing.


      • Yes, you’re right there, Lizzie! I came into this via what I was picking up compiling the ‘Valérie Čižmárová: A Life In Pictures’ page of one of my two Blogs, ‘Bananas For Breakfast’, noticing how her style changed as things got further into the 1970s, from late 1960s-ish teenage sex kitten to nouveau Wartime bombshell as 1973 got under way, reaching its full flowering in 1974, which took me back to the time when the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, which played all the old Glenn Miller material, were big news here in the UK. (I was very fortunate that my uncle at that time was the lead trombonist in the Orchestra and so, as ‘family’, we got in free at their concerts!) The RCA album “The Real Glenn Miller and his Orchestra play the original music of the film ‘The Glenn Miller Story'” entered the UK Charts on Christmas Day 1971 and got into the Top Thirty sometime in early 1972, just as, over in then-Communist Czechoslovakia (Bratislava), the Braňo Hronec Sextet, featuring Evas Kostolányiová and Máziková, recorded the album ‘Uvázda’ (‘Presents’), which concludes with the track ‘Spomienka na Glenna Millera’ (‘Memories Of Glenn Miller’) – a medley of Glenn Miller classics, so this 1940s nostalgia was no respecter of the Capitalist/Communist ideological divide! (By a strange quirk of fate, on the day we went to see the Syd Lawrence Orchestra in action in my home city of Derby the local football…erm…sorry…’soccer’ team, Derby County, had themselves been in action in Eva Kostolányiová’s home town of Trnava!) In all this extensive exposition, if you drop by ‘Valérie Čižmárová: A Life In Pictures’ you’ll see a mention of how, via her one-and-only (eponymous) album, recorded in 1974 and released in 1975, accompanied by the Karel Vlach Orchestra, I was introduced to the highly credible Big Band and Swing Music that had emerged from the Wartime Reich Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia under his baton. I also happen to think that there was something more Wartime-influenced than contemporary about the exceptionally flattering, feminine and outrageously sexy, scalloped-hemmed hot pants she wore for the photo shoot for the album cover. In your considerable knowledge about fashion sources have you ever encountered anything like those elsewhere from that mid-1970s time? I think of them as so exceptional of their time that I have mentally come to know them as a pair of ‘Valinkas’ in her honour! Quite something for a relatively small country in the ‘wrong’ half of Europe to pull off in terms of leading fashion! I hope you enjoy the ‘trip’ east of the former Iron Curtain, Lizzie!


  2. Nice. You did a great job capturing the essence of the craze for the 20’s – 40’s (fashion, art, movies and even the music) that were in vogue during the 70’s. I wonder: is it partly a fascination with the era before each of us were born that holds some sort of magic?
    p.s. Hope you have a great anniversary!


  3. Next to 1940s dresses, I have great affection for a great little 1970s number too, particularly when 40s does 70s is done really well (and usually it’s a more affordable option too). Thank you for sharing this!


  4. Oh those platforms! I love them!

    Yes, what goes around definitely comes around, or to put it another way, there is nothing new under the sun in the world of fashion!


  5. I totally agree with your assessment of the 70s…. one of my favorite dresses that I wore in the mid-70s was a Diane Von Furstenburg (inspired) wrap dress with a 20s art deco image on the front. I felt so sophisticated!


  6. Bridget

    LOVE this article! As a child of the 70’s, it really helps me understand where my love of nostalgia and vintage came from. And how beautiful was Faye Dunaway?!


  7. My sources:

    Buxbaum, Gerda, ed, Icons of Fashion: The 20th Century. Munich: Prestel, 1999.

    Laver, James, Costume & Fashion. London: Thames and Hudson, 1982, 1995.

    Life, February 1971.

    Seventeen, September, 1974


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