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Sex, slogans and sharp lines – women’s punk style in the 1970s

Photography By Jeanie Jean Photography

The 1970s gets a bad rap in the fashion stakes- it’s not necessarily renowned for its timeless,
understated styles but beneath the flares and the ruffled shirts (and that’s just the men), there
were a few vibrant and forward-looking fashion movements. Forget Studio 54 and Farrah
Fawcett flicks- the most iconic and revolutionary of them all was punk. In amongst the flares
and disco tops in 1970s society, a punk rock revolution took place and brought in a whole
new idea of fashion and style.

The Summer of Love had stamped its own version of style on the counter culture psyche- boho chic that drew influences from ethnic prints and with free-flowing lines to match the free flowing love on offer. Whilst the rest of the 1970s society was billowing out- flares, kaftans, smock dresses, long skirts etc- punk went in. It went tight, it went sharp, it went dark. Take that hippies.

From BDSM paraphernalia to pre-couture Westwood; from safety pins to oriental motifs a la Siouxsie Sioux, 70s punk style was eclectic and varied, particularly for women. Here are some of the most iconic style statements:

Slogans: The use of slogans on clothes was a staple of the DIY look as well as the more expensive and trendy outlets. This was possibly a sign of the influence of the Situationist International- an organisation of social revolutionaries comprised of Avant Garde artists; political activists and intellectuals. This Marxist collective were a big fan of obtuse slogans particularly if graffiti’d onto a public building and some early punk king makers such as Clash manager Bernie Rhodes and punk dandy Malcolm Maclaren were fans. Early Clash stage outfits would comprise of jumpsuits or jackets with ‘Hate and War’ or ‘I’m so Bored of the USA’ painted on to them courtesy of Paul Simonon. Vivienne Westwood’s shop SEX (and then Seditionaries) sold t-shirts with provocative images and slogans on them, most notably the ‘Semi Naked cowboys’ and ‘Prick up your ears’. The benefit of sloganeering for anyone without the money or geographical proximity to the Kings Road was that any t-shirt can become a punk/Situationist staple with a bit of Tippex or a can of spray paint.

Fetish and Bondage: Punk fashion is probably best known for its incorporation of rubber fetish gear into every day (or at least every weekend) wear. Rubber trousers; gimp masks; chains and dog collars and a whole host of other shiny, skin-tight and wipe-clean garments were commonplace in the London scene, particularly amongst the Bromley Contingent of Siouxsie Sioux, Jordan (not THAT Jordan) and Soo Catwoman. Needless to say, not everybody could afford the sort of prices that a trendy London shop would charge for Latex bodysuits so in that case, black bin liners made a good budget alternative.

Combat style: Slightly off the main interpretation of the punk look lay combat fatigues. If you wanted to fight a punk rock revolution, then you needed to be suitably attired. Patti Smith and Grace Slick personified aspects of this look- sporting dog tags; military decorations and sometimes full on ammunition belts this was a look that subverted both the veneration held for the military and the idea of what it was to be feminine and sexy.


Short hair: 1970s punk defined its direction as an antithesis to the hippie excesses of the 1960s and the resulting prog rock chart domination that continued into the 70s. Whilst the hippie crowd favoured long hair and flowing clothes, punk separated itself from this by going short, sharp, dark and tight- especially where hair was concerned. Long hair was treated with suspicion. Short hair for women also played into the burgeoning penchant for androgyny and led to some interesting creative hairstyles- cat ears, spiky mullets, full shaven etc. A rejection of the soft feminine look of mainstream society, it was a visible demonstration that as well as music, a gender revolution was coming.

Rips and safety pins: Before the introduction of budget behemoths such as Primark meant that replacing your jeans didn’t need to break the bank, what were you to do if your clothes developed holes, rips, tears or were just plain falling apart? Improvise! Although safety pins and fashionable rips are now cynically added to clothes by mainstream retailers to give them that ‘rock chick’ look, back in the early punk days it was simply a matter of necessity. As John Lydon observed- ‘we put safety pins in our trousers to stop our arses falling out’. And there you have it.

Black eyeliner: Although there were some flirtations with colours other than black, most of the makeup looks seen in the early punk scene would utilise a good ol’ black kohl pencil. A subtle smoky eye in the style of Debbie Harry or Chrissie Hynde through to the more outrageous half-face prints that Siouxsie became known for- it’s a versatile piece of kit. The Slits; Gaye Advert; Lydia Lunch……all made heavily lined eyes an iconic look for female punks (and probably some male ones). It’s a classic femme fatale look dating back to Cleopatra and as it is so mainstream now, it is hard to believe that even back in the 1970s a woman with heavily lined black eyes would be considered making a bold statement about non-conformity.

East Coast American looks: The punk scenes of the UK and our transatlantic cousins the US of A were reciprocally influential- we borrowed a bit from them and they borrowed a bit from us. As the punk scene laboured on to the end of the 70s/ beginning of the 80s, a certain contingent favoured the dress down, utilitarian look popularised by The Ramones. A stripped-down pair of skinny jeans, some battered old trainers and a t-shirt-leather-jacket combo was all you needed for this look (although a skinny, elfin frame made the look more ‘New York-esque). It was less upkeep and effort and was seen by some as a rejection to the high maintenance looks described above and instead became its own anti-fashion fashion statement within an already anti-fashion fashion movement.

Of course, punk style continued (and still continues) to evolve and the 1980s saw the
introduction of some of the staples that to this day are widely associated with punk-
mohawks, tartan, tattoos etc. You’ll have to read our next feature on 1980s New Wave and
Goth fashion to find out more about that!

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