The term “Disco” was coined in Playboy Magazine in 1964 as a shortened version of “discotheque”. The origins of the discotheque go back to Nazi-Occupied France, where people would meet to dance to jazz records instead of live music as protest against the Nazi regime. 1970s Disco was born in the African American and Gay clubs of New York City in a similar “protest” manner. Women, African Americans, and Gay Men were wanting to be liberated and seen.
Soul Train was a music/dance based show that started in 1971. The show primarily played the hot and new African American artist’s music while a group danced. Very quickly, Soul Train was the place to see what the cool underground was wearing. Soul Train became popular in urban cities. The music originally played was R&B/Soul but by the mid-70s, disco (a mix of funk, soul, and electronic/pop) became a popular genre played as well.
Soul Train fashion, which consisted of bell bottoms, wide lapeled jackets, large butterfly collard shirts, and platform shoes, became the uniform of disco. As mentioned in the “Shoulder Pads” post, Yves Saint Laurent’s 1971 collection consisted of clothing heavily influenced by 1940s fashion. The vintage 40s look was prominent both on the dance floor and in everyday fashion.The great thing about early disco fashion is that it brought back the 1940s way of dressing up to go out. Men wore 3 piece suits, while woman wore dresses and did their makeup like the glamour shots of the golden age of Hollywood. Both sexes wore high platform heels. The dancing was also harking back to the 1940s jitterbug. Disco dancing relied on two people dancing together, with the man swinging the woman around. To make this easier, women wore loose, flowy dresses out of jersey.
By the mid-70s disco clubs began to emerge in the major cities. Now, disco wasn’t only for the underground scene; almost everyone wanted a taste. Famous stars began joining unknowns on the dance floor, dancing (and snorting) the night away. On any given night, one could see Liza Minnelli chatting it up with Carol Channing, Sylvester Stallone, and Andy Warhol. Bianca Jagger and Grace Jones were regulars of Studio 54. Drag Queen royalty Divine was regularly seen hanging out in the lounges. Of course, these stars could afford designer duds to outshine the nobodies on the dance floor. A favorite among the female starlets was the mononymic Halston.
Fashion designer Halston (born Roy Halston Frowick) was among the favorite of the stars who would frequent the more glamours discos. He got his start as a milliner, designing hats for socialites. His claim to fame was for designing the pillbox hat for Jackie Kennedy, worn at the 1961 inauguration. His designs made a cameo in the “Poverty Medley” section of Barbra Streisand’s first T.V. special, “My Name is Barbra” (1965). His first clothing boutique opened on Madison Ave. in 1968, attracting the most fashionable stars from all around. By the mid-70s, Halston was the most sought after designer for glamorous yet easy to wear designs. This, of course, made him very popular among the disco divas. In the early 1980s, Halston signed a deal with JC-Penny and created Halston III, a discount brand more accessible to the everyday person. This, however, did not blow over well with the fashion elite and he was outcast, officially ending the Disco Era.
Glamour and your name, however, were not the only thing that could get you into a club. Most clubs had bouncers outside who were making sure only the most attractive, or in some cases, the most outrageous, were let in to the dance floor. The most infamous door policy was at Studio 54. Doorman Marc Benecke made sure that the Studio 54 floor was the most exclusive, glamourous, outrageous, it-place to be seen. The disco look began to sour as people were desperate to get in to these clubs, sometimes in lieu of actually looking good. While celebrities got in based on who they were, the non-famous crowed had to look the part, aka, stand out.
For the regular man, Studio 54 and similar clubs were not about fashion. Instead, it was about getting laid, getting drugs, and most importantly, getting noticed. Competing with glittery disco balls, the fashion had to dazzle. Sequins, gold lamé, and satin were favorites among disco dwellers. Daring ensembles that left little to the imagination got the attention of plenty while remaining comfortable and easy to dance in. Disco was the precursor to the dance look of the 1980s; leg warmers, leotards, and tights were common on the dance floor.
Disco died a brutal death; over saturation. By the time 1980 rolled along, disco was everywhere. Plenty of musicians, from KISS to Ethel Merman, made disco records, while almost every franchise and brand, (example, Sesame Street) tried to get a cut of the disco craze. People became sick and tired of hearing disco everywhere, prompting the “Disco Sucks” movement.
While the disco look might have completely gone away, the music evolved into the dance-pop genre that was popular in the 80s, thanks primarily to Madonna. Today, disco is referenced both on the runways and in popular music. Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” is a notable modern track with heavy disco influence. Classic disco fabrics like lamé, bright furs, feathers, and leopard print have shown up on the most recent Fall/Winter 2018 runways.
Disco Style Icon: Donna SummerEmbed from Getty Images