Today, we’re looking back at disco fashion, the era of vibrant clothes that pulsed to the captivating disco beat of the 70s. Dancers packed the floor at the local disco as their outfits glittered and shone under the kaleidoscopic light of the ever-present disco ball. It was a time when fashion didn’t just dance to the beat—it was the beat.
It was an era where fashion dared to dazzle, and style was synonymous with freedom. The dance floor wasn’t just a place to show off your best moves and your most flamboyant outfits. Disco fashion was more than clothes—it was an attitude, a lifestyle, an expression of joy and liberation.
Ironically, in an era that celebrated freedom and happiness, the rules of disco fashion were anything but loose. You didn’t just don any outfit and strut into a dance club. There was an unspoken etiquette to disco dressing, and if you intended to earn respect on the dance floor, you had to play by these rules. Disco Fashion had a distinct look, a unique style language that you had to speak.
I unearthed an April 1979 edition of Cosmopolitan magazine not too long ago. Inside I found an article that explicitly demystified the do’s and don’ts of Disco dressing. Borrowed from the book Disco Fever, this article was an essential guide to standing out in style on the dance floor.
Disco style peaked in late 1978, so by the time this article appeared, the rules of disco fashion were all the more defined. Let’s look back at the best of the 70s Disco Fashion and review these authentic tips for Disco dressing from Cosmo.
- 1. Shine on the dance floor in satin
- 2. Embrace Day-to-Night dressing
- 3. Show off your body
- 4. Pair your body-revealing clothes with a golden tan
- 5. You can wear anything as long as it’s made of gold lamé.
- You’ll Also Love
- 6. Ribbons, ribbons everywhere
- 7. Remember you came to dance
- 8. Dress to Shimmer and Shine
- 9. Attract attention with unexpected color combinations
- 10. Turn your purse into an accessory you can dance with
- 11. Add fun hair accessories
- 12. Fun hats are always appropriate for disco fashion
- 13. Don’t look down on Qiana
- 14. This is the quintessential disco outfit
- 15. The quintessential disco outfit, part two
- 16. Mix styles and textures for added drama
- 17. Wear something you feel comfortable in
- 18. Show off your moves with a full skirt
- 19. Update pants by drawing them in at the ankle
- 20. Look to dance fashion for inspiration
- 21. Learn to dance
- 22. Men can dress for the spotlight too
- 23. Dress to impress with polyester
- 24. Use your shoes to look taller on the dance floor
- 25. Here’s Andy Gibb in classic disco fashion
1. Welcome Back, John Sebastian.
Theme song from Welcome Back Kotter
Even teenagers, not quite old enough for the glittering discos, were drawn to the vibrant world of disco fashion. This photo from Seventeen magazine captures these trendsetters at a high school dance, sporting satin clothing in eye-catching neon colors.
Dancers loved soft, unstructured fabrics like satin because the fabric rippled captivatingly as they moved. The vibrant colors shone in the dance floor lights, causing a mesmerizing glow.
The TV Show was originally called “Kotter,” But John Sebastian couldn’t come up with good words that rhymed with that word, so he wrote, instead, about the theme of the show: returning back to a place you thought you would never see again and called the song “Welcome Back.” The producers of the show loved the song so much that they renamed the show “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
2. Embrace Day-to-Night dressing
We were obsessed with day-to-night dressing in the 1970s. According to Cosmo, this pristine white silk blouse could be paired with a tailored blazer and skirt for a chic office ensemble. In the evening, swap the skirt for matching white silk pajama pants to transform into an outfit ready for a night of fun at the disco.
3. Show off your body
Leave it to Cosmo to spotlight the boldest and bravest in disco fashion. Everyone sewed in the 1970s, so fashion magazines were filled with inspirations for home-sewn outfits. This bold design was created from a Very Easy Vogue Pattern – a showstopper of a dress that took disco fashion to new heights. Or perhaps I should say – new lows.
This backless head-turner boasted a plunging neckline tempered with romantic ruffles, adding a touch of softness to its daring design.
Planning to dance the night away in this dress? A little strategic fashion tape was a must-have secret weapon for those intending to truly embrace the disco spirit.
4. Pair your body-revealing clothes with a golden tan
If your outfit was designed to flaunt your body, then a sun-kissed golden tan was the rule. Cosmo laid it out for us: “Tans are a must. You should exude a beachy vibe, as though you’ve sauntered straight from the sandy shores to the dance floor, effortlessly chic. (Of course, the reality involves hours of meticulous preparation to achieve this natural look.)”
But simply having a tan wasn’t enough; you needed to glow under the dance floor lights. The secret? Shimmery body oil to give your body a radiant sheen that captures and reflects the light.
5. You can wear anything as long as it’s made of gold lamé.
Cosmo encouraged us to let out our wild side on the dance floor. For instance, this outfit is just a swimsuit under a sheer coverup.
This might seem a tad unconventional. But, when the swimsuit and coverup are made of glimmering gold lamé, you only need an elegant updo and dramatic makeup to become the epitome of disco chic. It’s more than an outfit; it’s an invitation to flaunt your fearless side under the disco lights.
You’ll Also Love
6. Ribbons, ribbons everywhere
Cosmo gave us clear instructions regarding disco fashion: “Ribbons. Ribbons everywhere.” This woman understood the assignment with her one-piece swimsuit enhanced by a skirt made entirely of swaying ribbons. This DIY masterpiece swings with her every move.
Another quintessential Cosmo-endorsed item accompanying her ensemble: a pair of gold high-heeled sandals. The shoes complete her look with an irresistible dash of glamour.
7. Remember you came to dance
There were practical reasons for choosing minimal, loose clothing on the dance floor. After all, you were there to dance, and as Cosmo aptly put it, “Disco dancing is hot work.”
Cosmo advised wearing light, free-flowing clothes to stay cool and unrestricted.
This Donna Karan wrap dress enables easy movement while maintaining high fashion. Add a few finishing touches, like strappy high-heeled sandals, patterned hose, and bold, vibrant makeup. Topped off with a glamorous evening hairstyle, you were ready to own the dance floor.
8. Dress to Shimmer and Shine
The disco was a place for spectacle. You went to see and be seen, and your ensemble needed to attract looks from the other patrons. This radiant lurex halter dress commands attention from every corner of the dance floor with its captivating sheen.
Her hairstyle is also designed to attract attention. The smooth, bouncy blowout is more casual than the dramatic updos often spotted under the disco lights. Yet, it’s undeniably rooted in the ’70s aesthetic as the curls add another layer of movement as she dances to the beat.
9. Attract attention with unexpected color combinations
Audacious, vibrant color pairings were another way to make heads turn on the dance floor. This eye-catching silk camisole and skirt outfit demands attention, and the thigh-high slit lets you show off all your best dance kicks. It also showcases the model’s elegantly sculpted legs, another reason to attract admiring glances.
10. Turn your purse into an accessory you can dance with
The disco dance floor was a place to express yourself with freedom and joy. Still, it also posed a unique challenge regarding personal belongings. Leaving your purse unattended was unthinkable, but maneuvering around with a bulky handbag was equally impractical.
Cosmo had the perfect solution: opt for a bag sized to carry only essentials like money and keys and elevate it into a statement accessory by adding a fashionable gold chain to be worn across the chest.
Our model follows this tip with her tiny purse hanging stylishly from her shoulder. But it’s not just about the accessories – her hairstyle is also a nod to Cosmo’s advice. Her wild waves are courtesy of a “disco perm,” another Cosmo-approved way to spice up your disco fashion.
11. Add fun hair accessories
Cosmo recommended extravagant hair accessories to accentuate the drama of disco hairstyles. They even suggested creating your DIY hair combs using rhinestones and glitter from your neighborhood dime store.
This jersey dress may seem plain, but paired with a glamorous updo styled with sparkling rhinestone hair accessories, it becomes the epitome of disco fashion, sure to catch the eye of anyone on the dance floor.
12. Fun hats are always appropriate for disco fashion
Cosmo strongly promoted adding playful headgear into the disco dressing. Hats like this bellhop-inspired topper were an essential part of the disco outfit.
These hats were more than just a fashion statement. They also served a functional purpose, securing your hairstyle as you danced the night away while injecting a dose of theatrical flair into your ensemble.
13. Don’t look down on Qiana
Qiana, a silky polyester fabric invented by DuPont, was everywhere in the 1970s. Some people looked down on Qiana, favoring natural fibers like silk and cotton. However, Cosmo cautioned against becoming a “disco snob.”
Qiana provided several advantages for disco outfits. It moved fluidly with your body on the dance floor, and after a sweaty night of energetic dancing, it could be easily tossed into the washing machine.
This 1978 ad from the iconic fashion retailer The Limited showcases the mall interpretation of disco fashion: a soft gold polyester knit dress designed to drape the body. Pair this with voluminous hair and striking makeup; you’ll look impeccably aligned with the disco aesthetic.
14. This is the quintessential disco outfit
The 1978 Sears ad showcases the classic disco outfit. High-waisted satin tuxedo pants carve out a sleek silhouette. The oversized satin shirt is worn unbuttoned, exposing a lingerie-inspired camisole underneath. Rhinestone hair combs anchor the elegant updo and double as a shimmering accessory. The compact crossbody bag is practical and stylish while accompanying you onto the dance floor.
The entire look is brought together by a pair of gleaming gold sandals, a nod to the disco’s love affair with all things shiny. You chose this outfit when you wanted to wear something safe but sophisticated.
15. The quintessential disco outfit, part two
Here’s another fun variation of the quintessential disco outfit. This ensemble provides a creative twist on the standard satin tuxedo pants. This time the trousers are paired with quirky suspenders and a satin camisole, bridging the gap between playful and classy.
Always in vogue, the bellhop-inspired hat makes another appearance, coupled with a fashionable scarf gracefully draped around the neck. Glossy black satin high heels provide a touch of sophistication, while the requisite sparkle comes from glittery socks.
This photo from Seventeen magazine showcases a slightly different approach to disco makeup. Rather than the bold and dramatic looks favored by older women on the dance floor, this model sports a fresh-faced makeup palette with subtle gold stars as face jewelry.
16. Mix styles and textures for added drama
Here’s another outfit that showcases several disco fashion staples. This ensemble combines classic menswear wool slacks with a lingerie-inspired camisole top.
The accessories are carefully chosen to match the disco aesthetic – a big, bold pin, rhinestone hair comb, and compact crossbody purse. The oversized glittery sweater is designed to effortlessly slide off the shoulders, adding a touch of drama.
Polished evening makeup and a sun-kissed tan skillfully complete the look.
17. Wear something you feel comfortable in
While many disco outfits flirted with the boundaries of decency, showcasing as much skin as permissible, Cosmo stood firm on one fundamental principle: disco fashion was about “feeling comfortable in your own skin.” You didn’t need to bare it all to join in on the fun; there were plenty of options for people who preferred something a bit more modest.
Take this outfit, for instance: a dazzling gold lame jacket elegantly draped over a lush velvet scarf and top. The ensemble fits loosely, offering ease of movement while dancing—at the same time, the gold lame sparkles under the disco ball.
18. Show off your moves with a full skirt
Here’s another option for those who want to capture the disco spotlight without revealing too much. This vibrant green tank dress may be simple, but its charm is undeniable. The full, sweeping skirt swirls as you dance, keeping all eyes on you.
When paired with gold sandals, this ensemble gives a sophisticated disco vibe that is both understated and impactful.
19. Update pants by drawing them in at the ankle
Disco fashion killed the bell bottoms of the early ’70s. The loose, flared silhouette of bell bottoms was impractical for the dynamic dancing movement. It concealed the intricate footwork and glamorous high heels integral to the disco scene. Disco fashion was all about sleekness and elegance, a stark departure from the more relaxed aesthetics of its predecessor.
Cosmo proposed updating older pant styles with ribbons or elastic at the ankles. This subtle alteration streamlined the silhouette, aligning it with disco fashion’s sleek and chic ethos.
20. Look to dance fashion for inspiration
Everyone wanted to seem like a bonafide dancer as they twirled around on the dance floor. Dancewear-inspired fashions became fashionable as disco-goers embraced leotards and other dancer attire for their evening wardrobe.
Cosmo advised hitting up your local dance store for disco-ready ensembles. Seeing the trend, Danskin, the well-known leotard manufacturer, launched a line of clothing specifically designed for the disco. This collection showcased shimmering leotards and free-flowing wrap skirts, offering dance functionality and disco glamour.
21. Learn to dance
Going to a disco in the 1970s wasn’t about grabbing a drink and watching the dance floor from a safe distance. You needed to get on the floor and bust out your best moves. To impress people, you had to know how to dance.
Cosmo wasn’t the only magazine giving advice about navigating the disco world. Magazines you’d never expect to go disco-crazy were publishing articles about what to wear out dancing. In 1976, even conservative magazines like Women’s Day were out there helping their readers fit in at the disco by providing guidance on what to wear and how to do the Hustle.
22. Men can dress for the spotlight too
The 70s were a unique time for men’s fashion trends. Men were encouraged to wear clothing that was meant to be eye-catching and admired.
Who can forget John Travolta in his sleek three-piece suit in “Saturday Night Fever”? As dapper as he looked, by 1979, Cosmo had declared the three-piece suit a Disco Don’t and a fashion cliché.
Instead, men hit the dance floor in fitted shirts with unapologetically large open collars to show off that shiny gold chain. These shirts were paired with high-waisted, skin-hugging polyester pants and chunky Cuban heels, adding just the right panache to the outfit.
In the disco era, flaunting this look was more than just a fashion statement. It was an unashamed, bold declaration of style that didn’t just catch the eye but demanded undivided attention and admiration. After all, if you’re not going to command the dance floor, why bother showing up?
23. Dress to impress with polyester
Men’s disco fashion was about making sure every swivel, step, and shimmy was seen and appreciated with tight, ornately patterned shirts that clung to every curve and contour.
The giant, flapping bell bottoms from the early and mid-70s had to step aside for something more dance-friendly. Enter boot cut or slightly flared styles, perfect for breaking out those groovy moves. Pants were tight and high-waisted to show off your body better.
Polyester was king. Bright, soft, and moveable, it was the go-to material for every guy in the disco. It also turned you into a walking sauna. Polyester wasn’t a breathable fabric, so things could get hot and sweaty on the dance floor. But who cared about overheating when you looked that good?
24. Use your shoes to look taller on the dance floor
We can’t forget footwear when we think about men’s fashions during the disco era. This wasn’t a time for your run-of-the-mill, dad-style dress shoes. Disco demanded a shoe that could make a statement – and that’s where the chunky, high-heeled style came strutting in.
These shoes were the cherry on top of every disco outfit. They added a couple of inches of height, giving you that towering presence on the dance floor. When you wore these shoes with your fitted open-collar shirt and tight, polyester pants, you weren’t just dressing up; you were showing off.
These shoes were the final, confident step in that show-stopping disco look.
25. Here’s Andy Gibb in classic disco fashion
As we round up our nostalgia-laden trip down disco fashion lane, let’s take a moment to appreciate this iconic snapshot from Seventeen magazine in 1977. A fresh-faced 19-year-old took the disco scene by storm – the new singing sensation Andy Gibb. Following in his brothers’ disco-tastic footsteps, Andy flaunted the finest of disco fashion, sporting ultra-snug pants and a casually unbuttoned silk shirt to show off his trendy gold chain.
In true disco fashion, his shoes boasted large platform soles, setting the stage (quite literally) for his meteoric rise in the music industry. Meanwhile, the female models shimmered and sparkled in classic disco attire with one interesting twist. Swapping the usual sky-high sandals for glittering ballet flats, they posed a picture of chic elegance. And if you’re wondering about the surprising shoe choice, here’s a fun bit of trivia: Andy Gibb was a modest 5’8″.