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French Fashion in the 1970s

French Fashion in the 1970s

The 1970s was a wild decade full of fads and trends. Haute Couture was losing its influence and demand while Pret-a-porter brands began their reign.

From peasant blouses, style revivals, and platform shoes, seventies fashion was criticized for lacking direction. However, it was a celebration of individuality and taste.

Fashion Back in the Hands of the People

Before the British-born designer Charles Frederick Worth took the reins of fashion and put it into the hands of a few designers, women commissioned designs based solely on their desires. 

The wearer dictated fashion, and the designer had limited creative control. The House of Worth changed that by introducing its own limited collections. Since then, the limited seasonal collections of designers have dictated the fashion rules each year, and to some extent, they still do. 

However, this changed in the 70s as women started wearing whatever they wanted. It was the first time in history that couture brands copied street style, not the other way around. 

This empowerment led to the explosion of many styles, fads, trends, and fashion subcultures everywhere. Fashion was comfortable, practical, and individualized. It became an expression of your personality. 

Some luxury fashion brands were at a loss for what to do. While brands like Yves Saint Laurent were ahead of the game, launching their Pret-a-Porter brand in the early 70s. These clothes were ready to wear off the rack and less expensive than couture.

Although still wildly expensive, these were more convenient for Parisian men and women’s fast-paced lives during the 70s. They did not have time to wait weeks for their outfits.

The economic and political outlook during the decade was harsh, so people drove deep into fashion trends to cope. Many fashion trends were dominating the scene simultaneously over this decade. 

The Battle of Versailles and American Fashion

The Front View of the Palace of Versailles.
The Front View of the Palace of Versailles / The Battle of Versailles Fashion Show
Image by Sophie Louisnard from Pexels

The final nail in the coffin for Haute Couture as the leading fashion authority was hammered in during the legendary fashion show in Versailles in 1973. 

The once grand palace of Versailles, constructed by Louis XIV, was dilapidated. The French government was unable to pay for its restoration. The sum required was over sixty million. 

American fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert came up with a win-win solution. She proposed a competition between the top five haute couture designers at the time, Marc Bohan for Christian Dior,  Emanuel Ungaro, Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, and Pierre Cardin, to go head to head against their American counterparts. 

This competition would put American designers like Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows, Oscar de la Renta, Halston, and Anne Klein in front of the world.

The guest list was full of celebrities, socialites, and even royalty. What made the night so memorable wasn’t just the prestigious guest list. 

Fashion history was made, and American fashion rose to the upper echelons of the fashion industry.

The French opened the show with a two-and-a-half-hour presentation with live music and elaborate backdrops. The performances were choreographed and serious.

In comparison, the Americans had thirty minutes, a cassette tape for music, and no sets. They laughed through their performance and still stole the show. 

One would think that the audience, primarily French, would only favor their home team. However, they were the first to recognize how their designers were stiff and outdated in front of the elegant simplicity of the laid-back American clothing.

While the French exhibited their tried and tested tailored and trimmed designs, the Americans showed clothes that flowed and moved with the body.

The Americans took home the trophy, and the event raised the money to fix the palace. These clothes that moved with the body transfixed the audience and ignited a fire in the fashion world. 

One of the American designers, Stephen Burrows, invented the lettuce hem he also displayed at the show. Lettuce hem went on to be a huge trend that remains popular today. 

Out of the thirty-six models from the American side, ten were black which was unheard of in the French fashion world. In fact, after this show, French designers went out in search of black models and muses. 

70s Trends that Stood Out

Countless trends and fads swept by during the 1970s. However, a few of them left their mark on history. While keeping their French essence, many women chose to wear western trends along with French ones. 


While Pants on women were still a brave move during the 60s, the 70s embraced them entirely on women. They became an everyday staple in any woman’s wardrobe. When women began to wear pants out and about regularly, it influenced what they looked like on men too. 

Bell Bottoms

Bell Bottom jeans are the quintessential 70s look. The wider the flair or, the more decorated, the better. Both men and women wore bell-bottom jeans and trousers all the time. 

Flapper trousers

Another trend sported by both men and women was flapper trousers. Loose and flowing trousers that elongated the body. These looked especially great when women wore them with suits. 

Polyester trousers

Pastel-colored polyester trousers were all the rage. Usually worn with similar colored jackets for a faux suit effect. Polyester was an affordable alternative to other fabrics, so many working-class women opted to wear them. 

Jumpsuits and Catsuits

The 70s started the era of jumpsuits for both men and women. These were fitted on the torso, and the pants slowly flared out. We saw them on icons like David Bowie, Cher, Elvis, and Michael Jackson.  

Jumpsuits became very brightly colored when they hit the retail market, which is why we see some ridiculous ones in pictures. Higher Pret-a-Porter brands focused more on stripes and patterns instead of vibrant color. Jumpsuits have never gone out of style since the 70s. 


 A woman modeling a suit.
A woman modeling a suit
Image by Евгений Горман from Pexels

Women started wearing casual and more structured suits a lot more. The trend started during the 60s but really took off during the 70s. Every woman owned at least one pantsuit.

The general acceptance of women in pantsuits was due to the success of feminist movements. Many women were now working and becoming more and more financially independent.

Women’s pant suits ranged from loose, flowy, and romantic styles to more rigid tailored designs.  

Peasant Dress or Edwardian Revival

Loose-fitted dresses adorned with lots of lace with ties at the waist were trendy. Often called the peasant dress because it incorporated a peasant blouse.

These dresses featured romantic qualities like billowing sleeves or peter pan collars. Primarily in white or neutral tones, you could also find some with eclectic prints.

Gypsy Romance

The 60s was about mini skirts, and they still prevailed throughout the 70s. A trend of romantic pleated maxi gypsy skirts also existed alongside it.

You wore the gypsy-inspired skirt with a poet shirt or silk blouse and a bandana. 

Some women wore large earrings and heavy beaded necklaces. Everyone had their own creative way of appropriating the trend.

Some women even wore a turban instead of a bandana on their heads. The idea was to look romantic and soft with flowing clothes with an exotic gypsy allure.

Art Deco Revival or Old Hollywood

Another revival trend, the art deco movement, started in the late 60s and slowly became a more glamorous Old-Hollywood-centered trend.

Women dressed up in gorgeous art-deco-inspired prints and silhouettes. Wide-brimmed hats, luxurious velvet coats, and bold 1920s makeup came back into fashion. 

Jersey Wrap Dress

While wrap dresses were popular in the 1940s, the jersey wrap dress was a big hit in the 70s. Everybody owned one, and some people exclusively wore wrap dresses.

The super comfortable jersey fabric was chosen as the perfect material for a clingy wrap dress. This dress was one of the American side’s designs featured in the battle of Versailles fashion show. 

Live in Denim

While France wasn’t as obsessed with denim as the rest of the world, jeans’ popularity grew tremendously for the younger generation.

There were a few denim on denim suits also seen on the streets of Paris. It was a toned-down expression of the fabulous denim craze of the 70s.

Some younger people started wearing simple t-shirts with denim jeans and called it a day. You would almost think they were in the 90s, but they were just ahead of the time. 

Punk Fashion 

While Punk fashion, including fetish wear, leather, graphic designs, distressed fabric, and safety pins, was all the rage in London, it did not reach Paris until the 1980s. However, the punk colors and silhouette did. 

Unlike other music scenes in which France was late to the party, the punk scene had a strong presence in French culture. There were several punk rock bands in Paris during the 70s. 

These bands and their fans wore tight shirts and jeans appropriating that London Punk fashion silhouette and pallet without the studs and embellishments. A sort of pre-punk fashion was trendy in Paris. 


A disco ball with a blue background.
A disco ball with a blue background
Image by NEOSiAM from Pexels

Everyone wanted to wear full-length sequined dresses and shimmery colorful clothes for a hot minute.

John Travolta started the trend of the wide-lapelled white suit for men. That is still associated with disco today.

While the period of disco dancing was short-lived, its trends did not die out too soon. Parisian clubbers would borrow the fashion at night. Shimmery dresses that captured the disco ball’s light are still in style.

Platform Shoes

We could not leave you without telling you about the fantastic trend of platform shoes. Both men and women wore dramatic shoes with thick heels and looked incredible.

Some shoes gave men more than five inches of height. Platform shoes came after the trend of wedge heels in the early 70s. They were a part of Punk Fashion which was much more acclimated to the public.


The culture of many trends existing alongside each other and dominating their own right started in the 70s. Many iconic looks from the 70s are still recreated today, and some of the trends created then remain timeless closet staples.

Women don’t feel shame donning their mother’s clothing with a modern twist. We can safely say French fashion as we know it today was forged during this colorful time.

Header image courtesy: Photo by Nik Korba on Unsplash