Feathercuts and flares

An exhibition of fashion from the 1970s

14 October 2011 - 11 November 2012
This exhibition has closed

Red and silver platform shoes

Pair of brilliant red and silver snakeskin platform shoes, made in London by Terry de Havilland in about 1972-73.

Fashion of the 1970s

The 1970s have been referred to as "the decade that style forgot." Maybe it was, but it seemed at the time that nobody really cared, as fashion designers started to have some fun and 'anything goes' was the order of the day.

During that decade, Britain experienced social and political upheaval: economic troubles, strikes, power-cuts and terrorism. In reaction to these problems fashion went crazy. Flared trousers, platform shoes, jackets and shirts with enormous collars and lapels, many in conflicting colour schemes and patterns, were all popular. Skirt lengths changed quickly from short to long and back to short again, but there were also plenty of trouser styles for women to wear.

Fashion took its influence from many sources; Glam Rock, Disco, Punk and New Wave all spilled into the high street. Clothes became more shiny and sparkly for a time. Platforms got higher and tartan was popularised by the Bay City Rollers and later by Punks. Nostalgia for fashions from the 1920s and 1930s led to a revival of those styles but with a new twist for the 1970s.

It wasn't just the clothes that were elaborate. Hairstyles and facial hair for men all grew in size. To start with, hair was worn long and layered by both men and women. The Feather-cut, Afro, Flick and Wedge were all popular in their time. Men's beards, moustaches and large sideburns were very common early in the decade.

The 1970s did have style, much of it unforgettable it seems, as its constant revival in today's fashions is still clear for all to see.


Trouser suit

Orange trouser suit

Trouser suit, crimplene and tank top, acrylic, designed by Diana MacKinnon for Dawn Breakers, about 1972-75. Shirt, printed polyester, about 1975-78

Man-made fabrics came to the fore during the 1970s. They were used extensively for garments because they were inexpensive and much easier to clean and care for. Crimplene, a brand name for a type of polyester made by ICI, is easy to wash, dries quickly and doesn't crease, making it ideal for suits like this one.

Orange was a particularly popular colour in the 1970s, and was often combined with brown in both fashion and interior design.

Gift of Brenda Snell 1988
1988.202.1, 2 & 3

Printed evening dress

Printed evening dress

Evening dress, printed acetate, designed by John Bates for Jean Varon, 1973

John Bates created the Jean Varon label in 1964. He designed some of the iconic leather outfits worn by Diana Rigg in the 1960s television series 'The Avengers'. His 1970s designs are very fluid and sophisticated, this dress being a good example of that. His collections have always included a lot of evening wear.

This dress has a slightly psychedelic pattern, a style which continued from the 1960s into the early 1970s. Its retail price was £37.95 which is about £360 in today's money.

Gift of Brenda Snell, 1988

Frank Usher evening dress

Frank Usher evening dress

Evening dress, Crimplene, designed by Frank Usher, about 1972-75

Frank Usher established his business in toward the end of the war in 1944, during a time of severe, economic austerity. The brand offered a sophisticated, couture-like style at an affordable price, even when clothes were still being rationed on coupons.

The 1970s was a very successful period for the company. They focused on making clothes for special occasions and they still produce stylish and affordable garments like this today. The brand is now recognised as one of the most coveted collector's labels

Gift of Brenda Snell, 1988

Blouson jacket and flares

Flared trousers, polyester, by Mr Max Fashion Clothes, purchased from Rupert's in Wallasey or Gearbox in Chester, about 1972-73

This casual, more relaxed look for men was epitomised by long hair, platforms and flared trousers. The flared style was most popular in jeans but was used in cords or smarter trousers like these.

Gift of Mrs Valerie Hemingway, 2010
WAG 2010.28.4

Blouson jacket, cotton corduroy, made for Jaeger, 1975

Corduroy was a very popular material during the decade. It was often used to make trousers, jackets and shirts. This jacket, shortened and brought in at the waist, picks out the hips, accentuating the length and flare of the trousers.

The Jaeger brand had a reputation for producing good quality, fashionable clothes, providing a smart, designer look at an affordable price.

Gift of Alan Swerdlow, 1994
Accession number: WAG 1994.78

Trouser suit with halter neck top

Trouser suit with halter neck top, Courtauld's Tricel, made by Duke of London, about 1971-73

This outfit is made from Tricel, a brand name for cellulose acetate made by Courtauld. Man made fibres became more widely used in the 1970s due to their easy care properties. They washed well, were resistant to shrinking and retained their shape easily.

The design here draws on the 1960s psychedelic look, which continued to be fashionable long after the music of the 1960s had moved on.

Gift of Brenda Snell, 1988
Accession number: 1988.202.6

Halter-neck top and hot pants

Hot pants and halterneck

Halter-neck, knitted wool, about 1973

Halter-neck tops were first worn in the 1930s, especially as swimwear. They were revived as casual day and evening wear in the 1970s. This example was originally worn by the actress Glenda Jackson, who was born in Birkenhead.

Gift of Mrs G Temple, 1994
Accession number: WAG 1994.84.7

Hot pants, suede, about 1973

Hot pants were designed by Mary Quant in the 1960s, but they were popular well into the 1970s. They emphasised the legs and buttocks and were usually made from suede, velvet, satin or denim. They were so popular in 1971 that women were allowed to wear them in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot

Gift of Allison Oldershaw, 1981
Accession number: 1981.2017.6