The 1970s was a time of experimentation for British designers, who moved beyond the structured silhouettes of the preceding decade and embraced more fluid and relaxed shapes. New materials such as velvet, cashmere and double-faced fabrics were all the rage, as were vibrant colors and exaggerated details. This new approach to design led to a resurgence in popularity for classic British traditions such as tartan, Fair Isle patterns and sporting heritage, which trickled down from country houses to city streets across the UK. With the growing influence of punk subculture, there was also a much greater willingness to experiment with more challenging designs that had previously been considered unacceptable.
London Fashion in the 1970s
London’s East End was the epicenter of the UK’s fashion scene in the 1970s. Its grittiness attracted a new breed of designer who embraced the area’s edgy aesthetic as a perfect backdrop to their own creative work. The fashion brand Vivienne Westwood was one of the first to set up shop in the area, in a tiny boutique on the corner of Hanbury Street and Sclater Street, where it still resides today. Other designers such as Zandra Rhodes, Katharine Hamnett and the twins Philip and George Hackney also began their careers in the East End and went on to help shape the look of London in the 1970s. The decade marked a shift away from the structured silhouettes of the preceding decade toward looser and more relaxed shapes.
The Rise of Sportswear
In the 1960s and early 1970s, British fashion was heavily influenced by the Space Race and the shift towards more functional clothing. Designers experimented with different fabrics, construction techniques and color palettes, which had the dual effect of making clothes more practical and stylish at the same time. The development of new synthetic fabrics such as neoprene, PVC and spandex meant designers could produce clothes with stretchy and durable fabrics that were also lightweight and easy to clean. They also played a huge part in the rise of sportswear, which became a key trend in British fashion in the early 1970s and included items such as tracksuits, windbreakers, bomber jackets and trousers with extra-wide legs.
Scotland's Influence on British Fashion
British fashion’s increasing interest in tradition and heritage was partly prompted by the growing interest in Scottish culture, which started to gain momentum in the 1960s. As designers looked to the past for inspiration, they revived tartan and other Scottish motifs, which were used to decorate everything from wallpaper to jewelry and clothing. This was reflected in the work of Vivienne Westwood, who in the late 1960s and early 1970s created several tartan-inspired designs, including a kilt-like skirt and a series of dresses printed with Scottish-inspired flower and bird motifs. Her partner in crime, Malcolm McLaren, took things one step further and in 1971 opened a London boutique called Let it Rock, which sold both his music and clothing designs.
Double-faced fabrics are a fabric construction technique in which two different fabrics are fused together to create one seamless design. Double-faced fabrics first came to prominence in the 1960s and were used to create everything from decorative patterns to functional features such as cuffs, collars and pockets. They were often used in combination with other fabrics such as spandex to create contrasting textures and effects. Double-faced fabrics remained popular throughout the 1970s and were used by designers including Vivienne Westwood, Katharine Hamnett and Mikio Sakai to create everything from bold prints to intricate and delicate designs.
Other Material Innovations
Arguably the most iconic design of the 1970s was the kaftan, an oriental-inspired garment with long flowing sleeves. The garment was a favorite among British designers, who often combined it with flowing fabrics and vivid colors to create bold and exotic designs. Velvet fabrics were hugely popular during the 1970s and were used to create everything from dresses to furniture. One of the most famous velvet designs is the iconic jumpsuit designed by Zandra Rhodes for the Sex Pistols, which she later reworked into a kimono-style robe. Pleated fabrics were also a key trend in the 1970s, as designers experimented with different ways of folding and pressing fabrics to create interesting geometric shapes and patterns. One of the most famous examples is the pleated dress designed by Katharine Hamnett in 1973.
The 1970s marked an era of change in the British fashion industry. Designers influenced by the changing cultural landscape began to experiment with different fabrics, techniques and silhouettes. Velvet, neoprene and double-faced fabrics were used to create new and exciting designs. The decade also saw the birth of the iconic kaftan which became a firm favorite amongst British designers. The 70s fashion trends were seen as a continuing of the rebellion against the old guard, which had begun in the 1960s.