Thanks to the Black pride movement of the 60s and the “Black is Beautiful” movement, 70s black fashion saw a new flourish. Popular culture shifted towards embracing different forms of beauty. Beverly Johnson made history as the first Black woman to grace the cover of American Vogue, while stunning models like Donyale Luna broke barriers as the first Black model in a Chanel advertisement. This decade marked a time of self-expression and celebration of diversity in fashion and beauty.
Donyale Luna: The First Black Supermodel
Donyale Luna was born in Detroit in 1945 and was discovered by fashion photographer David Macabe at the age of 18. He was drawn to her trademark willowy frame and offered to help her pursue a modeling career in Manhattan. He introduced her to numerous fashion editors and made her young dreams come to life, as evidenced by her letters to childhood friends:
Donyale Luna was on her way to becoming a real star. Months later, she was working with the world’s elite and quickly became the top supermodel of the day. In 1966, Luna became the first person of color to grace the cover of Vogue. The photo was shot by David Bailey and featured Luna in a Chloe dress and dramatic earrings inspired by Pablo Picasso’s famous paintings.
Donyale Luna’s success was a turning point for the fashion industry, firstly recognizing the beauty and style of 70s black fashion.
Disco Soul Train 70s Black Fashion
In 1970, the Soul Train show made its debut on August 17th, promising to take its audience on a stylish journey. Its highly individualistic and fresh style left a lasting impression on viewers across the country, becoming one of the longest-running programs in television history.
Host and producer Don Cornelius was a visionary, choosing to focus on black music and portraying a positive image of black youth culture during a time of racial challenges. With a limited budget, Cornelius called on up-and-coming local musicians like Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler from Chicago to perform on the show rather than pay for nationwide tours.
In season two, the show moved to Los Angeles. The show started embracing color and featuring fashion advertisements aimed at African Americans. Audiences tuned in not only to see creative dance moves but also to keep up with the latest fashion trends. Elements of new styles, such as Afros, platform shoes, form-fitting shirts, bold patterns, and bright colors, quickly became a part of the dance floor.
As times changed, so did the show’s performances. Funk and soul gave way to later genres like disco, rap, and hip hop, but Soul Train remained true to its roots, spreading the message of Love, Peace, and Soul for 35 years until its final curtain call in 2006.
Afro: Symbol of Black Pride
The Afro was an integral part of 70s black fashion and culture. It emerged as a symbol of black pride and political resistance during the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans were rejecting the Eurocentric standards of beauty that had been imposed on them for centuries.
The Afro became a political statement as well as a fashion choice. It was a way for black people to display their heritage proudly. Famous musicians like James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Nina Simone sported Afros and helped to popularize the hairstyle. The Afro was also a popular style for activists, such as Angela Davis and Black Panthers, who used the hairstyle to make a bold statement about their beliefs and ideals.
At that time, many workplaces and schools had strict grooming policies that prohibited Afros, leading to discrimination and even firings. However, the Afro remained a powerful symbol of black pride.
Today, the Afro is still a popular hairstyle in fashion and pop culture. It serves as a reminder of black people’s fight for self-expression and dignity.
Hip Hop: 70s Black Fashion on the Street
The 70s in America was a time of economic crisis, with high unemployment rates across the country, especially for African Americans. With limited job opportunities and access to education, many young African Americans struggled with gang violence and street chaos.
That’s when Kool Herc, a man from the Bronx, said, “Why fight in gangs? Let’s dance and make ourselves feel good. It’s a talent in all of us.” With his exceptional DJ skills, Kool Herc’s parties were filled with non-stop music and dance, and the people who once fought in gangs now danced the night away.
The African American talent for music and dance gave birth to hip-hop culture. During the early days of hip-hop, the streets of New York were like fashion runways, with each neighborhood showcasing its unique style. Designer Guy Wood even created a series of comics to depict New York neighborhoods’ different 70s black fashion styles:
Graffiti: First Canvas of Hip Hop
Graffiti culture arose in the 60s and 70s in the New York neighborhood of the Bronx. A group of young people marked their territory by writing gang symbols and “toilet literature” designs all over the Bronx. That was the earliest form of graffiti.
However, true graffiti artists changed the form of graffiti and had their own ideas unrelated to gangs. They worked without payment and frequently in New York night, just wanting passerby to see their expression. To differentiate themselves from gangs and simple-minded graffiti artists, they called themselves “writers” instead of “painters.”
Some writers expressed themselves through graffiti on their clothes. They even said that graffiti jackets were the first canvas of Hip Hop.
LL Cool J, the rapper, is the one who brought graffiti clothing into mainstream culture, showing a graffiti sport shirt on the cover of the “Black Beat” magazine.
To sum up, the 70s black fashion scene was a powerhouse of self-expression and creativity! It was a decade in that black people struck the fashion world by storm with their bold and daring sense of style. From the runway to the streets, black fashion was everywhere, making an indelible mark on the world of style. And today, the 70s black fashion movement continues to inspire designers and trendsetters.
If you want to know more about fashion in the past years, welcome to our post about “70s & 80s & 90s Mens Fashion” and “70s & 80s & 90s Womens Fashion“. Feel free to leave a comment. We are always here to exchange brilliant thoughts!