Soul Train: All Aboard for 70s Fashion


No, no….things ain’t what they used to be….oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas…fish full of mercury…oh mercy, mercy me.

The loosely fitted, romantic looks coming down the Spring/Summer 2011 runways were reminiscent of the time that – almost forty years ago – ushered in a new era of soul music. It seems, like Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece, some old ideas are new again because they still resonate. As Motown’s main man asked, What’s Going On?

After a brief flirtation with the Mad Men and women of the 1950s, fashion’s role as a cultural mirror instead reflects the silhouettes and stylings of the 1970s. The parallels between then and now are obvious – concern for the environment, a challenging economy and an unpopular war. It seems the issues are all too sobering to lose us – for more than a Sunday evening – in the façade of full-skirted perfection.

Interestingly, eco-fashion first emerged during this time. As environmental journalist, Lucy Siegle writes, “If we were to do a ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ of ethical fashion, we’d trace most of its DNA back to the 1970s eco movement; it’s a direct descendant. Back then eco style consisted of a lot of sack and tent-like shifts, woolly leggings and rugged tie-dyed fabrics that were hessian-and hemp-based.” Shapeless and crunchy ethical fashion – What a quaint idea! And some progress – for a change – to feel good about – Right On, Right On.

The era has a wealth of subtler details – forget the stereotypical disco party costume – to incorporate into your look without buying a thing. Layering a sleeveless sweater over a flouncy blouse and defining the waist with a belt is a simple, easy-to-emulate look. Another key is embracing maxi proportions. Choosing a long dress or coat this holiday season, is a guaranteed standout in a sea of short styles.

This revisit isn’t overly ornamental or garish. With a nod to the concurrent trend for sophisticated minimalism, it’s about simplifying the free-flowing silhouettes of the vintage looks. Swap crochet for lace, folksy embroidery for paisley prints, burnt orange earth tones for color-blocked tropical-hues.

These items are great to find by rummaging in your closet or your mom’s, or at thrift and vintage stores. For online, eBay searches under vintage for “Halston,” “Thea Porter,” “Biba“ will turn up some fabulous stuff. Eco designers such as Emily Factor, Azuela, Gretchen Jones and Rosel are doing fluid, 70s reminiscent pieces brilliantly to fill in the bits you can’t get from low impact sources.

Are you ready to hop aboard the soul train to 70s inspired fashions? Or does it feel like nothing more than the relentlessness of the fashion treadmill? Perhaps. But I like to think by engaging in the themes Marvin Gaye soulfully sung to – our awareness, engagement and consciousness – we’ll have a better chance this time around if we’re wearing the romantic, vivacious clothes of the era of great soul.

Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.